Teach and/or support learning
How students learn, both generally and within their subject/disciplinary area(s)
Problem-based learning (PBL) is a teaching method that is used in higher education to engage students in real-world problem solving. In PBL, students are presented with a complex problem or scenario and are asked to work together to find a solution. This process helps students develop critical thinking skills, as well as skills in communication, collaboration, and problem solving.
There are several steps involved in designing a PBL activity:
PBL is often used in subjects that require practical application of knowledge, such as medicine, engineering, and business. It is a popular approach in higher education because it allows students to learn through active, hands-on experiences, rather than simply being taught concepts in a traditional lecture format.
PBL is highly effective at improving students skills and it results in a positive attitude towards the course
PBL has a large positive effect on students' skills (Dochy et al., 2003), but a large negative effect on students' knowledge. Also, Demirel and Dağyar (2016) showed that PBL had a medium positive effect on student attitudes to their course compared to traditional teaching. This is important because nurturing students' interests in their subjects or courses is one mechanism thought to be important for fostering academic achievement.
The positive effects of PBL on skills are greatest for more experienced students
PBL can positively affect the skills set of university students at all levels, however, the strength of this impact varies depending on how much existing knowledge or experience students have. For example, graduate students seem to benefit more from PBL than first-year undergraduates (Dochy et al., 2003). This is consistent with how PBL might align with learning in that students who are further into their studies might be more focused on developing dynamic and critical skills to solve complex problems, whereas students who are earlier in their degrees might be more focused on developing foundational knowledge.
The positive effects of PBL on skills are immediate and lasting
PBL is not great in teaching knowledge itself, but the things students learn doing PBL are well remembered. They know slightly less, but remember what they do. The effects of PBL are moderated by the way knowledge and skills are assessed. The more the assessment instrument is capable of evaluating the skills of the student the larger the effect of the PBL (Dochy et al., 2003).
The positive effect of PBL on attitude is the same no matter what the group size, field, education level or application time
Demirel and Dağyar (2016) reported that there were no significant differences for the effects of PBL on attitude as compared to traditional teaching for:
PBL is a learning approach that plays a role in increasing attitude and achievement
Bloom (1956) emphasised that teaching-learning should cover cognitive, affective and psychomotor processes. The affective domain (interests, attitudes, motivations, etc.) is linked to achievement. PBL is thought to be an approach that addresses the affective domain (Delside, 1997).
We can be very confident that PBL is effective in helping students gain a positive attitude towards courses, less confident in its effect on skills.T
his evidence summary is based on three reviews. The review completed by Demirel and Dağyar (2016) is rigorous. The only concern regarding this review is the heterogeneity score, which is high and suggests that one or more unexplored variables might be contributing to the effect. The other two reviews, by Dochy et al. (2003) and Gijbels are less rigorous. These groups did not report information related to the risk of bias or publication bias, and the confidence intervals around the effect sizes were large, suggesting there is still some work to be done in this space to better understand the effect of PBL on student outcomes.
Demirel, M., & Dağyar, M. (2016). Effects of Problem-Based Learning on Attitude: A Meta-analysis Study. EURASIA Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 12(8). https://doi.org/10.12973/eurasia.2016.1293a
Dochy, F., Segers, M., Van den Bossche, P., & Gijbels, D. (2003). Effects of problem-based learning: A meta-analysis. Learning and Instruction, 13(5), 533–568. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0959-4752(02)00025-7
Gijbels, D., Dochy, F., Van den Bossche, P., & Segers, M. (2005). Effects of problem-based learning: A meta-analysis from the angle of assessment. Review of Educational Research, 75(1), 27–61. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543075001027