Dr. Judith M. Newman

Technology & Instruction

Problem-Based Learning

Problem based learning is an instructional methodology using problems or cases that parallel real life situations. PBL relies on self-directed learning. Hypothetical cases or problems are developed by the instructor to reflect experiences students would encounter in everyday professional life. In problem based learning the principle is "it all learning begins with a problem". The problem provides the direction of learning, the motivation for learning and the application of learning.

Now widely used in medical education, PBL generally uses a tutorial format in which a tutor facilitates the learning process within a group of 5 - 8 students. The tutorial group meets for one to two hours 2 or 3 times a week and study is focused around a clinical problem.

PBL can also be used with large groups of students where small groups are given problems to explore and to report back to the whole group.


  • Preset cases or hypotheticals
  • Cases developed by instructor
  • Evaluation done by instructor


  • To acquire a knowledge base that is relevant and usable in a real life context.
  • To facilitate the integration of knowledge from many different disciplines.
  • To develop self-directed learning skills.
  • To encourage independent critical thinking and reasoning skills.
  • To develop independent life-long learning skills.
  • To provide a student-centered learning opportunity.
  • To acquire facility in information management.
  • To enhance student/teacher interaction.

There are many websites which describe various aspects of PBL. A comprehensive list of sites can be found at http://meds.queensu.ca/medicine/pbl/pblhom10.htm

Check out Creating Problems which describes how problems are set up.

UBC also has a useful website: http://www.med.ubc.ca/facdev/Introduction.html

Problem based learning can be very useful in a distributed learning situation. Take a look at WebQuest Problem Based Learning - which discusses how to set up a distributed learning experience. Take a look at: Project, Problem and Inquiry Based Learning - which outlines how to set up PBL learning situation; and Edutopia: Project Learning. Here's another WebQuest site with examples: The Complete Guide to WebQuests.

Case-based learning is closely related to PBL. A helpful description of CBL can be found at http://www.pitt.edu/%7Eciddeweb/FACULTY-DEVELOPMENT/FDS/casebase.html at the University of Pittsburgh and http://www.ils.nwu.edu/%7Ee_for_e/nodes/NODE-23-pg.html from the Institute for the Learning Sciences.

Also worth a look is Learning from Cases

For suggestions on how to set up a case-based learning experience check out:
Case Based Learning

And now there's AGoogleADay - try it yourself!