Problem-Based Learning: Examples, Theory & Definition

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  • 0:04 What's Problem-Based Learning?
  • 0:50 Problem-Based Learning Theory
  • 1:41 Components
  • 3:08 Application in the Classroom
  • 5:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Educators have a big task. Their job is to teach children, of course, but they also need to make learning engaging and show why it's important. Problem-Based Learning is a method that covers all of these requirements. Sound intriguing? Read on to find out what it is and why it works.

What's Problem-Based Learning?

At one time, schools were a place for children to be seen and not heard. They sat in straight rows and listened to the teacher lecture then practiced skills independently. Does this sound familiar? Maybe you were lucky enough to be on the other side of that trend, where teachers interacted more with their students and made learning fun and engaging.

These days a popular teaching model is Problem-Based Learning (PBL). This method has several components that make it unique: a question that guides an investigation, hands-on learning experiences, and a solution to the question in the form of a presentation. Sound like fun? It is, which is one of the reasons proponents of PBL think it works so well.

Problem-Based Learning Theory

As a learning model, PBL has several aspects, or strategies, that support its popularity. PBL focuses on students learning in a hands-on way instead of memorizing facts. It also urges children to use high-level thinking skills, which require them to analyze, create, defend, or evaluate. Students are socially active and learn to work as part of a group, asking and answering questions and supporting others' thoughts. They also find PBL experiences more engaging, motivating, and fun. Finally, the model naturally lends itself to inter-curricular lessons. Students use reading, writing, math, or other subjects to answer questions. Let's take a look at Mr. Tyler, a third grade teacher, to see what makes PBL a strong learning model.


As mentioned above, PBL has a few unique and specific elements. Mr. Tyler learned about the PBL model last year and has had several chances to use it in his third grade classroom already. Although he teaches elementary students, PBL is versatile enough to use at any grade level. Here's what it looks like:

  • All learning experiences with PBL begin with an essential question. This question is one that doesn't have a right answer and needs deep understanding of content to be answered.
  • Learning is self-directed, meaning students are responsible for finding a solution to the problem.
  • Students work in cooperative groups to find a solution.
  • The team of students presents their findings, called a culminating project, to the class.
  • Teachers are active in PBL, guiding students through their research and providing support.

So, Mr. Tyler presents an essential question to the class. He divides his students into small groups and provides support, learning tools, and encouragement as they research an answer. The students work together to find an answer to the question, strategize how to support their answer, and create a product to demonstrate their understandings and results. Got it? Luckily for us, Mr. Tyler is getting ready to start a PBL experience in social studies.

Application in the Classroom

It's almost the end of the year in Mr. Tyler's class and he's beginning a PBL unit for social studies. Although the content and question come from that subject area, students will need to use skills from other subjects, like reading and writing, to be successful.

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