Problem-Based Learning — Why and How it makes the Biggest Impact on your Child’s Development?

Sandy Hooda
Dec 26, 2019 · 6 min read
Problem Based Learning
Problem Based Learning

In my interactions with parents, I (Sandy Hooda, Co-Founder — VEGA SCHOOLS) often find they do not yet know about the power of PBL, or problem-based learning. Parents and sometimes even educators view PBL with curiosity, however the reality is that PBL is the optimal educational pedagogy for the 21st century, and is changing education the world.

Introduced nearly half-a-century ago, PBL is a teaching strategy that prepares learners for the challenges of real life. It’s a research-oriented learning process, where children are in the driver’s seat, they are at the center of learning. They don’t just follow instructions from an adult in a classroom-setting. Instead, children ask questions, discover answers, solve problems and tackle real challenges being faced by their community and the larger society.

Learners solve problems by imagining, investigating, evaluating, designing, inventing, collaborating, and communicating. With the world advancing at a rapid pace into the 21st century, PBL is by far the most effective teaching method for future-thinking learners.

Before we appreciate the impact of Problem-based Learning, let’s take a closer look at,

What is PBL?

PBL is a practice where learners learn by doing and by applying knowledge to solve a real world problem or to do a real world project. Children are active participants and not just passive receivers in the educational process. In a traditional classroom setup, children are considered as vessels to be filled with knowledge.

PBL Pyramid
PBL Pyramid

However, in a PBL classroom, we can often see students participating in asking important questions, approaching complex problems, designing research projects, coming up with new ideas and unique solutions. PBL encourages students to investigate real-world issues and develop practically feasible solutions.

Today’s PBL learners are tomorrow’s change makers at the grass roots, at the national as well as the global arena.

PBL doesn’t isolate subjects. Instead, it focuses on a multi-disciplinary approach. Today the world’s leading educators champion PBL because it triggers curiosity in the minds of students. Wondering what the benefits of triggering curiosity in the minds of young learners are?

open classroom
open classroom

Research shows that curious and self-motivated children grow up to become deep learners who master complex subjects. They don’t learn a topic just for passing tests and getting good grades. Instead, they develop a fascination with the subject. They learn how to relate the subject to real-world problems, thereby growing up to become influencers, entrepreneurs, scientists, technologists, thinkers, artists and researchers who can think laterally and can potentially change the world.

The myths and misconceptions around PBL

As Problem-based Learning is a relatively new concept in India and is not yet practiced beyond a handful of schools in the country. PBL is not easy for the teachers and requires extraordinary skills and effort on the part of teachers. I believe that when parents deepen their knowledge and clear their doubts about PBL, they will realize its benefits. Some common myths about PBL are:

A problem-based learning classroom is all about activities, and……there isn’t much learning happening.

Several studies show that passively memorizing content or using content to do simple tasks (example: solving a quadratic equation) no longer prepares children for success in today’s digital world. With all the content of the world available at one’s fingertips with just a few taps or clicks, it’s no longer sufficient (or relevant) for children to memorize concepts without understanding the underlying principles, and more importantly without developing the ability to use content to come up with new and better ways of doing things.

PBL equips students for survival and success in the real world. It helps them build critical skills to thrive in a knowledge-based, highly technological society of tomorrow.

Teachers don’t teach, and…… the learning has to be done by the child on his/her own.

In a PBL classroom, teachers (we prefer the term educators) don’t teach in the traditional sense — standing in the front of the classroom and speaking/writing the lessons on the board.

A PBL classroom is not positioned like a regular lecture-driven classroom. There’s no one-way communication taking place. Instead, the teacher is an educator who, along with the learners, is an active participant in the learning process.

The educator in a PBL classroom doesn’t criticize or judge, and instead asks questions and renders constructive feedback, helping learners lead their own investigations and learn at their own pace.

The PBL educator is like a musical conductor. He/she inspires, involves, and fosters a love of learning in children by creating an environment where the learners do the real work. This process helps them become lifelong learners.

With the PBL approach, will my child do well in competitive or college entrance exams.

This is the greatest myth of all. Studies show that children who learn in a problem-based learning system do just as well, and as an average incrementally better, on all metrics compared to their traditional counterparts. And they far exceed their traditional counterparts in all the real world skills. Greater engagement leads to greater attention which in turn leads to long-term retention of things learnt. With a deeper understanding of concepts, problem-solving skills, figuring out the relevance between subjects learned in the classroom and real-world issues, collaboration skills — a PBL learner is light years ahead of traditional learners.

And the cherry on the cake is that PBL learners tend to do just as well, or better than traditional learners in standardized competitive exams.

If PBL is so impactful, then why hasn’t it become mainstream yet?

That’s a valid question. It’s because PBL is difficult to implement and extremely challenging to implement well. For one, it is not possible for a school to apply problem-based learning overnight. A school cannot implement PBL without overhauling the entire framework of the traditional classroom. The school needs to be completely redesigned where the traditional classrooms need to be replaced with variable learning zones. This is hard to do with a school that has already been constructed. More importantly, teachers have to unlearn all that they have learned to become effective PBL educators. They need to think differently and need advanced creative and problem solving skills. Their attitude towards learners also needs to change from being in a ‘command-control’ mode to a more equal relationship of mutual respect with the learners.

However, once a school can get past the initial hurdles, the results are trans-formative and every bit worth the time and effort.

I would like with one of my favorite quotes of all time by Jean Piaget.

“Education, for most people, means trying to lead the child to resemble the typical adult of his society. But, for me, education means making creators. You have to make inventors, innovators, and not conformists.”

As parents, it’s time for us to embrace these words and aspire to make our children creators of their future. Is your child’s school helping your child blossom into a unique creator and innovator? If not, it’s time to get your voice heard and demand the best education our children deserve.

I (Sandy Hooda, Co-Founder — VEGA SCHOOLS) have started the petition, “Let’s change education together!” and wanted to see if you could help by adding your name. You can read more and sign the petition here: http://chng.it/vn6BGrY5C8.

Sandy Hooda

Written by

Co-Founder @ VEGA SCHOOLS | Changemaker | Disrupting how we teach with PBL(problem based learning).

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