Problem-based learning (PBL) is a didactic concept of "active learning" in tertiary education. Key elements of PBL are teamwork and self-directed learning strategies. Accordingly, students are encouraged to take responsibility for their group and organise the learning process largely themselves, rather than follow externally set rules.

Table of contents
1 How PBL is done
2 Background
3 References
4 External links

How PBL is done

PBL is typically done in small discussion groups of students accompanied by a faculty tutor. A constructed, but quasi-realistic problem ("paper case") is presented in consecutive sections, mimicking the gradual acquisition of potentially incomplete information in real life situations. The students discuss the case, define problems, derive learning goals and organise further work (such as literature and database research). Results are presented and discussed in the following session. When the participants agree that the relevant questions have been appropriately discussed, the case is resumed by the tutor presenting the next chunk of information. This work cycle is reiterated several times over consecutive sessions.

Although some predefined aspects of a "paper case" are usually expected to be investigated, not all learning goals are strictly defined in advance. Cases should ideally be open to differing approaches and offer thematic sidelines.

The tutor's role is that of a guide rather than a teacher. Tutors are not expected to contribute their factual knowledge or opinions (except as fellow learners). Instead, they should direct the students by asking the right questions. They can however help out if essential facts are not available otherwise, and they may function as "bogus detectors". Tutors also observe the group interaction and give feedback on the work process. Feedback and reflexion on the learning process and group dynamics are essential components of PBL.


The acquisition and structuring of knowledge in PBL is thought to work through the following cognitive effects (Schmidt, 1993):

  • initial analysis of the problem and activation of prior knowledge through small-group discussion
  • elaboration on prior knowledge and active processing of new information
  • restructuring of knowledge, construction of a sematic network
  • learning in context XXXXXXXXXXXxX
  • stimulation of curiosity related to presentation of a relevant problem


External links