What is Problem-Based Learning?

(PDF version available)

The PBL Format

During PBL sessions lecturers and teachers become the ‘facilitators’ and monitors of group learning, on hand to provide guidance, support and information and ensure discussions remain relevant. Students are introduced to a challenging and open-ended problem or scenario and in groups will roughly work through the following process.

Novel Features of PBL

  • Levels of instruction from facilitators vary from course to course and institution to institution; from one end of the spectrum where students are free to define their own problem scenarios to more structured ‘projects’ with guidelines.
  • Students guide the course of their own learning sessions (within limits and with academic guidance) rather than following more rigid outlines.
  • PBL focuses on organizing the content of modules around problem scenarios rather than around specific topics or disciplines.
  • PBL involves the treatment of curricula content and the actual process of learning as an integrated whole.
  • PBL’s novel features make it the ideal vehicle for the integration of academic content with the natural acquisition and development of both discipline specific and transferable life skills.


PBL Video 1

A short video by Dr. Andrew P. Johnson at Minnesota State University which introduces the background and principles behind PBL. Useful for lecturers considering using problem-based learning.