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Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Problem-Based Learning: What and How Do Students Learn? (Hmelo-Silver, 2004)

Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2004). Problem-Based Learning: What and How Do Students Learn?Educational Psychology Review, 16(3), 235-266.


  1.  Problem-based learning (PBL) is an instructional method in which students learn through facilitated problem solving ~~ Psychological research and theory suggests that by having students learn through the experience of solving problems, they can learn both content and thinking strategies.
  2. work in collaborative groups -- Collaborative problem-solving groups are a key feature of PBL
  3. engage in self-directed learning (SDL) and then apply their new knowledge to the problem and reflect on what they learned and the effectiveness of the strategies employed
  4. teacher acts to facilitate the learning process rather than to provide knowledge


Problem-based curricula provide students with guided experience in learning through solving complex, real-world problems. PBL was designed with several important goals (Barrows and Kelson, 1995). It is designed to help students 
1) construct an extensive and flexible knowledge base; 
2) develop effective problem-solving skills; One indicator of effective problem-solving skills is the ability to transfer reasoning strategies to new problems.
3) develop self-directed, lifelong learning skills; 
4) become effective collaborators; and 
5) become intrinsically motivated to learn..

PBL is one of a family of approaches that include anchored instruction and project-based science.
~~ all three approaches use a common problem and rely on the teacher to help guide the learning process. They differ in terms of the type and role of the problem, the problem-solving process, and the specific tools that are employed

There are at least two key issues that go to the heart of all of these approaches to learning through problem solving. 
  • First, all the approaches emphasize that learners are actively constructing knowledge in collaborative groups. 
  • Second, the roles of the student and teacher are transformed. The teacher is no longer considered the main repository of knowledge; she is the facilitator of collaborative learning. The teacher helps guide the learning process through open-ended questioning designed to get students to make their thinking visible and to keep all the students involved in the group process. In anchored instruction and project-based science, the teacher does some direct instruction, often when students need information for the problem-solving activities.The SDL emphasis is a distinguishing feature of PBL. In PBL, students become responsible for their own learning, which necessitates reflective, critical thinking about what is being learned (Bereiter and Scardamalia, 1989). In PBL, students are asked to put their knowledge to use and to be reflective and self-directed learners.

The Role of the Problem
  • To foster flexible thinking, problems need to be complex, ill-structured, and open-ended; to support intrinsic motivation, they must also be realistic and resonate with the students’ experiences. A good problem affords feedback that allows students to evaluate the effectiveness of their knowledge, reasoning, and learning strategies. 
  • The problems should also promote conjecture and argumentation. Problem solutions should be complex enough to require many interrelated pieces and should motivate the students’ need to know and learn. As students generate hypotheses and defend them to others in their group, they publicly articulate their current state of understanding, enhancing knowledge construction and setting the stage for future learning (Koschmann et al., 1994).
  • Good problems often require multidisciplinary solutions.
  • Good problems also foster communication skills as students present their plans to the rest of their class. Multidisciplinary problems should help build extensive and flexible knowledge because information is not learned in isolation.
The Role of the Facilitator
  • In PBL, the teacher/facilitator is an expert learner, able to model good strategies for learning and thinking, rather than an expert in the content itself. The facilitator scaffolds student learning through modeling and coaching, primarily through the use of questioning strategies
  • Facilitators progressively fade their scaffolding as students become more experienced with PBL until finally the learners adopt many of the facilitators’ roles ~~ Although the facilitator fades some of his or her scaffolding as the group gains experience with the PBL method, s/he continues to monitor the group, making moment-to-moment decisions about how best to facilitate the PBL process. 
  • The facilitator is responsible both for moving the students through the various stages of PBL and for monitoring the group process. This monitoring assures that all students are involved and encourages them both to externalize their own thinking and to comment on each other’s thinking (Hmelo-Silver, 2002; Koschmann et al., 1994). 
  • The PBL facilitator (a) guides the development of higher order thinking skills by encouraging students to justify their thinking and (b) externalizes self-reflection by directing appropriate questions to individuals. The facilitator plays an important role in modeling the problem solving and SDL skills needed for self-assessing one’s reasoning and understanding. The facilitator directly supports several of the goals of PBL. First, s/he models the problem solving and SDL processes. Second, the facilitator helps students learn to collaborate well. An underlying assumption is that when facilitators support the learning and collaboration processes, students are better able to construct flexible knowledge.
**The role of the facilitator is extremely important in modeling thinking skills and providing metacognitive scaffolding. 

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