LESSON 1: What is Problem-Based Learning?


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Lesson Objective

  • Students will be able to define problem-based learning.
  • Students will be able to identify the steps and key factors in the PBL process.

Problem-Based Learning

Problem based learning (PBL) describes a classroom environment where the learning is driven through the use of solving complex problems.These problems are posed in such a way that the students will need to seek out new information and knowledge in order to find solutions. The teacher will adopt the role of a facilitator of instruction as they guide the student's in an inquiry driven environment.

In order to use PBL effectively, it will depend on certain student characteristics and classroom culture, as well as the problem task. “Since PBL starts with a problem to be solved, students working in a PBL environment must become skilled in problem solving, creative thinking, and critical thinking” (Roh, 2003, p. 2). When knowledge or procedural skills are taught before students have gained a full understanding of the concepts, the students’ creative thinking skills will be suppressed by instruction. Rather than having a teacher provide facts and then testing the students ability to recall facts through memorization, PBL will allow students to apply knowledge to new situations. Students will need to be able to work as self-directed, active investigators and problem-solvers in small collaborative groups. Through the use of PBL students will continue to learn content while gaining important skills that not only will help them in the classroom, but these skills can transfer through many disciplines and into future careers.

As you move on through this course you will be learning about all of the different components that go into creating an effective PBL activity or lesson. Note all of the little aspects a teacher and student must keep in mind when participating in a problem-based learning environment. There is much more than just sitting down and solving a problem. You will see that the job of teacher and student drastically change! Good luck & enjoy!

Key Factors & Elements

The Information

Be sure to provide all of the students with the same information. Each student should be able to recall the information given in an easy way in order to work through the problem.

Choosing the Problem

When choosing the problems that the students will be solving in class. Keep the following in mind:

  • Keep the questions open ended to allow for multiple solutions and creativity.
  • Allow the students to collaborate with one another to arrive at a solution.
  • The problems should be building off of prior knowledge rather than just recalling old information.
  • Try to relate the problems real-world scenarios.

Learning Objectives or Tasks

As students work collaboratively they may work through a number of tasks. The learning process should be self directed. The students should be able to understand the task at hand. Be sure not to make the task too difficult so that the students may figure out their own process to arrive at a solution.

Role of the Teacher

The teacher will now become a facilitator of the learning. It is the job of the teacher to provide support and encouragement to the students while working through the problems at hand. The teacher should be providing feedback to the students, as well as allowing students to collaboratively work together. The teacher should encourage self directed learning and that the students can learn from mistakes made.

(Continue on the the investigation portion of this lesson to learn more about some of the key elements in a PBL classroom)



Read the following journal study by the Physics Education Group of Dublin City University. This study focuses on the design and benefits of using problem-based learning in a lecture-based high level physics course.

As you read, think about the benefits to utilizing PBL in all levels of education as well as how you would properly implement PBL in your classroom.



Watch the following two YouTube videos. The first video will outline some of the key factors in implementing PBL in the classroom. The second video is a great example of how PBL can be used in a physics classroom.

As you watch, consider if PBL is a type of teaching and learning that you might use in your classroom. Would your students benefit from this type of learning? What might be some of the challenges you would face?




Use the following questions and prompts to assist you in your discussion with your classmates. You do not need to exactly answer each question. Have a thoughtful discussion with your classmates.


1. After viewing the previous links and readings, define problem-based learning in your own words?


2. What do you think are some of the most important key factors to look at when performing a PBL activity in the classroom? Why?


3. What do you think are the biggest differences between a PBL classroom and a typical classroom? Do they visually look different? Do the roles of the students and teacher change in any way?


Moving On!

After answering and completing all tasks for Lesson 1, please move on to Lesson 2!

LESSON 2: What are the benefits to utilizing problem-based learning?