Problem-Based Learning: Foundations to Effectiveness

Think of a time when you came home from work feeling proud and accomplished. I’d be willing to wager that most of those feelings came because you’d solved a problem that day. From the frontline to the C-Suite, the great majority of the work that actually pushes a company forward is rooted in problem-solving. Solving problems is in our DNA. When our ancestors needed heat, they discovered fire – problem solved.

Of course, the problems we must solve in order to thrive at our jobs are far more complicated. But because so much of a modern work force faces problems in need of solving every day, doesn’t it make sense that we incorporate problem solving in our approach to learning?

Problem-based learning involves a strategic approach of structuring the learning process within authentic, challenging, multidisciplinary scenarios. We create real-life circumstances that prepare the learner for actual situations they will face. This results in higher levels of learning. A problem-based approach, which is at the core of M-Pact Learning, goes hand-in-hand with designing an interactive classroom, which I discussed in my last blog.

Problem-Based Learning Is Widely Adaptable

Problem-based learning is a foundational approach. As a result, you can (and should) adapt it to nearly every learning need. This means the effectiveness of a problem-based approach goes far beyond the interactive classroom. For example, let’s say that you have a short, engaging video as part of your curriculum for teaching the best practices of customer interaction. Rather than simply showing the video and asking, “Okay, does everybody get that?” (essentially a lecture in a video format), a problem-based approach would ask the participants to determine which parts of the interaction were effective and which were not. It’s a simple shift, but an important one.

At S4 NetQuest, we used our M-Pact Learning methodology to teach surgical technicians how to assist surgeons in the use of a specialized heart catheter employed to both take images of the heart and to ablate areas in the heart associated with producing arrhythmia. Instead of repeatedly showing the technicians charts of the catheter controls, we systematically designed a series of “structured field experiences” that recreated the kinds of problems common to the surgical suite. As a result, the technicians had to interact with the device at very high levels and make decisions about how to get optimal performance from the catheter. Problems might be technical in nature or they might be about communicating with the surgeon. They might be due to the specific anatomy of a patient or because of an imaging anomaly. Problem-solving in action!

Effective Results

Problem-based learning requires purposeful design. It’s not something that comes naturally to subject matter experts. But when experienced instructional designers use M-Pact Learning to create realistic problem-solving scenarios, the pace and the depth of learning skyrockets. To discover more about these powerful applications, check out my new book: M-Pact Learning: The New Competitive Advantage.