Conference 2017.
The Slovene Association of LSP Teachers
What is Problem-Based Learning?

Problem-based learning (PBL) has been one of the major success stories in education since the 1970s. It may take many different forms but what all these forms have in common is that a problem is used to drive the learning process. This model is especially appropriate for combining old and new knowledge, combining professional knowledge with knowledge of foreign language and thus for teaching English across the curriculum. A small, self-directed group of students is faced with a real-life problem to be solved in the professional context. Students explore the problem, identify what they already know and what they need to learn, study independently and search for knowledge in a systematic way, using modern technology. In the last step they integrate their ideas and present the solution of the problem. The model combines social and individual learning processes, putting emphasis on active participation of individual members. PBL is based on the view that people are active, curious and able to search for knowledge.

Other advantages of the model are:

a real-life problem raises motivation, much more than a pre-selected sequence of information from a course-book.

in the model, students can integrate their professional knowledge and their knowledge of English.

the model makes them better equipped with functional skills needed for their professional careers and thus makes them more competitive on the job market.

individual and social learning are combined.

English is learnt while doing something else, which goes together with the slogan 'learn by doing'.

● PBL versus task-based learning (TBL)

These two models have a lot in common. They both developed as a reaction to traditional models, only that they developed along different paths. PBL developed as a reaction to subject-based learning, which generally begins with large tracts of subject matter transmitted by the teacher to students, and which they are expected to learn (Margetson: 1993:41). Subject-based learning, which was and still is mainly based on lectures, is a typical passive way of learning, where students listen, record and store information for later memorizing, whereas in PBL they are much more actively involved in the learning process. In PBL students have to think independently, link old and new knowledge, develop a set of problem-solving criteria, find a solution to a case from real life, and function well in a group.

Just the same active involvement of students is strived for in TBL. The latter developed mainly in the field of language teaching as a reaction to the traditional PPP model (present, practice, perform). Willis, D. (1990:127) defines TBL as an activity “which involves the use of language but in which the focus is on the outcome of the activity rather than on the language used to achieve that outcome.” Various task-based approaches all share the same idea: giving learners tasks to transact, rather than items to learn, and in this way create a real purpose for learning. It is in this last aspect that PBL and TBL are very similar.

However, between the TBL and PBL models, there are also some differences in the conception of problem-solving. In the TBL model, problem-solving is mainly considered as a type of task (Willis J.1996: 26- 27), whereas in PBL problem-solving is the whole learning process, which takes at least four weeks, and in which students are supposed to complete a whole range of tasks. These are:

brainstorming on the problem given

identify what their current knowledge is, and what new knowledge they need

search for new knowledge

select knowledge and find a solution

write up a report

give a group oral presentation

function well in a group.

● The PBL learning process

It is structured around a real-life problem related to students' professional career (text, image, photo, case, some broken components, etc.)
First Meeting
    Step 1 Making the problem clear
   Step 2 Formulate questions, prioritize
   Step 3 Identify current knowledge
   Step 4 Identify learning needs
   Step 5 Formulate the learning aims, distribute the assignments
   Step 6  Individual activities: Out-of-class research
Second Meeting
   Step 7 Discussion evaluation of new information

● Detailed description of the PBL learning process

First meeting

Step 1: Making the case clear. The group  explores the problem and tries to identify it. The teacher goes round the groups and helps clarify things or words students do not understand. Each group chooses a chairperson and secretary which should be rotating functions. The role of the chairperson is to coordinate work of individual members and the role of the secretary is to take notes from step 2- 5.

Step 2: Frame/formulate questions and queries. The teacher asks each group to discuss the  illustration and define the problem a little bit more. Students start a  brainstorming session about the topic. The secretary is writing down the questions addressing  the problem. They continue brainstorming until all the groups have 10 questions on their list. Then the teacher asks them to prioritize the learning needs (select five questions out of these ten).

Step 3: Identify current knowledge. Try to find an answer to the questions from step 2. Brainstorm. Each group has to find out how much  individual members already know about the questions from step 2, what is their current knowledge about it or experience. At this step students are allowed to use their mother tongue, so that they can show  their existing professional knowledge. If this  occurred in English, some knowledgeable students would  tend to remain silent because they would not know the right words in English. Drawings of models and different sketches are made to exchange ideas. The discussion is open with no evaluation yet. The teacher helps the groups when the flow of ideas  stops, not by providing information but  by pointing to some aspects that haven’t been mentioned.

Step 4: Structure the ideas. Identify learning needs. The teacher asks students to decide which ideas belong together, and to group the ideas around the questions from step 2. Students  also identify  what has to be learnt or would require further research.

Step 5: Formulate learning aims. Distribute assignments among group members. The group reconsiders whether the five questions from step 2 need to be changed again or  defined more precisely. Each student is then assigned the task of searching for more information about a particular  question. As a rule,  students should work on the question they are most knowledgeable about. The secretary writes down the name of the student responsible for a particular question.  The chairperson is assigned the task of coordinating the work during the week, making sure nobody forgets the assignment.

Step 6: Individual Activities/Research. Students use several sources for their research. This can either be  the library, the internet, the science database, lecture notes and textbooks on professional subjects or any other source. This research work continues for a week. Since students usually see each other in other lectures they have enough opportunity to remind one another about the assignment and to exchange ideas.

Second Meeting

Step 7: Discussion and evaluation of information. At the second meeting, the groups discuss the information  found by each individual student. Students pass on their ideas or information they have found, invite others to join in the discussion, weigh the  advantages and disadvantages, discuss the causes and results. In this step they have to use only the target language. Using the information they have found, they at the same time practice the language skills necessary for information exchange and goal-oriented co-operation. Students evaluate the information brought by each individual member of the group and decide whether enough of it has been found to explain their case and present it.

● PBL in Slovenia

We prepared a detailed description of the 5-year project in Slovenia. Please visit our PBL in Slovenia page.

● Links to PBL resources and articles

Panitz L.: Great Ideas for helping groups work better together http://home.capecod.net/~tpanitz/cccchtml/ideasforbettergroups.html

Cole G: PBL http://coe.sdsu.edu/eet/Articles/pbl/index.htm

Values and Benefits of Interdisciplinary/Cross-Curricular Teaching http://www.eduplace.com/rdg/res/literacy/interd1.html

Duch B.: Problems: A Key Factor in PBL, Centre for Teaching Effectiveness http://www.udel.edu/pbl/cte/spr96-phys.html

Problem Writing Guide http://www.udel.edu/pblc/problems/

PBL at Maricopa Community Colleges http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/pbl/materials.html

Rio Salado’s Official Problem-Solving Rubic, Fall 1998 http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/pbl/pdf/rio-rubric.pdf

TENTEC http://www.pedc.se/tentec/didactics/pbl.html

Problem-Based Learning: An Introduction by James Rhem http://www.ntlf.com/html/pi/9812/pbl_1.htm

Problem-Based Learning, Especially in the Context of Large Classes http://www.chemeng.mcmaster.ca/pbl/pbl.htm

Problem-Based Learning Learning Bibliography http://www.pbli.org/bibliography/

Conflict Assessment http://spot.colorado.edu/~wehr/40GD1.HTM

Temasek Centre for Problem-Based Learning http://pbl.tp.edu.sg/

PBL in Slovenia
SDUTSJ, Vegova 4, p.p. 18/I, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenija
Contact address: SDUTSJ, Fakulteta za družbene vede,
Kardeljeva pl. 5, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenija