Tan, O.S., National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Problem-based learning (PBL) has been adopted by several higher education curricula (e.g. medicine, engineering, business and applied sciences) to address challenges such as the incorporation of real-world problems, inquiry-focused approaches, multi-disciplinary learning, self-directed learning and team-skills. This paper draws on case vignettes of PBL experiences of tutors and students to elucidate the key cognitive processes of problem-based learning. A typical PBL module involves four stages, namely, (i) The Problem (meeting the problem, problem enquiry, identification and definition), (ii) Learning Goals (activation of prior knowledge, generation of issues and learning objectives), (iii) Discovery, Analysis and Solution Development (information and fact-finding, research and problem-solving processes), (iv) Solution and Evaluation (production, synthesis, presentation, reflection, further iteration and review). Cognitive intervention happens as a corollary of the interactions of (a) the problem, (b) the student as a problem-solver, and (c) the tutor as a cognitive coach. A model of cognitive functioning is used to highlight the cognitive functions in the PBL processes. The paper argues that an understanding of the cognitive functions and processes such as those pertaining to systematic and strategic thinking, analytical and inferential thinking and convergent-divergent creative thinking can contribute to more effective learning in PBL curricula.