Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Measuring Incidental Learning in a PBL Environment

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Measuring Incidental Learning in a PBL Environment

Article excerpt

Incidental learning is an important component for transitioning to a learner-centered environment. This investigation uses a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to define dimensions of incidental learning in a studio setting. Patterns of student's preferences for certain incidental learning skills are identified. This research categorizes 19 incidental learning skills associated with a problem based learning environment into dimensions using student perceptions. Four hidden structures of incidental learning are unearthed. First, teamwork, communication skills, real world problem solving skills and understanding through social interaction are significant incidental learning skills identified by the students. Second, through Principle Component Analysis, a Connections with People and Knowledge pattern indicates fostering skills for leadership and knowledge transference could have significant impact in the overall learning experience. Third, a Team Work Skills pattern is strong enough to be brought out independently. Fourth, the three factors not encompassed in the two patterns (time management skills, flexibility in day-to-day project management, and ability to identify needs and tasks) can be perceived as outside the student's control in a team environment.

Ti ''his study focuses on student perceptions of incidental learning that occurs in a problem-based learning (PBL) environment. Incidental learning is an important component for transitioning to a learner-centered environment and assisting students with self-directed learning (Marsick & Watkins, 2001). Outcomes of incidental learning include increasing skills in communication, teamwork, leadership, time management, coping, resource utilization, and developing a greater tolerance for complexity (Duch, Groh & Allen, 2001; Savin-Badin & Major, 2004). These unintended learning outcomes may be potentially more important to the students than the formal course objectives (Jones, 1982;McFerrin, 1999).

With a learner-centered approach, Huba and Freed (2000) recommend using relevant, real world, problems to develop critical thinking, problem solving, and incidental skills. They also advocate that "in order to prepare students for life beyond graduation, learner-centered teaching should focus on solving ill-defined problems that require the integration of many skills and abilities at once" (p. 203). These recommendations fit well the PBL approach used in this study.

PBL originated in the mid 1960s as a way to better prepare students for work in professional careers and represents a pedagogical shift from traditional teacher centered to a student centered learning model (Camp, 1996). PBL is now cited as one of the more powerful teaching strategies for creating significant learning experiences (Fink, 2003). Central to a PBL efficacy is a concrete contextbased problem to initiate learning (Gijbels, Dochy, Van den Bossche, & Segers, 2005). The problem is framed as close to a real-world work experience as possible drawing upon multidisciplinary knowledge. The use of student teams is often identified as an important component of PBL, providing a mechanism for negotiating knowledge through social interaction. This learner-centered approach has an emphasis on self-directed learning with students as active participants in the learning process (Savin-Baden & Major, 2004).

PBL is often used in professional programs, such as architecture and design, social work, psychology and medicine (Gijbels, Dochy, Van den Bossche, & Segers, 2005). Self-directed learning is defined as students' identifying the core problem(s) to be addressed, exploring the opportunities and constraints to be considered, gathering the information or resources needed to address the problem, and creating a plan to accomplish their goals. Solutions will vary because there is not one fixed "right answer" to the problem. Expressed or implied in the descriptions of PBL is a constructivist view of knowledge . …

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