Introductory Videos

Introduction to Problem Based Learning (watch on YouTube)

David Joyner introduces Problem Based Learning as part of Pedagogical Styles.

Joyner, David. (2016). Pedagogical Styles: Problem Based Learning Introductory Video. Udacity. June 6, 2016.

Introductory Resources

Problem-Based Learning: An Introduction

This article describes what Problem-Based Learning is, what it does, historical origins, and classroom policies and procedures. At the end of the article, Rehm also provides resources with a description of each.

Rehm, Jim. (1998, Vol. 8 No. 1). Problem-Based Learning: An Introduction. National Teaching & Learning Forum. Retrieved from

Problem-Based Learning

"This issue of Speaking of Teaching identifies the central features of PBL, provides some guidelines for planning a PBL course, and discusses the impact of PBL on student learning and motivation." Speaking of Teaching is the quarterly Stanford University Newsletter on Teaching.

Speaking of Teaching. (2001, Winter). Problem-Based Learning. Stanford University, CA. Retrieved from

Problem-Based Learning

This article is part of a training module for problem-based learning. It is lengthy and provides a broad overview of problem-based learning and the issues surrounding it.

Center for Educational Technologies. (2011, April 21). Problem-Based Learning. Retrieved from

Problem-Based Learning

This article is aimed at MBA students. It justifies using Problem-Based Learning in the program at SFSU. It also provides a history, as well as the who, what, and why. It is an introduction to Problem-Based Learning.

Problem-Based Learning. (n.d.) Retrieved April 25, 2017 from

Problem-Based Learning

Wikipedia is an open encyclopedia. This link is for the entry for Problem-Based Learning.

Various. (2017). Problem-Based Learning. wikipedia. Retrieved from: April 25, 2017.

Scholarly Readings

Scaffolding Teachers' Efforts to Implement Problem-Based Learning

Despite prevalent recommendations for the adoption of problem-based learning (PBL) approaches, the transition to PBL teaching is not easy. Given the general lack of experience most teachers have with open-ended teaching strategies, novice PBL instructors are likely to encounter difficulties in all aspects of instruction: planning, implementing, and assessing. More specifically, researchers have reported that instructors experience frustration with the amount of time it takes to implement problem-based experiences, report difficulty transitioning students into more active roles, and note struggles with effectively assessing student learning.

Ertmer, P. A., & Simons, K. D. (2005). Scaffolding teachers’ efforts to implement problem-based learning. International Journal of Learning, 12(4), 319-328.

Scaffolding and Achievement in Problem-based and Inquiry Learning: A Response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006)

Many innovative approaches to education such as problem-based learning (PBL) and inquiry learning (IL) situate learning in problem-solving or investigations of complex phenomena. Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) grouped these approaches together with unguided discovery learning. However, the problem with their line of argument is that IL and PBL approaches are highly scaffolded. In this article, we first demonstrate that Kirschner et al. have mistakenly conflated PBL and IL with discovery learning. We then present evidence demonstrating that PBL and IL are powerful and effective models of learning. Far from being contrary to many of the principles of guided learning that Kirschner et al. discussed, both PBL and IL employ scaffolding extensively thereby reducing the cognitive load and allowing students to learn in complex domains. Moreover, these approaches to learning address important goals of education that include content knowledge, epistemic practices, and soft skills such as collaboration and self-directed learning.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Duncan, R. G., & Chinn, C. A. (2007). Scaffolding and achievement in problem-based and inquiry learning: A response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006). Educational psychologist, 42(2), 99-107.

Problem-Based Learning

ABSTRACT Problem-based learning (PBL) is perhaps the most innovative instructional method conceived in the history of education. PBL was originally designed to respond to the criticism that traditional teaching and learning methods fail to prepare medical students for solving problems in clinical settings.

Hung, W., Jonassen, D. H., & Liu, R. (2008). Problem-based learning. Handbook of research on educational communications and technology, 3, 485-506.

Rebecca's in the Dark: A Comparative Study of Problem-Based Learning and Direct Instruction/Experiential Learning in Two 4th-Grade Classrooms

Seeking improved student performance in elementary schools has led educators to advocate inquiry-based teaching approaches, including problem-based learning (PBL). In PBL, students simultaneously develop problem-solving strategies, disciplinary knowledge bases, collaborative skills, and dispositions. Research into the efficacy of PBL in elementary school settings is in the seminal stage and reveals mixed results. In this pilot study, 4th graders receiving PBL in science were compared with a corresponding group receiving the same instruction in thematic format. Using a quasi-experimental design, the researchers investigated students’ knowledge of content, stereotypical images of scientists, time-on-task, and transfer of problem-solving skills.

Drake, K. N., & Long, D. (2009). Rebecca’s in the dark: A comparative study of problem-based learning and direct instruction/experiential learning in two 4th-grade classrooms. Journal of Elementary Science Education, 21(1), 1-16.

