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What is Problem Based Learning?

Problem Based Learning (PBL) is a learning/teaching methodology based on the principle of using problems as a starting point for the acquisition of new knowledge and a learning/teaching methodology designed to create learning through experience and the reinforcement of existing knowledge.

“The Teacher’s part, then, in the process of instruction is that of a guide, director or superintendent of the operations by which the pupil teaches himself.” - Joseph Payne, 1883 from Lectures on the Science and Art of Education

PBL Characteristics:

  • Problems are “real world” in nature for the learners: they can see the need to know the information in their future.
  • Problems activate prior knowledge: learners are able to “hook” new content on some existing experience or information.
  • Problems mimic ways in which new information will be applied later: either in assessment or practice.

Philosophy of PBL:

  • Learners prefer to participate in decision-making about their learning.
  • Learners bring lots of information to new learning (no blank slates here).
  • PBL reinforces existing knowledge and creates a starting point for acquiring new content.
  • PBL problems enhance the integration of new information.

PBL Aims to Create Learners Who...

  • Know what they know with confidence.
  • Know what they do not know with confidence.
  • Can effectively and efficiently access new information and integrate it with existing knowledge.
  • Apply the new information to problem resolution.

Why PBL?

  • The learning is relevant.
  • The learning is more retrievable.
  • The learner can apply the learning in similar situations.
  • The learning is long-term and embedded rather than dependent on rote recall.
  • The learning is more exciting and more fun.
    The learning emphasizes meaning rather than fact accumulation.
  • Higher retention of learning.
  • Deeper understanding of learning.
  • Development of interpersonal, collaboration, and negotiation skills.
  • Development of life-long learning skills.

More Information:
Read about the PBL Methodology...

Quick Reference

Dr. Stan Hill

Phone 336-713-2708


CERTL: The Center of Excellence for Research, Teaching and Learning
Wake Forest School of Medicine
Medical Center Boulevard
Winston-Salem, NC 27157
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