What is problem-based learning?
Problem-based learning presents learners with a realistic scenario from which they must distill a problem that merits solving, apply a problem-solving approach to develop and analyze alternative solutions, and recommend and defend an optimal solution.
What does a scenario look like?
The scenario is presented through information that reflects how the seeds of a problem typically are sown: e-mail communications, meeting outcomes, data reports, personal conversations, and so forth. Scenarios typically are ill-defined—in that one must infer from the information what the problem is—and are often interdisciplinary—in that they transcend several subject areas.
What is expected of the learner?
After learners have stated what they believe the problem to be, they apply a series of steps to solve the problem by establishing the criteria by which an optimal solution will be evaluated, brainstorming alternative solutions, analyzing each alternative and assessing the risks that surround it, and selecting the best solution. Learners defend their solutions both to the faculty member and to their colleague learners, and as a result the group discovers how others may confront the same scenario and define the problem differently, leading to other solutions.
What is the role of the faculty member?
The role of the faculty member is to coach learners through the process of defining and solving the problem and to ensure that the learners acquire the foundation of knowledge that will enable them to develop the optimal solution. The faculty member helps the learners hone their critical-thinking skills as they select and employ information, identify and evaluate risks, and recommend and defend their solutions.