Friday, 28 June 2013

Problem-Based Learning, or Going Backwards to Go Forward


A while back, I read a blog post from the ICS Learning Group called “Understanding Problem-Based Learning”. I love this idea! I can’t believe I haven’t come across this before.

What is Problem-Based Learning?
I’m not going to go into great detail explaining what Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is. Your time is too valuable for that (plus I’m too lazy to type all of it), also, you can easily refer to post I mentioned in the introductory paragraph or to the PBL entry on Wikipedia.

What I will say is that PBL has us presenting training “backwards” from how we (or at least I) normally do it. It’s not our fault, though. That’s just how we were taught.
Think about traditional learning for a moment. It’s OK, I’ll wait. Seriously, I’m not going anywhere. Got the image? Great! Now forget it… just kidding. Have you noticed how traditional learning is a lot like reading a text book? It starts with an introduction or thesis, then there’s the exposition or instruction, the conclusion, and finally a test.
Do you like tables? Me too! Poker tables, coffee tables, periodic tables, turntables… where were we? Oh yes, tables. Check out the beautiful table below which compares and contrasts the sequence of events in traditional learning and PBL. I made the table all by myself (look how pretty!).

Traditional Learning
Problem-Based Learning
Introduction
Introduction
Objectives
Trivial problem to solve
Presentation or material
Resources (if necessary)
Test or activity
More difficult problem

Additional resources (if necessary)

What I love about PBL is that by putting the problem at the start, learners can see what they’re working toward. It also helps them to focus as they’re going through the material since they know exactly what’s “on the test” because they’ve already seen the test item.

Going Backwards
Many, many moons ago, when I was getting started in corporate training, I attended a workshop called “Training 101”,offered by Langevin Learning Services. In this workshop the facilitator recommended designing training “backwards”. That is to say, he recommended:
1.       Coming up with performance objectives describe desired performance, then
2.       Writing test items that measure the objectives, then
3.       Developing instructional materials that teach to the test items
I wonder why I never encountered anyone recommending delivering training that way. It’s a classic “obvious in retrospect” thing, isn’t it?
Remember WIIFM? WIIFM (or “What’s In It For Me”) was a big deal for many people. It makes sense. If you explain to the learners how they stand to benefit from the training, they’ll be more invested in the training and more likely to give it the full effort. Here’s the thing, it seems to me that with PBL the WIIFM takes care of itself. One of the first things you see is the problem; the solution to that problem is what’s in it for you. Mission accomplished.

Going Forward
So, friends and colleagues, how are you going to implement PBL? Have you already used PBL? Either way, sound off in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.