Sunday, October 21, 2018
Last Updated October 18, 2018 04:26 PM MDT
LCPS Mission: The Las Cruces Public Schools, in partnership with students, families, and the community, provides a student-centered learning environment that cultivates character, fosters academic excellence, and embraces diversity.

Problem Based Learning


Problem Based Learning Overview


Problem-based learning is learning centered around a problem. The term “centered” means that the theme, unit or mastery of content is replaced as the main focus of learning. Students’ abilities to solve the problem, present solutions and revise solutions when presented with additional information become the goals. Centering around a problem emphasizes the students “doing” rather than mastery of discreet pieces of information or skills.


Problem centered tasks are tasks in which there is a problem to solve, one about which students care and which often, but not necessarily always, they will have had a hand in formulating. By engaging students in the conceptualization of a problem, they are invited to exercise the best of their analytic and speculative abilities. When the problem is one that is genuinely meaningful to them, they are much more likely to become stakeholders in the problem rather than people who simply execute the purposes of another-which, incidentally, was Plate’s definition of a slave (Eisner, 1994, p82).

Appropriate problems should be relevant, real, complex and amenable to definite solutions (Norton/Wiburg 1998). Problems should also be solved in a social context. Working together allows learners to solve problems at a level not yet possible when working alone (Vygotsky, 1978). Content is taught because it is necessary and related to the problem’s solution. Good problem situations share some common characteristics:

  • students should make a testable prediction of its outcome
  • should work well with a range of equipment (not just high-end)
  • complex enough to elicit several problem solving approaches
  • solving benefits from group efforts
  • should be relevant to the problem solvers
  • should be ill-defined

Ill-defined problems are those that require more knowledge than is initially available in order for understanding and decisions about actions for resolution to occur (Stepien, Gallagher, and Workman, 1993). There is no single right way to solve an ill-defined problem and as new information is introduced the problem changes.

In designing problem-based learning tasks, there are four basic steps to consider:

  • presenting the problem
  • building a knowledge base
  • supporting learners’ problem solving
  • testing and revising solutions

Presenting the Problem
In presenting the problem, the problem should be recognized and understood. This is where learner motivation to solve the problem is stimulated with significant emphasis attached to its relevancy to the learner.

Building a Knowledge Base
Content knowledge, skills and experience needed to solve the problem should be developed in this step. Various information resources, simulations and multimedia/hypermedia applications could all be used to build prerequisite knowledge and skills.

Supporting Learners’ Problem Solving
This step allows the students time and resources to develop their own solutions to the problem. Teachers should assume the role as peer experts and resource facilitators. Teachers should also plan for adequate time and a proper environment with which to problem solve.

Testing and Revising Solutions
Activities should be planned to permit learners to obtain feedback for their solutions, to encounter new examples of how the problem might be solved, and to encounter new information which may cue solution revisions.

Examples of Instruction

Problem: What type of legislation should be passed by the US Congress to prevent young people from viewing pornography on the Internet.

Knowledgebase: legislative process, structure of government, US Constitution, ethics of censorship, nature of the Internet, constituency mores

Supporting problem solving: facilitating the use of resources, acting as expert, co-player and resource

Testing and revising solutions: providing a presentation arena, materials and resources, leading discussions on possible outcomes not presented

Problem Based Learning Professional Development Module

Problem Based Learning

Problem Based Learning-Presentation by Joyce Van Tassel Baska

Problem Based Learning-Tutorial

Links and Resources

Exploring the Environment-Teacher Pages-Problem Based Learning
Problem Based Learning at the University of Delaware (sample problems)
Illinois Math and Science Academy


Learner-Centered Classrooms, Problem-Based Learning, and the Construction of Understanding and Meaning by Students

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