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Friday, June 19, 2015

Blended Problem-Based Learning: Finding the Best Blend

Problem-based learning has proved to be highly effective for careers and industries in which a great deal of hands-on learning / skills-based practice is required and also in team environments.

Examples include petroleum exploration and development, pipeline construction, manufacturing / processing, construction, medicine, pharmaceutical sales, allied health industries, and hospitality / tourism.

Outcomes are often measured in the ability to effectively and accurately perform tasks.

Keys to Successful Learning Program Design

The keys to successful design of a problem-based blended or 100% elearning program include the following:

    *  Definition of the outcome - the level of competency required by the skill or task
    *  Identification of a representative problem or task
    *  Determination of how to develop materials that provide information, conceptual underpinnings, and support
    *  Determination of the best ways to effectively collaborate, either digitally or face-to-face
    *  Identifying the limitations of the communications technologies and the learning management system
    *  Alignment of abilities of the team members, both in terms of the subject of the training and their technology skills / abilities.

Collaboration Materials and Methods

In a blended problem-based learning program that includes face-to-face with online learning, it is very important to determine the best blend of online and face-to-face. Generally, collaborative activities are done both face-to-face as well as online, but in some cases the collaborations take place completely online.

Collaborations can take the form of the following
    *  Collaborative forum
    *  Wiki
    *  Collaborative project
    *  Portfolio
    *  Gallery

It is important to find the best combination of synchronous and asynchronous communication so that joint work on the collaborative project is done in a way that is confidence-building for all the members of the team.

Good collaboration project design provides an excellent opportunity for assuring optimal conditions for learning as well as for building self-efficacy. Creating flexible roles and a wide range of topics also helps foster a sense of self-determination, which can be very motivating.

Building Block Process for Problem-Based Learning Design

Modifying the widely-used Maastricht University design (Schmidt, 1983) for blended solutions can be highly useful in order to avoid missing elements of content or process.

Seven-step process for developing materials / design

1.    Case:  Find the one that is most effective for the learning outcomes
2.    Define problem:  Within each case, find the core issue or problem
3.    Brainstorm:  Take a moment to start to uncover ways to solve the problem; this is an invention stage.
4.    Form possible solutions: After doing the  test them
5.    Define deeper learning objectives (metacognition)
6.    Self-study -- conduct research, work with group, use a "pull" model for information
7.    Collaboration / Synthesis: final outcome and/or assessment


Evaluating the learning situation in order to optimize the methods, tools, and materials in problem-based learning is very important. However, more important is the method in which collaboration takes place so that constructivist learning can be optimized. This paper lists a few methods and methologies.


Moeller, Stefan; Spitzer, Klaus; Spreckelsen, How to configure blended problem-based learning -- Results of a randomized trial. Cord. Medical Teacher. Aug2010, Vol. 32 Issue 8, pe328-e346.

Schmidt, HG. (1983) Problem-based learning: An instructional model and its constructivist framework. CRLT Technical Report No. 16-01.

susan smith nash, ph.d.

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