Problem Based Learning

Problem Based Learning (PBL) is an educational process in which students investigate and solve an open-ended, authentic problem. Students engage in hands-on learning as they seek answers to a real-world problem, thus developing skills and strategies to help them succeed in real life. PBL learning facilitates active learning across disciplines and helps students connect and apply knowledge as they take ownership of solving the problem.

The teacher takes the role of a coach in problem based learning, helping the students think through the issues to arrive at their own ideas. The coach guides student inquiry through questioning to lead students into deeper investigation and understanding. The teacher also plays the role of a participant in the PBL process. Rather than "knowing the answer," the teacher wonders through the problem with students as they explore and evaluate many possible solutions.

The benefits of problem based learning include:

  • Increased motivation
  • Relevant, real-world learning
  • Higher-order thinking
  • Metacognition and learning strategies
  • Self-directed learning
  • Self-regulated learning
  • Authentic problem-solving experiences

Just as there is no one right solution to the problem, there are many ways to approach problem based learning. This guide is intended as a framework for implementing PBL in the college classroom. While the principles of PBL apply in any classroom, the actual process will look very different from one class to the next. As the coach, feel free to guide students through the process of problem based learning in the way that works best for your course and students.