Problem-Based Learning System

To make you feel at home within the educational system of the departments of Pedagogy, Psychology and Sociology, we have put together an introduction. 

  • Basic principles of Problem-Based Learning (PBL)
  • How are these principles implemented

Basic Principles of Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a method that is based on the idea that the student plays an active role in the learning process (student-centered education). It is not about lecturing in order to accomplish information transfer (as is the case in traditional educational systems), but rather about active participation of the student in small groups. So most of the time, it’s not the teacher who’s explaining, it’s the students themselves.

This student-centered approach stems from the constructivist vision on learning which states that the best way to deal with information is to actively construct knowledge instead of passively consuming it.

    Image: not receiving but rather actively constructing knowledge.

    In PBL we use “problems” which are presented to the students in their workgroup. These problems are the starting points of your study; they represent realistic situations and serve as an opening for a discussion. The problem is presented before other types of input (literature, lectures etc.).

    By presenting a problem, students are provided with a meaningful context (connect to real-life environment) in which they can activate prior knowledge. To give you an idea of how it works, please follow the instructions below (step by step).

    1. Carefully read the following text:

      A newspaper is better than a magazine. A seashore is a better place than the street. At first, it is better to run than to walk. You may have to try several times. It takes some skill but it's easy to learn. Even young children can enjoy it. Once successful, complications are minimal. Birds seldom get too close. Rain however, soaks in very fast. Too many people doing the same thing can also cause problems. One needs lots of room. If there are no complications, it can be very peaceful. A rock will serve as an anchor. If things break loose from it, however, you will not get a second chance. 

    2. After reading it, put it aside and answer the following questions:

      • What excites you the most about your studies abroad?
      • What do you think is the most famous Dutch food?

    3. Write down what you remember from the story you have read. Is there much you can remember? Quite hard, right?!

    4. If I now tell you that the story is about flying a kite it will probably be easier to understand and remember information from the text.

    This example shows you that when you know the CONTEXT of information (flying a kite), the information becomes MEANINGFUL and it will result in the ACTIVATION OF PRIOR KNOWLEDGE (about how to fly a kite) which results in better retention of the (new) information you have just read in the text.

    How are these principles implemented?

    PBL is implemented by working in small groups (max. 11 students), accompanied by a tutor. The group is presented with a ‘problem’ which will be explored in a structured manner (the 7-step approach).

    7-step approach

      To make sure that the 7-step approach is being conducted during the meetings and that the discussion takes place in a structured way students play different roles (chair, scribe, group mate).

      More detailed information about the PBL background, the 7-step approach and the different roles can be found in “PBL: step by step” booklet

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