Active Learning Environment

EUC’s approach to education is that of small-scale, interactive and intensive learning environments. Most of the first-year courses and some in year two and three follow a method of active learning called Problem Based Learning (PBL). In PBL, problems play a steering role in the learning process and are the driving force behind a student's self-study. In each tutorial session and the subsequent self-study, students follow a systematic procedure of dealing with ‘the problems’ through which students progress to maximize learning. For other courses, other forms of active learning such as project- or case-based learning, and seminars are used when they are more suitable for the course at hand.

For all forms of active learning, working in groups of 12-15 students guided by a tutor, every student is expected to engage and contribute to the learning process. An active learning environment helps students to be independent and take ownership of their learning. This emphasis on self-directed learning demands discipline on the part of the students. For example, students will have to plan their self-study time, manage finding resources and learn to distinguish relevant resources from the trivial. At the same time, our active learning approach emphasises collaboration and interactive learning by means of arguing, discussing, and sharing knowledge. It can therefore be said that education at EUC is not only aimed at knowledge and academic skills, but also at application, reflection and critical thinking.

Daan's experience with PBL

  1. Clarify the concepts and unfamiliar terms
  2. Problem definition - define important questions that arise. What are the phenomena that need explaining here?

  3. Brainstorm - produce initial hypotheses to answer the problem definition

  4. Problem analysis - systematically organise and elaborate on the hypotheses

  5. Define learning issues - define what you want to study based on questions left open after the discussion

  6. Self-study in the study landscape or at home to prepare for the next PBL meeting

  7. Reporting phase - present, debate and elaborate on your findings

The first five steps are part of the discussion phase in which the problem is tentatively analysed and discussed by the students in the tutorial session. This tentative analysis will lead to a tentative explanation and/or to questions about issues that are yet not understood or which need clarification.

These questions (i.e. the learning issues) will be used by the students as their objectives for self-study. In the period that elapses until the next tutorial session students search for relevant literature and other resources that could answer their questions. After studying these resources, the students prepare themselves to report their findings.

Following this self-study phase, in the next tutorial session, the students report back to each other, sharing what they have learned and which resources are used, and discussing and synthesising the findings of the different resources.

During the entire seven-step method, the tutor will facilitate the discussions of the students and their elaboration on the subject at hand, guiding them in fulfilling their respective roles as either chair, scribe, or group member in a tutorial session, and finally ensure that the learning issues will support the students in their self-study phase.

Problem Based Learning has been one of the most successful educational innovations in higher education from the last 50 years. Its origin can be found in Canada: in 1966 the McMaster University in Hamilton was working on a new medical curriculum. The committee in charge developed ‘problem based learning’. This committee established three core principles of PBL of which the first one is the most important one
(1) a self-directed, small-group, problem-based approach;
(2) a systems-based approach to the curriculum;
(3) a community-oriented attitude to ensure a link to larger society

When the new PBL-based curriculum was launched at McMaster in 1969, it immediately attracted broad international attention, especially from the newly founded medical faculty at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

PBL has now spread to over 500 higher education institutions all over the world, and is no longer limited to specific disciplines, but is used in for example, economics, business, psychology, biology and law. The application of PBL might be different among all these institutions, but it is widely acknowledged that PBL serves as a broad educational strategy to organize the learning process of students in such a way that they are actively engaged. All models are student-centered with the teacher/tutor acting as process facilitator; all take place in small groups; learning is organized around problems; and all models promote students’ self-directed learning and collaboration.

Problem Based Learning

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