what is problem based learning

What Is Problem-Based Learning?

By Maureen Leming

Take a little bit of creativity, add a dash of innovation, and sprinkle in some critical thinking. This recipe makes for a well-rounded and engaged student who's ready to tackle life beyond the classroom. It's called Problem-Based Learning (PBL), and it teaches concepts and inspires lifelong learning at the same time.

This open-ended problem-based learning style presents students with a real-world issue and asks them to come up with a well-constructed answer. They can tap into online resources, use their previously-taught knowledge, and ask critical questions to brainstorm and present a solid solution. Unlike traditional learning, there might not be just one right answer, but the process encourages young minds to stay active and think for themselves. 

We're all about the problem-based learning approach at The Hun School of Princeton. Through this article, you'll discover why — and what it looks like in real time.

An Overview of Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a teaching style that pushes students to become the drivers of their learning education. 

Problem-based learning uses complex, real-world issues as the classroom's subject matter, encouraging students to develop problem-solving skills and learn concepts instead of just absorbing facts. 

This can take shape in a variety of different ways. For example, a problem-based learning project could involve students pitching ideas and creating their own business plans to solve a societal need. Students could work independently or in a group to conceptualize, design, and launch their innovative product in front of classmates and community leaders.

At the Hun School of Princeton, a problem-based learning mode is offered in conjunction with course content. This approach has been shown to help students develop critical thinking and communication skills as well as problem-solving abilities.

Aspects of Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning can be applied to any school subject, from social studies and literature to mathematics and science. No matter the field, a good problem-based learning approach should embody features like:

  • Challenging students to understand classroom concepts on a deeper level.
  • Pushing students to make decisions they're able to defend.
  • Clearly connecting current course objectives to previous courses and knowledge.
  • Encouraging students to work as a group to solve the complex issue at hand.
  • Engaging students to solve an open-ended problem in multiple complex stages.

Benefits of Student-Led, Problem-Based Learning

Student-led learning is one of the most empowering ways to seat students at the forefront of their own educational experience. 

It pushes students to be innovative, creative, open-minded, and logical. It also offers opportunities to collaborate with others in a hands-on, active way. 

As part of our immersive educational model, we've discovered many benefits of problem-based learning:

  • Promote self-learning: As a student-centered approach, problem-based learning pushes kids to take initiative and responsibility for their own learning. As they're pushed to use research and creativity, they develop skills that will benefit them into adulthood.
  • Highly engaging: Instead of sitting back, listening and taking notes, problem-based learning puts students in the driver's seat. They have to stay sharp, apply critical thinking, and think outside the box to solve problems. 
  • Develop transferable skills: The abilities students develop don't just translate to one classroom or subject matter. They can be applied to a plethora of school subjects as well as life beyond, from taking leadership to solving real-world dilemmas.
  • Improve teamwork abilities: Many problem-based learning projects have students collaborate with classmates to come up with a solution. This teamwork approach challenges kids to build skills like collaboration, communication, compromise, and listening.
  • Encourage intrinsic rewards: With problem-based learning projects, the reward is much greater than simply an A on an assignment. Students earn the self-respect and satisfaction of knowing they've solved a riddle, created an innovative solution, or manufactured a tangible product.
5 Benefits of Problem-Based Learning

Five Examples of Problem-Based Learning in Action

With a little context in mind, it's time to take a look at problem-based learning in the real world. One of the best parts of this learning style is that it's very flexible. You can adapt it to your classroom, content, and students. The following five examples are success stories of problem-based learning in action:

  1. Maritime discovery: Students explore maritime culture and history through visits to a nearby maritime museum. They're tasked with choosing a specific voyage, researching it, and crafting their own museum display. Throughout their studies, they'll create a captain's log, including mapping out voyages and building their own working sextant.
  2. Urban planning: Perfect for humanities classes, this example challenges students to observe and interview members of their community and determine the biggest local issue. They formulate practical solutions that they will then pitch to a panel of professional urban planners.
  3. Zoo habitats: This scientific example starts with a visit to a local zoo. Students use their observations and classroom knowledge to form teams and create research-supported habitat plans, presented to professional zoologists. 
  4. Codebreakers: Instead of regular math lessons, let students lead with a code-breaking problem-based learning assignment. Students take on the role of a security agent tasked with decrypting a message, coding a new one in return, and presenting their findings to the classroom.
  5. Financial advisors: Challenge students to step into the role of a financial advisor and decide how to spend an allotted amount of money in a way that most benefits their community. Have them present their solution and explain their reasoning to the class.

The Hun School: Problem-Based Learning in Action

The Hun School of Princeton brings problem-based learning to life in our classrooms. Our collaborative school culture places a unique emphasis on hands-on, skilled-based education. NextTerm is just one example of problem-based learning in action here at The Hun School. 

NextTerm gives students the opportunity to apply classroom knowledge to solve real-world problems on a local, national, and global scale. Take our Migration and Identity class, for example. Students in this course travel to the U.S.-Mexican border to speak directly to border patrol agents, ranchers, and immigrants in order to learn about the complex issue of migration straight from the source. Of course, this location is one of many that our students can explore. Our mandatory three-week mini-course, NextTerm, brings students beyond the campus and into a new environment, from domestic locations in Arizona, Montana, and Memphis to international locales in France and Ghana. 

At our campus in Princeton, Hun students explore a relevant issue in collaboration with each other and field experts. They could be learning about the complexity of Ghanian economics or experiencing the modern-day impact of French history. This real-world immersion gives new power to their knowledge and helps them see the link between the classroom and the world at large. As they solve problems, Hun students can develop as individuals and teammates.

Ready to learn more about The Hun School approach and see problem-based learning strategies at work?

Inquire about Hun or schedule a tour to see problem-based learning in action!

Request More Information