Problem-based learning (PBL)
Problem-based learning (PBL) is a learner-centred and an application-oriented pedagogical methodology in which students are assessed on their ability to go through a problem solving process, usually based on real-life situations. Engineering is one of the areas where PBL is a valid learning alternative/complement to the traditional learning methods with the following benefits for engineering students: considerable improvements in critical, lateral and creative thinking; problem solving strategies; intrinsic motivation; group collaboration; communication skills; entrepreneurship skills and collaboration with society and regional development. According to Kolmos, President of the European Society for Engineering Education and Professor at Aalborg University, the implementation of innovative learning methods such as PBL in engineering education may be regarded as “the higher engineering education’s response to requirements from society”. From the engineering point of view, the interdisciplinary perspective that PBL proposes plays an important role since most innovation and real-life problem solving are based on cross disciplinary, interdisciplinary and collaborative knowledge.
There are several examples and experiences that use PBL, such as the ones at Maastricht University, Victoria University and Université Catholique de Louvain. A study from the engineering magazine Nyhedsmagasinet Ingeniøren judged and compared competences and skills between graduates from Aalborg University (AAU) and the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). The study showed a significant higher competence by AAU graduates (trained with PBL) in disciplines such as project and people management, contact and working relations, innovative and creative skills, knowledge of business and overall education quality.
However there are some implementation/integration problems like the fact that PBL is more time and resource consuming, in order for the learner to approach, analyse and develop a problem solving strategy. Each engineering school and department needs to decide if PBL is in alignment with their respective teaching and learning philosophies while taking in account that PBL can be incorporated in the entire curriculum or at a component level, such as in courses or units of courses and that the extent of incorporation of PBL in the curriculum depends on financial and personnel resources as well as time constraints and the readiness of faculty and students. It is then important to notice however that PBL can be incorporated within existing structures without much disruption as it can be implemented in a variety of depth forms.