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Creating Effective Learning Experiences: Problem-Based Learning

Last week, we were discussing goal-based learning and how the approach is considered beneficial to an individual’s Continuing Professional Development [CPD] in the workplace.

As part of our series looking into different learning approaches and workplace learning, we’re exploring ‘problem-based’ learning and how its learner-centric nature enables a focused approach to reducing gaps in skills and knowledge.

What is Problem-Based Learning?

Problem-based learning is, as the name suggests, an approach in which learning takes place through the experience of solving a problem.

This approach has become particularly popular in education, such as medical education, where problems are used to teach cross-curriculum. For example, using the recent heatwave to explore geography [causes of heatwave], economics [why did we run out of beer and fans] and, science [how to cool down]…

In the workplace, examples of problem-solving could include a customer complaint, miscommunication between colleagues or a project challenge.

The problem-based method allows the learner to develop logical thinking, alongside knowledge transfer which, in a work based scenario, could improve retention due to its relevance to their situation.

This type of learning is often delivered via groups, which means you can bring a social element to the heart of things with learners gaining extra insights from the viewpoints of their peers.

Figure 1 demonstrates the process of problem-based learning and how learners can develop and utilise their knowledge with this approach. 

How Can I Use It?

Problem-based learning is a great interactive learning tool, particularly for multiple topics or to encourage group learning. The following are some options for how to use this approach:

Deliver a project and learn at the same time!

If there’s already a project you’re looking to deliver, you could utilise that project additionally as a learning experience, through delivering facilittaion and reflection alongside the day-to-day project delivery.

This is similar to how some University courses are delivered for example, with engineering projects used as learning experiences.

Social engagement

Problem-based learning works best when focused on discussions round the piece of learning. This means they are great for utilising the best of social learning experiences.

By creating a safe space for open discussion, this allows the learners to increase their engagement and learn from each other.


With a focus on multiple topic delivery, this is a good unique opportunity to bring multiple teams together to participate in group learning surrounding a particular problem.

Allowing people to speak who might not usually engage with each other ensures varied perspectives on the problem and a more varied learning experience.

What are the benefits?

Real-World Problems Inform Real-World Solutions

By providing learners with real-world problems to solve as part of their learning experience, learners can see the relevance to them and, are then encouraged to make reasoned decisions regarding a real-world solution.

These solutions can be put into practice and refined inside the workplace as learners are encouraged to defend their solution; considering various approaches with the added benefit of developing their ability to make considered, informed decisions within their role.

Prompts Discussion

This approach to learning not only engages your learners but, also prompts debate regarding the problem and, varying solutions to the problem.

This encourages your employees to voice their opinion and share their views on opposing strategies in a more constructive way to their colleagues. Thus, building an emphasis on teamwork within your organisation.

Facilitates Self-Directed Learning

While learning facilitators are guiding the experience for the learners, often setting up the initial problem and boundaries around the activity, fundamentally, these types of activities can be left to the individuals and group to decide how they will approach and inform their decisions around solving the problem, thus gaining from self-directed learning.

As a learner-centric approach, problem-based learning enables a focused framework in which learners are able to discover, research and solve real-world problems. When compared to the teacher-centric approach of most traditional elearning, problem-based learning empowers learners to test and develop knowledge and skills more autonomously, and along with the benefits of group learning, encourages more problem-solvers, teamworks and leaders, all alongside knowledge transfer.

We’ll be exploring more about Learning Experience Platforms over the coming months but, for now read more on Self-Directed Learning here.

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