Using Problem-based learning

Problem-based learning (PBL) is an effective instructional approach first developed for use in health science fields to immerse students in complex situations (Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980). Luma has found it to be a promising approach to teach children (Dysard & Oberlander) as well as adult learners (e.g. Anderson 2015, Anderson & Brush, 2015, Anderson & Tredway, 2009). The benefits are also suppored by others in the learning field (e.g. Good & Brophy, 1991; Jonassen, 1999; Savery & Duffy, 1995).

We often get asked, how do we do it? Here are some tips to get you started.

So, how do you put PBL in practice in an online environment?


Present students with a relevant problem that is carried throughout the learning experience.


Engage students as stakeholders in the problem.


Give students a choice where they determine the topic, the pacing, the time allocated, or the conditions and resources.


Facilitate opportunities for students to examine multiple perspectives on a topic, issue, or problem.


Group students and provide activities where they engage in critical thinking and discourse.


Coach students through the experience by guiding and scaffolding student inquiry.


Create activities that promote reflection for students to communicate what they are learning throughout the learning experience.


Involve students in activities where they apply new knowledge and understanding to the problem.


Create a summative assessment where students demonstrate what they have learned within a context that is closely aligned to their immediate worlds.

If you want to learn more about PBL and earn professional development hours or university credit, take a look at Luma’s PBL course. A free preview is available. Want help employing PBL in your online programs? Simply contact us!



Anderson, G. L. (2015). An exploration of multimedia use in an online RN-BSN program (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from IUScholarWorks. (

Anderson, G. L., & Brush, T. (2015). Emerging perspectives on multimedia use for

learning. Paper presented at the AECT Accelerate Learning: Racing into the Future, Indianapolis, IN.

Anderson, G. L., & Tredway, C. (2009). Transforming the nursing curriculum to promote critical thinking online. Journal of Nursing Education, 48(2), 111-115.

Anderson, G. L., Tredway, C., & Calice, C. (2015). A longitudinal study of nursing students’ perceptions of online course quality. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 26(1), 5-21.

Barrows, H.S., & Tamblyn, R.M. (1980). Problem-based learning: An approach to medical education. New York:

Dysard, G., & Oberlander, J. (2003, July). Integrating problem-based learning in K-12 classrooms. Paper presented at the National Education Computing Conference, Seattle, WA.

Jonassen, D. (1999). Designing constructivist learning environments. In C.M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. 2, pp. 217-239). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Rowley, J. B., Dysard, G., & Arnold, J. (2005). Creating classroom learning adventures: Exploring problem-based and technology-enhanced learning [Multimedia CD]. Washington, DC: Department of Education.

Savery, J.R., & Duffy, M. (1995). Problem based learning: An instructional model and its constructivist framework. Educational Technology, 35(5), 31-38.

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