Frequently Asked Questions

Problem Based Learning (PBL) is an educational method that engages students in inquiry-based real world problem-solving. Used extensively in medical education since the 1970s, PBL is an instructional approach that teaches students “how to learn” by collaboratively solving authentic industry problems. While already adopted in fields including business and law, it is only beginning to emerge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. PBL is an exciting and challenging alternative to traditional lecture-based instruction that provides students with learning experiences that engage them directly in the types of problems and situations they will encounter in the 21st century workplace. Students of PBL become active participants in their own learning as they encounter new and unfamiliar learning situations where problem parameters are ill-defined and ambiguous — just like in the real world.
The PBL Projects of the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) are a series of STEM problem based learning curriculum and professional development projects funded by the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Each of the PBL Projects has developed a collection of authentic real world multimedia case studies called Challenges with industry partners in the areas of optics and photonics, sustainable technologies, and advanced manufacturing (in process).

Students engaged in the PBL Projects are charged with solving a real world industry-based problem that has multiple solutions. Students work in teams, have an opportunity to develop and test a prototype (if appropriate in their course of study), present their solutions to their peers, and learn of how the industry partner solved the same authentic problem. This process allows students to connect STEM concepts to the real world, to get a feel for industry and new career fields, and allows them to compare and contrast their solution with that of an actual company.

“PBL teaches you what to do when you don’t know what to do. First, by process of elimination, you learn what you do know and then it gives you clear steps on how to go about researching the parts that you don’t know. The ‘Whiteboards’ helped me with time management, taught me what to do, when to do it, and helped me not to be afraid of a problem, to tackle a problem that I had never seen before and to come up with an answer that was at least close to the mark. That was very valuable.”
– Springfield Technical Community College, Mass.

“What I liked most was presenting our solution. It let me get a feel for what professionals do every day.”
– South River High School, Md.

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