Problem based learning: enhancing constructivist activities and engagement by fostering online knowledge sharing

Manish Malik

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    PBL was first introduced in medical education as a pure constructivist activity. This was popularly known as the McMaster approach [1]. Later, as can be seen in the literature [2], [4]-[10], there were several different implementations of PBL. There is no single definition of what is classed as a PBL activity. Similarly, there is no one approach reported to be the only successful approach. Sharing of knowledge and discussions based on this knowledge are the hall mark of any successful PBL based course. Varying amounts of scaffolding can be found in the research literature to support the sharing and knowledge construction activities done by the students. In a face to face university there are time pressures on the academics that may cause them to resort to direct teaching to help students progress in their PBL tasks. There are also space constraints that do not always allow for group meetings to take place. In a pure McMaster approach based PBL these meetings are very important as they facilitate constructivist activities. According to the McMaster version of PBL, the academics who set the curriculum need to ‘‘lose control’’ of the syllabus in order to maintain the core of self-learning [4]. Academics often find this difficult perhaps because their background and existing practice does not naturally allow them to easily loose control of the syllabus. They are used to be the central figure of authority - the “sage on the stage”. Also they are subject to delivery time frames, in our case a 12 week period for achieving everything required in the PBL. Due to this and other reasons the freedom of learning is often not implemented [4]. We found that there are several successful variants of the McMaster approach that do promote the collaborative and constructivist approach to PBL, but with some unavoidable instructional teaching [2], [4]. These are found where instructional teaching is the predominant teaching method used. In the many adapted versions of the McMaster approach to PBL the tutor remains in control and uses scaffolding to guide the students from time to time [4]. Scaffolding is used and found to be helpful in many successful instances of PBL [13].
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)103-110
    Number of pages8
    JournalJournal of the World Universities Forum
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


    • Problem Based Learning
    • McMaster Approach
    • Social Web
    • Collaborative
    • Constructivist
    • Sharing
    • Web 2.0
    • Resource Constrained


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