A recent edition of AOM Learning and Education carries a well-written and thought-provoking article about Problem Based Learning (Toni Ungaretti, Kenneth Thompson, Alex Miller and Tim O. Peterson). It particularly caught my eye because its very clear and confident definition of ‘Problem Based Learning’ seems to me to also describe the case method.
A common definition?
It set me wondering if we proponents of the case method, in fact, share much common ground with equally dedicated proponents of other approaches to student engagement in classroom discussion, and whether we can arrive at a common, umbrella definition that by combining our voices would increase our impact in faculty development and pedagogic units around the world.
So I dropped the authors a line and asked about the boundaries that define PBL. What distinguishes PBL from the case method?
They replied with some very collaborative, open and thoughtful responses. Here is some of what they said:
- A case is a problem that has a solution that can be shared or not with students.
- A PBL problem has no solution; it is an issue that needs to be addressed. In many cases it is ill-defined and part of the process is to define it.
- A case study is very structured compared with a problem-based experience (PBL). The case, by providing direction and relevant data, leads the participant to the issues and the facts of the case. In PBL we create an environment for the students to determine what might be relevant to solve a problem and then help them find the data/information that will help them make the decision.
- (In living cases…) the students might be given some background on the company but much of the information they get comes directly from employees and senior administers face to face. This type of case is also closer to problem-based learning depending on the instructor’s intentions.”
So, do we need to re-name those approaches to student engagement that share the values of Socratic dialogue and, if we do, what should that name be?