Attributes of Problem-Based Learning

Attributes of Problem-Based Learning

Since I am currently working on a problem-based learning product/lesson I decided to blog about the attributes of problem-based learning and the reasons I like to incorporate it in the classroom.

Based on research done in K-12 settings where problem-based learning was being implemented, the following list of attributes has been developed:

Increased critical thinking skills and problem-solving strategies

Because students are presented with an ill-structured, higher level question or problem to solve, they are required to use critical and creative thinking to formulate an answer.  They can not simply state what they think the teacher expects nor can they answer the question solely based on their previous knowledge.  Instead, students must assess their previous knowledge and figure out what additional information they need in order to reach a solution.  Then they must research the information, manipulate and analyze data, formulate hypotheses, and test their hypotheses in order to solve or answer the question or problem initially presented.  All of these skills require higher order thinking.

Increased academic achievement

    Since students in a problem-based learning lesson are required to gather, manipulate, analyze, and interpret relevant information they show increased academic achievement in those content areas.  The information is not merely presented to them in a lecture format, they are required to critically think about it, interact with it, and use it to formulate a solution.

Improved group work/teamwork

Being able to work with others is an important aspect of society and the workplace.  Few jobs require people to work in total isolation; therefore problem-based learning requires students to work collaboratively in groups.  This type of learning enhances students’ interpersonal skills and teamwork.  They learn to accept different perspectives, work cooperatively, and state their opinions and feelings.

It should be noted that training and support in cooperative group work before the implementation of problem-based learning is recommended.  This is a good idea as many students may not be used to working in groups and sharing the workload.  Characteristics of good teamwork and group work can also be incorporated in the grading rubrics giving students guidelines to follow.

Increased motivation

Learning is made more meaningful and relevant to students by giving them a real world problem to solve that relates to their existing knowledge.  Their innate nature to find a solution to the problem creates intrinsic motivation, and the fact that they are actively engaged in a student-centered environment creates extrinsic motivation.  Students feel a sense of empowerment as well because they are in charge of finding their own solution.  Relevance and context

Problem-based learning answers the famous questions, “Why do we have to learn this?” and “What does this have to do with the real world?”.  Giving students a real world problem to solve shows them the connection between what they are learning in school and real life.  Cognitive learning theory states that students are more likely to transfer knowledge from one context to another when the situations are similar in nature.  Having students solve relevant, real world problems increases the likelihood of them using this knowledge in similar situations outside of school.

Students learn how to learn

Problem-based learning promotes metacognition and self-regulated strategies.  Students learn how to reflect on their learning processes by having to generate their own strategies for research, information gathering, and hypotheses testing, and figuring out which strategies work best.  They also discuss their thoughts with others in their group, thus forcing them to vocalize their thought process which enhances metacognition.  This vocalization also allows them to learn valuable strategies from others and apply them to their own learning.  Teachers can also require students to keep a journal during their problem-based learning unit that keeps a record of their progress and thoughts, thus helping them reflect back on their learning process.

Giving the students deadlines and rubrics to follow for their projects helps students learn responsibility.  The student-centered aspect of problem-based learning teaches students to become self-regulated learners.

Addresses varied learning styles

Students have freedom in the type of presentations they can give, thus enabling students to showcase their talents and strengths.  For example, students with an interest in art might create a poster while students who like to write could choose to write a paper.  Problem-based learning also requires the use of many different skills, allowing each student in the group to utilize and show their strengths.  Working together also promotes peer tutoring where students can help one another overcome weakness.

If you would like to learn how to incorporate problem-based learning into the classroom with technology click here.

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