Problem-based Learning

Authored by: Anna Kwan

The Routledge International Handbook of Higher Education

Print publication date:  April  2009
Online publication date:  June  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415432641
eBook ISBN: 9780203882221
Adobe ISBN: 9781134082018


 Download Chapter



Problem-based learning (PBL) is a form of enquiry-based learning, in which learning is driven by a process of inquiry (O’Rourke and Kahn, 2005). Definitions of PBL vary, but a comprehensive example would be a total education strategy based on the principle of using real-world problems as a starting point for the acquisition and integration of new knowledge. PBL is more than an instructional method, but a nurturing environment in which all curriculum elements are systematically aligned to help students achieve the learning outcomes. In a problem-based learning environment, several distinct characteristics may be identified and utilised in designing and implementing such curriculum (Barrows, 1985; Kwan, 2008; Stepien, Gallagher and Workman, 1993). These include:

Learners explore open-ended real-world problems as the starting point of learning.

Learners engage in self-directed learning, including planning, implementing and evaluating their overall learning process.

Learners work cooperatively in small groups to support each other to achieve the learning outcomes.

Teachers assume the role of facilitators and co-learners.

Learning outcomes emphasise not only content knowledge but also process skills and learning attitudes.

The problems in PBL primarily are vehicles for the development of clinical problem-solving skills (Barrows, 1996), but now the learning outcomes embedded in the problems include content knowledge and other important abilities like self-directed learning, critical thinking and reasoning, finding and using appropriate learning resources, communication, information and technology, teamwork and leadership skills, which are much demanded in the workplace.

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.