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Problem based learning: Why, what and how?

problem-based-learning-approach

Traditional education is set to make our children obsolete. Do we really want our children to get 98% marks in exams and still be obsolete? Today’s children are being educated for a kind of world that will cease to exist.

We need to urgently identify the skills that will be relevant in a rapidly changing world. According to The Future of Jobs report by the World Economic Forum, new jobs are set to replace existing ones. To meet the challenges of the future workplace, today’s learners will need to build a range of ‘life impact’ skills.  These skills include the ability to innovate, to solve complex problems, to build and manage relationships, to be resilient and to have a growth mindset. These skills are presently neither taught nor assessed in traditional classrooms.

In the uncertain and complex world of the future, these skills will ensure our children can unlearn, relearn, adapt and reinvent themselves to be effective and successful across multiple (and dynamically changing) situations, circumstances and careers.

To thrive in the workplace of tomorrow, today’s learners need to learn how to apply their learning to solve the problems of the real world. From a young age, they need to be taught to take ownership of their learning process. The school needs to make them creators of new ideas and knowledge so that they can come up with better ways of doing things. These are the skills that will make today’s learners effective in tomorrow’s world.

Problem-based learning (or PBL) is an excellent pedagogical approach that equips young learners to tackle the challenges of a rapidly evolving world.

What is PBL?

One of the definitions of PBL by Jonassen & Hung, 2008 is PBL is a student-centred, inquiry-based instructional methodology, where learners engage with problems that require further research.

The PBL methodology helps learners and bridges the gap between textbook knowledge and real-life situations. It is backed by enormous research. It focusses on inquiry and collaboration and enables learning through higher levels of engagement and motivation.

Despite the undisputed potential of PBL, some educators struggle with PBL. Schools are hesitant to implement it since they don’t have the right roadmap for execution. They are unable to demonstrate the transformative potential of PBL to parents. The PBL cycle requires talented educators and can be implemented. If shown in the right manner, progressive parents can quickly begin to see the value in PBL.

7 Steps to Implement the Problem Based Learning

Step 1: Identify the Desired Outcome(s)

Desired Outcomes

PBL helps learners develop ‘life impact’ skills they will require to navigate the complex and changing world. The first step would be to identify the range of skills that need to be developed and assessed during the learning process.

Step 2: Begin with the child

Begin with the child

Most schools begin with the curriculum. PBL begins with the learner. The teacher engages the learners with the learning process and enables them to ‘get in the zone’ or GITZ. The GITZ can be a question, a video, a physical activity or a picture. The previous generation learnt things without context hence found the learning process uninteresting. The GITZ provides valuable context to learning. Anything that is done for a context or purpose is both meaningful and interesting.

Step 3: Getting learners to think

Getting learners to think

Interest once sparked leads learners to probe and look for answers. They start thinking at a deeper level, making connections between concepts learnt and real-life situations. They become critical thinkers and innovators.

Step 4: Getting learners to plan

Getting learners to plan

How will the learners go about answering a question or problem? How will the learners delegate tasks and how will they split in groups? Looking at a timeline needed to solve the problem, what other resources will the learners require to help answer the question? This is how PBL learners plan. It is also how adults work and solve problems in the real world.

Step 5: The real learning process

The real learning process

Learners research to help answer driving questions. This could be a field trip, an online resource, a textbook or an interview. Here, the learning is also carefully aligned to meet the needs of the curriculum.

Step 6: Becoming real leaders

Becoming real leaders

An actual product is created to answer the initial question or to solve the posed problem. The product needs to benefit the greater community. The community (usually comprising of parents, experts, relatives and friends) is also invited to critique and provide feedback on the product. This is how PBL resembles the real world.

Step 7: Deep learning

Deep learning

The final stage is the reflection stage. Rethinking how each task was done and how it could have been done better. Assessing the 360-degree approach: how well did the person, the group and the other individuals partake in the project experience? Assessments of content knowledge as well as ‘life impact’ skills are made using a sophisticated technology enabled learning management system.

PBL is how we work in the real world

The 7 stages are cyclical and closely resemble how most adults work in the real world. Whether we are entrepreneurs, managers or support staff, our typical workday revolves around solving problems and the successful implementation of projects. While doing so we require ‘life impact skills’ without which we would never be as ‘effective’ at work.

Akin to the real world, the PBL is process-oriented, collaborative, self-directed and engaged. It helps students prepare for the type of challenges and problems they are likely to face in their workplace of tomorrow. As educators and parents, it is our responsibility to equip children for the rapidly changing work landscape. Proper implementation of PBL based learning can set children on the right path.

Are we ready to equip our children for the future? Learn more about the PBL methodology by getting in touch with expert counsellors and educators at Vega Schools.

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