An Introduction to Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a style of learning that may be adapted in its entirety, or as a part of a larger curriculum (as I do with my Human Anatomy, Neuroanatomy and Kinesiology classes). PBL, as defined by Dr. Howard Barrows and Ann Kelson of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, is both a curriculum and a process. The curriculum consists of carefully selected and designed problems that demand from the learner the acquisition of critical knowledge, problem solving proficiency, self-directed learning strategies, and team participation skills. The process replicates the commonly used systemic approach to resolving problems or meeting challenges that are encountered in life and career.

Role Changes

In PBL the traditional teacher and student roles change during the problem solving process. The students assume increasing responsibility for their learning, giving them more motivation and more feelings of accomplishment, setting the pattern for them to become successful life-long learners. The faculty in turn become resources, tutors, and evaluators, guiding the students in their problem solving efforts.


Students involved in PBL acquire knowledge and become proficient in problem solving, self-directed learning, and team participation. Studies show that PBL prepares students as well as traditional methods. PBL students do as well as their counterparts from traditional classrooms on national exams, but are in fact better practitioners of their professions.