Problem-Based Learning for Online Courses

Can problem-based learning actually be done well in an online classroom?

That depends on our understanding of problem-based learning (PBL), how much time we put into planning and implementing PBL with our students, and the support network we have as we are preparing and facilitating PBL.

Most often, students attend classes where the instructor imparts knowledge for the student to learn or simply memorize. The students are eventually asked to apply that knowledge to a test or project which will demonstrate the extent of what they have retained. The problem that occurs for many students and instructors is that the students don't retain much once they leave the class and move on to more advanced courses. They haven't made connections between what they are learning and their life.

PBL is a method of instruction where a problem or question drives the learning from day one of the course. If you have worked with me in the development of course curriculum you've probably heard me talk about developing essential questions for your course. These are open-ended, debatable, engaging questions that drive to the heart of the major topics on which the course curriculum is built. Let's look at an example of how essential questions can be used to facilitate PBL.

If we were to pose an essential question at the beginning of a unit/module/lesson such as "Is technology advancement creating a lazy society?", we could guide students in small groups to investigate the pieces necessary to answer that question. They would be guided to answer the question and present to the class, calling on multiple sources of information. These sources could include course materials, instructor lectures, outside resources and their own experiences. Each group would most likely have different answers or at least have varying support for their responses.

How do you integrate this style in an online classroom? Consider how PBL works in a face to face classroom, and then think about your LMS along with other tools available to you and students online. Connect the dots and translate the face-to-face PBL components into the tools for your online class.  For example, groups can meet virtually through Carmen discussions and CarmenConnect.  Groups can share files through BuckeyeBox and collaborate on files through BuckeyeBox Notes. Students can present to each other through CarmenConnect or create video presentations to post on a blog site in U.OSU.EDU.

Reflecting on everything discussed above, what are some other ways you can think of to create a problem-based learning experience in your online course and what resources would it require?

I've just scratched the surface of PBL in online environments. Find more resources for getting started in the Learn More section below.