Problem-based Learning- Tips to Boost Students Engagement and Enhance Their Learning

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PBL is  a student centred  and process-oriented approach. It puts a premium on the process not the outcome. Its main objective is to develop students problem solving skills to apply in real world scenarios outside the walls of the classroom. According to Tan (2013 cited in Normala et al. 2013), problem based learning cultivates a number of key skills including:
  • Teamwork
  • Independent learning
  • Communication skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Interdisciplinary skills
  • Information-mining skills
  • Higher-order thinking skills
At the core of PBL is the ability to enhance students learning and sustain their focus through engaging them either individually or collectively in challenging  problem based activities. However, for problems to be learning oriented they need to be  well-structured and designed according to a number of criteria. More specifically, they need to heed the following requirements as speculated by  Allen, Duch and Groth (1996) and Gallagher (1997)  cited in Normala, 2013:
  • Contain multiple solution paths
  • Change as new information is obtained
  • Contain content that is authentic to the discipline
  • Generate interest and controversy and cause the learner to ask questions
  • Prevent students from knowing that they have made the "right" decision
  • Require more information for understanding the problem than is initially available
  •  Be open-ended and complex enough to require collaboration and thinking beyond recall.
To learn more about what PBL is all about and learn how to effectively apply it in your teaching, we curated this collection of some must read books in this direction. Links to the books are under the visual

Please note, the links below are Amazon affiliate links enabling me to earn from your purchases.

6 Great Problem-based Learning Books for Teachers

1- Problem-Based Learning: An Inquiry Approach by John F. Barell (Author)
‘This standards-based, teacher-friendly second edition offers step-by-step procedures that make this effective teaching model highly doable for all teachers, with examples showing problem-based learning in action.’

2- The Practice of Problem-Based Learning: A Guide to Implementing PBL in the College Classroom, by José A. Amador (Author), Libby Miles (Author), Calvin B. Peters (Author)
‘This book is a guide for the development and implementation of problem-based learning (PBL) in college-level courses. It provides practical advice from real professors, includes examples of PBL in action through every stage from problem development to implementation, and integrates cross-disciplinary experiences into the practice of PBL in the college classroom.’

3- Problem-based Learning: Welcome to the "Real World": A Teaching Model for Adult Learners, by Dr. Wendy J. Flint 
‘In this book, the characteristics of problem-based learning are explained and the theories that support problem-based learning are explored. Through a faculty mentoring project, the research conducted at a community college found significant improvement in student engagement and learning with a diverse population of students.’

4- The Power of Problem-Based Learning, by Barbara J. Duch (Editor), Susan E. Groh (Editor), Deborah E. Allen (Editor)
‘Focuses on the practical questions which anyone wishing to embark on PBL will want to know: "Where do I start?"–"How do you find problems?"–"What do I need to know about managing groups?"–"How do you grade in a PBL course?" The case studies from a variety of disciplines?including biochemistry, pre-law, physics, nursing, chemistry, political science and teacher education?provide examples of practice.’

5- Problem-Based Learning for Math & Science: Integrating Inquiry and the Internet, by Diane L. Ronis  (Author)
‘Illustrates how to strengthen learners' problem-solving skills by incorporating problem-based learning (PBL) with Internet resources and presents projects that correlate to national science, mathematics, and technology standards.’

6- The Challenge of Problem Based Learning, by David Boud (Author), Grahame Feletti
‘Problem-based learning is a way of constructing and teaching courses using problems as the stimulus and focus for student activity. This edition looks at the topic in the light of changes since the first edition (1991). There are new chapters on the impact of PBL, and inquiry and action learning.’


1- Normala, O., and Shar, M.(2013). Problem-based learning in the English language classroom. English Language Teaching, 6(3): 125-134.
2- Tan, Oon Seng. (2003). Problem-based learning innovation. Singapore: Thomson.
3- Allen, D. E., Duch, B. J., and  Groh, S. E. (1996). The power of problem-based learning in teaching introductory science courses. In L. Wilkerson, & W.H. Gijselaers (Eds.), Bringing Problem-Based Learning to Higher Education: Theory and Practice (pp. 43-52). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.