Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Can Collaboration and Self Direction Be Learned? a Procedural Framework for Problem-Based Learning

Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Can Collaboration and Self Direction Be Learned? a Procedural Framework for Problem-Based Learning

Article excerpt


Around the world, governments, authorities, and educators are grappling with primordial questions about the purposes of institutionalized education: What are the aims and consequences of education for individuals, communities, and societies? Can it be a source of important life-skills and knowledge? The fronts on which classroom, school, and system-policy reform is currently proceeding are many and varied (Darling-Hammond, 1997; Jackson & Davis, 2000; Lee, 2001; Newmann, Smith, Allensworth, & Bryk, 2001; Slavin & Fashola, 1998; Wiske, 1998). In many cases, however, the issues at stake come down to a familiar set of debates about:

* classrooms as sites for cognitive learning and growth

* schools' capacities to maximize their intellectual, technological, human, and organizational resources

* systems as distribution sites for economic, social, cultural, and intellectual resources

John Dewey (1916) observed that there is something extraordinary, perhaps even vaguely miraculous, about education: "By various agencies, unintentional and designed, a society transforms uninitiated and seemingly alien beings into robust trustees of its own resources and ideals" (p. 67). It is significant that one of the first major applications of the new ways of orienting to human behavior and thought offered by the then-new cognitive sciences should be in the field of education. Bruner (1960) pushed for a renewed interest in the idea of mind, and challenged social scientists to account more faithfully and cogently for educational phenomena and concerns.1 In setting up the Harvard Center for Cognitive Studies in 1960, Bruner (1990) and his colleagues sought:

to establish meaning as the central concept of psychology-not stimuli and responses, not overtly observable behavior, not biological drives and their transformation, but meaning.. .to prompt psychology to joining forces with its sister interpretative disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences (p. 2).

At the level of teacher-student interaction in the classroom, according to Ramsden (1992), the main aim of teaching is simple-to make learning possible. Among the recent teaching methodologies relevant to this discussion are collaborative, and constructivist learning (Jonassen, 1999), co-operative learning (Johnson & Johnson, 2003), and problembased learning (Dolmans & Snellen-Balendong, 2000; Gijselaers, 1996; Gijselaers & Schmidt, 1990; Schmidt, 1993) as well as the notion of 'situated cognition'(Vygotsky, 1962).

The idea that learning takes place in active, contextualized situations is often used to express dissatisfaction with models of formal knowledge and traditional academic inquiry. This is based on an assumption that most teaching-learning situations focus on the acquisition of inert concepts-for example, algorithms, routines, and decontextualized definitions-and are of no use because the students cannot transfer or apply their learning to other situations. In comparison, common descriptions of problem-based learning (PBL) emphasize the active, situated nature of learning that takes place in such environments.2 PBL offers:

* experience-based learning

* the development of inductive and deductive reasoning skills

* the simultaneous use and challenge of prior learning

* opportunities for both independent and collaborative activity

* context-specific knowledge use

* complex problems in which students encounter ambiguity and multiple perspectives

Thus, the key arguments in favor of PBL are that it:

* enables students to learn new information-using "deep learning strategies" through the activation of their prior knowledge

* prepares the students for the workplace through opportunities to learn social and communication skills

* enhances the students' intrinsic interest in the subject matter

The major complaints about PBL are that it:

* does not deliver the deep learning that it promises (Glew, 2003)

* does encourage ritual behavior and mindless routine in students, leading to the failure of inquiry and team learning (Dolmans, Wolfhagen, van der Vleuten, & Wijnen, 2001)

Since there is empirical evidence to support both sets of arguments, this article critically analyzes the procedural and implementation framework of a PBL environment in a specific setting (namely, at the Republic Polytechnic of Singapore) and offers a discussion of some key lessons learned from the authors' experience. …

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