Unit 1: Self-Paced Learning and Problem-Based Learning

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Return to: ETAP 623 Spring 2020 (Zhang) | Course Overview | Unit 2


Learning Objectives

  • Learners will explain the benefits of self-paced learning for students and teachers in the classroom.
  • Learners will compare the role of a facilitator and the traditional role of a teacher.
  • Learners will describe the role of a student in a self-paced instruction setting.
  • Learners will discuss strategies that can be used to transition a unit to problem-based learning.

Self-Paced Learning

As technology becomes more readily available in schools, educators are exploring the alternatives to traditional methods of teaching. A byproduct of this movement is the self-paced learning setting. This style of teaching and learning puts students in control of the way in which they learn as teachers take on the role of a facilitator. In self-paced instruction, the teacher utilizes a variety of resources and strategies to meet the needs of all learners. Students get to choose their preferred method of delivery of the instruction: media, lecture, reading, etc. From there, they can independently work their way through the content while the teacher provides feedback and support to those that need it. Below you will see two different versions of self-paced teaching.

As you watch, you will notice that this teacher provides a weekly routine for students to engage with the learning.

This Google Doc showcases a teacher that goes unit by unit with her Social Studies class. Notice that in this case, students are able to use as many or as few of the resources as necessary. There is an end date set for the students and the unit, but the way in which students reach the end will not be the same.

Problem-Based Learning


Much like self-paced learning, problem-based learning (PBL) comes in many sizes and formats. The one aspect that molds this style of teaching and learning is the presentation of a problem first. Just as in real life situations, children are presented an open-ended scenario that requires an understanding of information to help arrive at a solution. Students formulate a plan to acquire the information that will help them to gain a deeper understanding of the problem and ways to find a solution.

Unlike a final project where students use all their previously acquired knowledge to produce a solution, problem-based learning centralizes the unit around the problem. Students discover information as it relates to the their problem and personal interests. While there are still key points that students need to reach, the learning is flexible to meet student needs and accommodate their interests.

PBL offers options for students to devise and implement a plan. They discover all the struggles that come with problems in a controlled and supportive environment where failure is never the option. Click the image to watch a video that breaks down PBL further!

One study explains the stages of PBL as:

  1. The problem is encountered first in the learning sequence, before any preparation or study has occurred.
  2. The problem situation is presented to the student in the same way it would present in reality.
  3. The student works with the problem in a manner that permits his ability to reason and apply knowledge to be challenged and evaluated, appropriate to his level of learning.
  4. Needed areas of learning are identified in the process of work with the problem and used as a guide to individualized study.
  5. The skills and knowledge acquired by this study are applied back to the problem, to evaluate the effectiveness of learning and to reinforce learning.
  6. The learning that has occurred in work with the problem and in individualized study is summarized and integrated into the student's existing knowledge and skills (Barrows and Tamblyn 1980, pp. 191–192).


Now that you know more about the styles of self-paced learning and problem-based learning, you must be thinking components of your teaching that either fit into these models or would be difficult to transform. Answer these questions to reflect on these processes in your own classroom:

  1. What benefits do you see with self-paced learning and PBLs?
  2. What are some areas of concern you have in your own classroom with self-paced learning and PBLs?
  3. What unit could be transformed through the use of either self-paced learning or PBL? How?
  4. What routines/strategies would you have to teach/implement prior to beginning this new unit?
  5. How would your role as an educator change through including self-paced learning or PBLs?
  6. What differences would you expect to see in students with either of these models of teaching?

Once you process these questions on your own, add your responses to this Google Form.

Additional Resources

5 Surprising Results of a Self-Paced Classroom

PBL Benefits, Examples, and Resources