Sustainicum Collection

Consus The aim of the project is to establish a regional science-society network for sustainability innovations in Albania and Kosovo in order to strengthen the connection and collaboration of institutions in the field of higher education, research and practice.

Resource facts

  • 11 to 30 students
    More than 30 students
  • Up to 3 lecture units
  • Internet connection necessary
  • English

Resource Description

Problem Based Learning (PBL)(Resource ID: 52)

Problem based learning (PBL) is an innovative instructional method. PBL promotes student-directed learning and therefore moves away from the traditional style of teaching. In a lesson delivered using the PBL method the learner is presented with the problem before the learning. This is in direct contrast to a typical formal education practice where the learner is presented with content in advance of the problem. The main aim of PBL is to maximise the learning process by requiring students to solve problems. PBL places the learner in an active role making a shift from a focus on teaching to a focus in learning.

PBL is a more learner focussed teaching method. In this method the learners are introduced to a problem. They then as a group develop some ideas based on that problem by using their prior knowledge and discussing their thoughts as a group. These collective processes lead to ideas about how to solve the problem and the actions that will be taken in order to reach a viable solution. This method differs from the traditional type of teaching (figure 1) due to the fact that the learners are not told what to do. Also in PBL the learners are not expected to memorise the content that has been provided by the instructor nor are they assigned a problem at the end to apply the knowledge that has been handed to them by the instructor.


Newman (2005) identified eight tasks associated with PBL

1.    Explore the problem: clarify terms and concepts that are not understandable, create hypotheses, identify issues.

2.    Identify what you know already that is pertinent.

3.    Identify what you do not know.

4.    As a group, prioritize the learning needs, set learning goals and objectives, allocate resources; members identify which

task they will do.

5.    Engage in a self-directed search for knowledge.

6.    Return to the group and share your new knowledge effectively so that all group members learn the information.

7.    Apply the knowledge; try to integrate the knowledge acquired into a comprehensive explanation.

8.    Reflect on what has been learned and the process of learning.

PBL is an active process that gives the learner the opportunity to identify what they know and as result what they don’t know. In order to solve a problem they need to find apply knowledge. The main role of the instructor in PBL is not to provide an easy answer, it is instead to facilitate the group process and learning.


Type of teaching method
  • Brain storming
  • Discussion / debate
  • Problem Solving
Preparation Efforts Description
The instructor must have a problem to present to the students. This could be in the form of a case study or simply a question that presents a problem for the learners to solve. The problem should not have one right answer such as ‘how many planets are in our solar system?’ instead it should probe a deeper understanding and encourage critical analysis. For example if you asked the question ‘what practices could a school implement in order to address key sustainability issues?’
Related Teaching Resources
In order to facilitate a lesson based on PBL the instructor must follow some keep steps in order for the lesson to run effectively. As this method breaks away from the traditional style of teaching the instructor should do the following: •Ask the question: What do you want the learners to know as a result of engaging in the PBL process? •Create the problem. This should be relevant to everyday problems and related to their course content. •Give students assigned roles It is essential that the learners have some prior knowledge of the problem they are faced with. This is because they need to draw on their existing knowledge in order to formulate ideas on the problem that is presented to them.
Necessary documents / materials


Integration of stakeholders
The benefit of including stakeholders in PBL is the learner can directly encounter the problems first hand. This presents an opportunity to have meaningful engagement and offer solutions based on real life situations. Having a variety of stakeholders will also allow the learner to see that there may not be just one answer i.e. one size does not fit all.
Situations appropriate for this method
This PBL method is highly relevant to sustainability as the topics/case studies that are could potentially be used can be taken directly from current sustainability issues. This allows the learners to be directly involved with the ‘problem’ and work together to offer achievable solutions that could be translated to real life. PBL can be used in a multitude of teaching settings and can be easily applied to any sustainability topic/issue. The important point is to approach the topic from a problem solving perspective.
Strengths of the method
• It encourages greater understanding taking the focus off rote learning
• Develops lifelong learning skills
• Promotes interdisciplinary
• It may aid student retention

Learners will:
• learn to solve real-life relevant problems
• develop the ability to use appropriate resources for problem solving
• develop self-directed learning skills
• practice critical thinking
• learn to work well as a collaborative team
Weaknesses of the method
• This method requires more time for both the learner and instructor
• Group dynamics issues may compromise the effectiveness of the method.
• For Instructors creating relevant problem scenarios may be difficult.
Assessment / evaluation
Due to the fact that the learning that is associated with PBL is more than an accumulation of facts the method for assessment should reflect the alternative nature of this approach. Therefore the traditional written examinations are not the best way to measure the students learning and understanding. As a result of this assessment could use the idea of concepts maps in which the learners display their knowledge by demonstrating relationships between concepts.
Sources and Links


Newman, M.J. (2005). Problem Based Learning: An introduction and Overview of the Key Features of the Approach. Journal of Veterinary Medicine. 32(1).





Funded by
This teaching resource, realised within the project ConSus, has been funded with the support of the TEMPUS of the European Union. The contents reflect the views of the authors, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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Audrey O’Grady
This teaching resource is allocated to following University:
UL - University of Limerick
University of Limerick


Creative Commons

Type of teaching method

  • Brain storming
  • Discussion / debate