A Problem Based Learning Meta Analysis Differences Across Problem Types Implementation Types Disciplines and Assessment Levels

Problem based learning (PBL) in its most current form originated in Medical Education but has since been used in a variety of disciplines (Savery & Duffy, 1995) at a variety of educational levels (Savery, 2006). Although recent meta analyses have been conducted (Dochy, Segers, Van den Bossche, & Gijbels, 2003; Gijbels, Dochy, Van den Bossche, & Segers, 2005) that attempted to go beyond medical education, they found only one study in economics and were unable to explain large portions of the variance across results. This work builds upon their efforts as a meta-analysis that crosses disciplines as well as categorizes the types of problems used (Jonassen, 2000), the PBL approach employed (Barrows, 1986), and the level of assessment (Gijbels et al., 2005; Sugrue, 1993, 1995). Across 82 studies and 201 outcomes the findings favor PBL (d = 0.13, +/- .025) with a lack of homogeneity (Q = 954.27) that warrants a closer examination of moderating factors.

Drake, K. N., & Long, D. (2009). Rebecca’s in the dark: A comparative study of problem-based learning and direct instruction/experiential learning in two 4th-grade classrooms. Journal of Elementary Science Education, 21(1), 1-16.

When is PBL More Effective? A Meta-synthesis of Meta-analyses Comparing PBL to Conventional Classrooms

Problem-based learning (PBL) has been utilized for over 40 years in a variety of different disciplines. Although extensively researched, there is heated debate about the effectiveness of PBL. Several meta-analyses were conducted that provided a synthesis of the effects of PBL in comparison to traditional forms of instruction. This study used a qualitative meta-synthesis approach to compare and contrast the assumptions and findings of the meta-analytical research on the effectiveness of PBL. Findings indicated that PBL was superior when it comes to long-term retention, skill development and satisfaction of students and teachers, while traditional approaches were more effective for short-term retention as measured by standardized board exams. Implications are discussed.

Strobel, J. , & van Barneveld, A. (2009). When is PBL More Effective? A Meta-synthesis of Meta-analyses Comparing PBL to Conventional Classrooms. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 3(1).

Problem-Based Learning MeetsCase-Based Reasoning in the Middle-School Science Classroom: Putting Learning by Design Into Practice

This article tells the story of the design of Learning by Design™ (LBD), a project-based inquiry approach to science learning with roots in case-based reasoning and problem-based learning, pointing out the theoretical contributions of both, classroom issues that arose upon piloting a first attempt, ways we addressed those challenges, lessons learned about promoting learning taking a project-based inquiry approach, and lessons learned about taking a theory-based approach to designing learning environments

Kolodner, J. L., Camp, P. J., Crismond, D., Fasse, B., Gray, J., Holbrook, J., ... & Ryan, M. (2003). Problem-based learning meets case-based reasoning in the middle-school science classroom: Putting learning by design (tm) into practice. The journal of the learning sciences, 12(4), 495-547.

Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning

The Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning (IJPBL) publishes relevant, interesting, and challenging articles of research, analysis, or promising practice related to all aspects of implementing problem-based learning (PBL) in K–12 and post-secondary classrooms.


Cindy Hmelo-Silver

Professor at the school of education at Indiana University Bloomington.

Henk G. Schmidt

Henk Schmidt (1947) is a professor of psychology at Erasmus University’s faculty of social sciences and founding dean of its problem-based psychology curriculum.

John Sweller

John Sweller (1946 — ) is an Australian educational psychologist who is best known for formulating an influential theory of cognitive load.

Meet Janet Kolodner

Janet Kolodner is a former program officer for the NSF Cyberlearning Program and former Regents’ Professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Paul Kirschner

Paul A. Kirschner (1951) is University Distinguished Professor at the Open University of the Netherlands as well as Visiting Professor of Education with a special emphasis on Learning and Interaction in Teacher Education at the University of Oulu, Finland.

Problem-Based Learning at University of Delaware

For more than ten years, the Leaders and Fellows of the Institute for Transforming Undergraduate Education (ITUE) have encouraged the adoption of student-centered and active classroom pedagogies—and in particular—the use of PBL in the undergraduate classroom. On- and off-campus workshops are held for faculty and students to enhance their understanding of PBL.

Wake Forest Problem Based Learning

Our model of Problem and Project-Based Learning builds on the educational discoveries of the early 20th century.

Woei Hung, Ph.D.

Woei Hung is currently a professor and graduate director of the Instructional Design and Technology Program (Department of Teaching& Learning) at the University of North Dakota. His research areas include problem-based learning (PBL), complex problem solving, types and difficulty levels of problems, systems thinking and modeling, concept mapping and formation, and creativity.

Ongoing Projects

PBL Project

A project intended to bring project based learning into schools.

Problem-Based Learning for College Physics

A collection of problem based projects for college physics programs.

Problem-Based Learning the Four Core Areas

This blog resource deposits and shares learning and teaching materials based on Problem-Based Learning

In the Media

Opinion: Problem-based education; changing the model

Sam Shames discusses problem-based learning at MIT.

VISTA brings problem-based approach to science learning

Program receives award from Virginia Mathematics and Science Coalition.

Springfield to use problem-based learning

Kermit Rowe investigates an implementation of problem-based learning in Springfield, Ohio.

Why failure is crucial for a student’s success

John Merrow discusses the merits of problem-based learning.

The Problem Based Learning approach to education in The Netherlands

Along with the standard learning formats such as lectures, workshops, and internships, universities in The Netherlands always look for innovative approaches to learning that are able to improve the study experience and to elevate education to a higher level. One of these innovative approaches is called Problem Based Learning, or PBL. It was first implemented in Holland by Stenden University of Applied Sciences in the middle of twentieth century.