Problem-Based Learning in the Information Age

Problem-Based Learning in the Information Age

Problem-Based Learning in the Information Age

Problem-Based Learning in the Information Age


This issue provides information about theories and practices associated with Problem-based learning (PBL). Partially because of changes in the Information Age that are transforming the nature of knowledge and the types of problems that people face, professors are adopting PBL in order to facilitate a broader and more up-to-date role of what it means "to learn." Professors will encounter, however, their own set of problems when designing and implementing a problem-based curriculum. Not unlike PBL assignments to their students, the issues and obstacles professors will encounter require practical solutions. The authors of this issue have practical experience in the design and implementation of PBL. Based on their experiences, they offer insightful commentaries and useful guidelines about various aspects of PBL. These guidelines include ideas for designing useful problems that can serve as the basis of PBL activities, creating environments conducive to problem solving, facilitating students' problem solving activities, and assessing students' efforts in problem solving. This is the 95th issue of the quarterly journal New Directions for Teaching and Learning.


The author argues that professors must engage students
in problem-solving activities across all disciplines. To
ignore students' problem-solving skills is to undermine
the possibility of creating “educated individuals” through
higher education.

Dave S. Knowlton

This volume provides insight into many virtues of problem-based learning (PBL). In this article, though, I offer a broader and more philosophical argument for incorporating PBL into higher education. I begin by defining PBL and discussing how its characteristics are educationally useful. Then I develop and defend the argument that the academy as a whole cannot meet its mission of educating students unless students are engaged in problemsolving activities. In the final section of this article, I address some common objections to my argument.

PBL: Definitions and Virtues

Problems have two characteristics. First, a problem is an unknown, and second, value must exist in solving the unknown (Jonassen, 2000). PBL,then, is any pedagogical approach that requires students to solve for an unknown. Although such a definition may seem simplistic, Jonassen notes that not all problems are equivalent, and thus problem solving is not a rote activity. Therefore, PBL can take on many forms of both processes and products.

One common form of PBL is the “classic version” (Hmelo and Evensen, 2000) which is characterized by free inquiry among students and studentcentered learning. Also, the classic version requires students to collaborate, formulate learning issues by determining factors that may contribute to the cause or solution of a problem, identify relevant content, and generate . . .

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