A brief explanation of the learning environment model that has been used to teach this course.

Definition Of Problem-Based Learning

Dabbagh et al. (2000) define PBL as “the learning that results from the process of working toward the understanding or resolution of a problem”(p. 2). The main purpose of PBL is immersing learners in complex real-world problems with little information about the problem and no prior knowledge about the resources in which learners will use to solve the problem. Thus, “PBL is the most extensive and complex in “putting the problem to use”” (Dabbagh et al., 2000) than other learning environments. PBL prepares students to be self-regulated learners, to take ownership of their learning, to be active, cooperative learners (Dabbagh et al., 2000), to use critical thinking and problem solving skills for life-long learning, and at the same time to learn facts about relevant subject matters (Dabbagh & Banana-Ritland, 2005; Kolodner, Camp, Crismond, Gray, Holbrook, Puntambekar & Ryan, 2003).

Key Practices Of Problem-Based Learning

Kolodner et al. (2003) argue that PBL has three key practices in which learning will occur. First, the learning process is ongoing cycle of learning, which includes working in groups to define a problem, generating and testing hypotheses, and searching for data and relevant resources to solve the problem. Learners will use this process each time they exposed to solving a problem until they master the learning cycle. Second, using a “whiteboard”, as Kolodner et al. (2003) suggest, is very beneficial for group working. “[It] encourages articulation, identification of, and discussion of conceptions and misconceptions—in the context of a need to know and understand” (Kolodner et al., 2003, p. 506). Finally, learners in PBL are expected to reflect on their learning and exploration to help them better understand the problem and identify what they need to learn about it without feeling overwhelmed by the many directions they can go (Kolodner et al., 2003).

Characteristics Of Problem-Based Learning

Since PBL is rooted in constructivist theory, most of its characteristics were discussed previously under constructivist implications. Like for example, learners take ownership of their learning by defining the problem to be emotionally involved and active learners; they set their own objectives for their learning process, what they know and need to know about the problem, and how to acquire the missing information. Moreover, in PBL, learners should work in small groups, they do not solve problems independently, because only the group has the knowledge and important skills to solve a problem, and one learner cannot accomplish that (Kolodner et al., 2003; Dabbagh, Jonassen & Yeah, 2000). Indeed, “Group discussions help learners share and test their ideas which is an essential process for problem-solving. Learners can also generate new problems, questions, ideas, and solutions, which would not be possible, if each were working individually” (Dabbagh et al., 2000, p. 18).

Role Of The Instructor In Problem-Based Learning

It is important to emphasize that learners in PBL do not start with learning facts from textbooks; rather, they acquire new knowledge as they actively engage in solving a problem (Kolodner et al., 2003). Thus, instructors are facilitators who create complex, real-world problems in ill-structured content for learners. Kolodner et al. (2003) explain the role of instructors in PBL by saying, instructors are “coaches [who] guide student reflection on their problem-solving experiences, asking students to articulate both the concepts and skills they are learning, and helping them identify the cognitive skills needed for problem solving” (p. 505).

Learning Cycle Of Problem-Based Learning

PBL has its unique cyclical of learning process in which learners come to solve a problem as illustrated in Figure1 in the last page. Kolodner et al. (2003) summarize the learning cycle by saying,

PBL prescribes a structured sequence of classroom practices. Students work as a group to record on a specially formatted whiteboard the facts they know, hypotheses and ideas they have about explaining and solving the problem, and issues they do not yet understand and need to learn more about (learning issues). After considering the case with their existing knowledge, students divide up the learning issues they have generated among the group and investigate them. When they get back together, they return to their problem-solving activity, this time using what they have learned from investigation to move further forward in their solutions. They reconsider their hypotheses, generate new hypotheses, and generate new learning issues in light of their new learning. This cycle continues until students are satisfied that they have solved the problem and that they sufficiently understand the learning issues they have identified (p. 505).


In conclusion, teaching in traditional lecture classes with instructor-centered environment may not be the optimal learning for many students. Hence, constructivist learning shifts the learning emphases from the instructor to the learner. Learner-centered environment helps engage learners in an active communication with instructor, peers, learning content and resources, and the world. Therefore, if learners lost interest to learn, constructivist theory and its several learning models can be great motivations for learners.

Although the PBL environment is not easy to generate and it requires time and effort from instructor, many scholars (Kolodner et al., 2003; Dabbagh, Jonassen & Yeah, 2000) have proven its effectiveness on encouraging learners to be self-directed learners, and to learn critical thinking, communication and problem solving skills. Moreover, PBL can be used for teaching almost any subject domains for beginners and intermediate level students. Thus, instructors in all knowledge domains are encouraged to try PBL.


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