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Problem-based learning (PBL) is a teaching concept in which learners are presented with complex problems to facilitate learning. Normally, we are used to the conventional way of learning which involves the presentation of facts and figures. Problem-based learning is the opposite of it. The usual process of doing the introduction and touching the basis of a concept is reversed.

The conventional way of learning involves the introduction of the concept, explaining in detail the relevant areas, and solving problems. This is in reverse in problem-based learning, as problems come first before learning. Rather than teaching the rudiments of the concepts and then the application, the problem is presented first.

The problem is what motivates learners to understand the concept they want to learn. Students learn from their experiences while solving the problem. Problems are first presented to learners, they can then split into groups and learn what they need to solve the problem.

To understand the concept of problem-based learning,

  • The problem should require learners to take reasonable and cognitive decisions. They must also be able to defend those decisions.
  • The problem must inspire learners to seek out a deeper understanding of the concept in question.
  • The problem must have a connection to their previously acquired knowledge. Without prior proficiency, the task is not feasible. It should build on what they have learned.
  • The problem should require a level of complexity in a group project so that every member of the team will be an active participant.
  • The problem should involve practical and real-world related practices.
  • The early stages of the problem especially in a multistage project should be engaging and open-ended to familiarise the learners.

The steps involved in Problem-based learning

There are 3 important steps in problem-based learning: (I) Presentation of real-world problems (ii) Acquisition of knowledge (iii) Application of knowledge and solving problems.

Presentation of real-world problems

The pivot of this concept of learning is a real-world problem. It is the thread connecting knowledge acquisition and knowledge application. At the initial stage of learning, students don’t have a robust idea about the problems they are presented with. The word “real-world” is essential because learning comes from experience in this type of learning. Knowledge gained while solving the problem becomes real-life experiences. Real-world problems expose the students to what is expected of them to know. It highlights the seriousness of the concept to understand.

Acquisition of knowledge

After the problem has been presented to the learners, knowledge acquisition follows. Students individually or in groups seek to know what they will need to solve the problem. Gathering of necessary and relevant information about the problem. In group work, members of the group are given tasks and assignments to focus on. They then come back to share what they have gained with others. This helps to make everyone an active member and participant in the group. Ideas flow in on ways to go about solving the problem. When the group understands the concept of the problem, solutions become easy.

Groups can have multiple plans to solve the problem. That is the essence of problem-based learning.

Application of knowledge and solving problems

Application of knowledge acquired is the third step in problem-based learning. The essence of acquiring knowledge is to be able to apply it and solve problems. If the knowledge gained cannot solve the problem at hand, you need further research. During the application, there will be moments of errors or failed plans. All of these add up to make learning achieved. When you try one step and it didn’t work, you can try other steps. It will aid learning and also bring about the easiest or fastest problem-solving method.

At the end of the process, the learners should be able to carry out some tasks conveniently. They include:

  • Evaluate and interpret the problem
  • Analyze their already amassed knowledge about issues related to the problem
  • Discern what they need to learn and where they will get the information and tools needed.
  • Review feasible ways of solutions to the problem
  • Solve the problem
  • Document their discoveries and experience
Problem-based learning

How to set up a problem-based learning guide.

  1. Choose a central idea or concept that the prerequisites have been taught and learned. The requirements for the course must have been met. You can then choose a typical assignment or task that can help them learn the concept.
  2. Develop a real-world application of the concept. Even if it is arithmetic, introduce a life relating matter based on your concept. It tends to motivate learners to learn more. A real-world application is beyond the usual arrangement of steps. This means that the application of your concept is beyond the scope of a simple plug-and-chug solution.
  3. Introduce the problem to the learners in stages. Learners will be able to recognize the learning process that will guide them to explore the targeted concept. Problems look harder than they are when they are presented in a bad way. Some questions may guide you when introducing the question. They include: What learning issue can be observed to introduce the concept? What open-ended questions can be asked? How will the problem be structured? How long will it take to find the solution? What tool or resources will the learners need? What should be the outcome of the learners? These questions will help to guide when introducing the problems to them.
  4. Jot down a comprehensive instructional plan on using the problem in the targeted concept. This plan will contain a to-do list. Necessary group meetings or field trips will be included.
  5. Identify key resources for learners. The last key on how to set up a problem-based learning guide is identifying what tools and resources will be needed. In some cases, tutors or facilitators can give a hint about the necessary resources needed. At times, researching the resources by learners will open them to a wide range of resources.

Importance of Problem-based learning

It facilitates self-learning: It propels learners to take responsibility for their learning through personal research. Learners tend to learn on their own to develop their cognitive abilities. In this process, they can learn skills that can be applied to other areas of life.

It enhances teamwork abilities: Many problem-based projects involve grouping learners. Learners come together to discuss and develop a solution to the problem. This teamwork project helps learners to build skills like leadership, communication, organization, etc.

Enhances critical thinking and analysis: Problem-based learning puts the learners in the driving seat. As opposed to the usual sit, listen, and take notes process of learning. It creates curiosity in them and aids fast learning and deep understanding. Some problems require learners to think outside the box and make some decisions.

Development of communicable skills: Problem-based learning builds skills that are beyond the walls of learning and understanding. It helps to create skills that can relate to real-world problems. Such skills can be used to solve real-world problems.

Encourage Inherent rewards (Intrinsic motivation): The rewards of problem-based learning are more than solving questions on papers. Learners are self-confident and happy when they solve problems, create innovative ideas, or produce a tangible product.

Improves management and leadership roles: In a group project, leaders emerge among the groups, and roles are distributed among sub-group members. Managing projects and holding leadership positions help to improve skills that will be needed in the future.

Applying knowledge to solve real-world problems: Problem-based learning helps to apply knowledge gained to solve real-world problems.

Problem-based learning

Limitations to Problem-based Learning

  • Insufficient base knowledge: When the information the learners have is not sufficient to start the problem. Probably, some initial concepts have been skipped to arrive at the current concept.
  • Unavailable of resources: Problem-based learning becomes difficult when there are little or no resources available.
  • Lack of cooperation: This often happens in a group project. Lack of cooperation from group members will frustrate the course.

Comparing the Conventional Learning and Problem-based Learning

Choosing which learning strategy to use is not a cause of an argument. Both learning strategies are very fine and can be effectively deployed when needed.

The conventional learning => Learners are told what they need to know – Memorize it – Problems assigned to illustrate how to use it.

Problem-based Learning => Problem assigned – Learners identify what they need to know – Learn and apply knowledge gained to solve problems.

Both can be effectively deployed when needed to bring out the best outcome. Facilitators can also combine the two strategies in subsequent concepts to aid awareness and understanding.

Problem-based learning has a lot of advantages over the conventional learning strategy. They are as follows:

  • Problem-based learning enhances deep understanding of the concept than the conventional learning strategy.
  • PBL helps to apply abstract knowledge to real-world problems.
  • Conventional learning is structured. Problem-based learning requires creativity.
  • PBL is more than getting good grades on the paper.
  • PBL helps to acquire skills useful beyond the scope of the subject or concept.
  • Knowledge gained from problem-based learning sticks longer than the conventional learning strategy.

In conclusion, problem-based learning has a lot of substantial advantages over the conventional learning strategy. Problem-based learning aids learning by personal work experience gotten from solving problems. At first, it might look like it is very hard, but it is not. The more exposed the learners become, the easier the task becomes.

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