What is Problem Based Learning?

Traditionally, students learn by listening to lectures and reading, and are assessed on their ability to recall and communicate what they have learned. With problem based learning, students are assessed on their ability to go through a problem solving process.


Research shows that PBL gives the learner greater long-term benefits than traditional learning, and many successful and progressive universities around the world use it in their courses. Graduates of PBL courses advance faster and further in their careers.

Other benefits of PBL:

  • Develops critical and creative thinking;
  • Creates effective problem-solvers;
  • Increases motivation;
  • Encourages lateral thinking;
  • Improves communication and networking skills;
  • Is based on real-life situations.

What is Involved?

Every PBL project is carefully designed by experts to expose you to the information and skills that we want you to learn. When assigned a project, you are given:

  • A statement of the problem (e.g. diseased animal, failing business, anorexia case study);
  • Questions to consider when solving the problem;
  • A framework for the time and effort you should spend on the project;
  • Support from the school.
The problems that you will solve in your course will relate to what you are learning. They are problems that you might encounter when working in that field, adapted to your level of study. EXAMPLE OF A PBL PROJECT

PBL Project: Writing to Specification

Project Aim

Develop and draft submission specifications for a specified electronic publication; identify two viable subjects for articles for that publication, and write a draft of one article on one of those subjects, meeting the specifications for that publication.


Learning Outcomes

  1. Determine requirements of a specified electronic publisher for submitted articles.
  2. Conceive possible subjects for new articles that conform to specifications.
  3. Compare and select viable subjects for articles.
  4. Plan articles for electronic publishing.
  5. Prepare a first draft for an article, in accordance with specifications.


Problem Definition

    Consider: You are a freelance journalist who works in electronic publishing.

    The school’s (ACS’s) online Student Magazine needs more articles, but at the same time, the school wants to gain better control over quality and quantity of submissions.

    You have been employed (hypothetically), to help develop writer guidelines and a style guide for contributors, and then to prepare an article which adheres to those guidelines for the next edition.

    Your task now is:
    1.1 Look at the existing online magazine
    1.2 Compare past articles, identifying any undesirable or potentially undesirable variations in style and content
    1.3 Postulate rules that might be set for contributors to ensure consistency in submission style, format and content
    1.4 Draft contributor guidelines
    1.5 Draft a 2000 word feature article that adheres to your drafted submission specifications.

    Team Structure and Mode of Interaction

    Your team will consist of yourself and your tutor:

    • You are in the hypothetical role of journalist.
    • Your tutor is in the hypothetical role of the ezine owner/publisher. You should approach your tutor in the same way that you would approach an employer in this situation

    You must contact your tutor two times via phone, fax or email during the project, before attempting to commence the final submission. At each point of contact, you should ask your tutor three questions, and submit a brief progress report.

    You should be mindful that the hypothetical publisher (tutor) is an expert who is very busy, and is engaging your services in order to save time. They (like any real world publisher) will not be impressed if you demand a lot of assistance. They will also expect you to do the necessary research to become familiar with the nature of their publication, and its needs. Hence: questions you put to your tutor should be meaningful, designed to contribute toward achieving the stated project aim, and, above all, should not be repetitive. Contact should be concise and time efficient.
    You may also seek support from other interested parties within the school community by submitting relevant questions to students you find in the student directory (in the online student room). Seek meaningful feedback.

    Note: It is not your publisher’s (tutor’s) role to solve problems.

    Discussion Questions
    1. What things need to be defined in a contributors guide for an online magazine?
    2. What categories/types of articles do you consider relevant to the Student Magazine, and how would you define each type?
    3. What are industry-accepted norms regarding contributors guides (submission specifications)?
    4. What are some appropriate subjects for 2000 word articles that would interest and attract readers in the school’s student population?
    5. Which of the conceived articles would be most attractive to the perceived readership?

    These are issues or questions that may be considered, whether or not you can find answers.


    These are the resources you can or must utilise for this project.

    Human resources (optional) – You may draw on the skills, knowledge and assistance of others – other students, experts whom you consult, friends. All assistance must be formally acknowledged.

    Other resources (compulsory ) – You are expected to use some resources, but the choice of which ones are yours) You may gather the information required to solve this problem from course readings, books, journals, news programs, the internet, etc. All sources must be acknowledged.


    This project should take up to 33 hours (including communications with a tutor or others) and must be completed within 3 weeks from the date of commencement. When 25 hours of work has been completed, you should be moving onto the final report; and when 33 hours is completed, submit what you have, no matter what stage it is in. You may be penalised for exceeding this time limit.

    Final Report

    You may use any of a variety of means to present your project but should not spend more than a quarter of the total time involved in the project, on preparing the presentation.
    See the following table for presentation requirements:

    Presentation Component

    Minimum Required

    Maximum Allowed

    Mission statement for the Ezine


    One Sentence

    Three sentences

    Report Aim

    One sentence-ten words.

    One sentence –twenty words.


    Explanation of why contributor specifications are needed


    1/4 page summary

    1/2 page summary

    Contributor Specifications

    1 page presentation

    2 pages


    Plan for Draft Article

    Half page

    1 page


    Draft article

    1750 words

    2000 words

    Note: This presentation should be submitted as your assignment for this lesson.

    You are expected to work within the specifications, and you may be asked to repeat the presentation if you are even slightly outside of the specifications.

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