A template for designing Problem-Based Learning

We have recently upgraded to BlackBoard 9.1 and we have taken the opportunity to develop some pedagogical templates to help teachers create courses based around different pedagogical models. We have developed four to date:

  • A calendar-based approach
  • A topic-based approach
  • A project/case study based approach
  • A problem-based learning approach

I was tasked with developing a template for the problem-based learning approach.

What is it?

This structure is useful for inquiry-based modules, where students find or explore materials/activities to investigate/solve the problems or cases. It is particularly useful for Science courses, where the students focus on a problem that needs investigating. It is a good example of a constructivist approach to learning. The structure is based around starting with the problem to be solved, which is usually in the form of a question. Students are provided with advice on how to tackle the problem and given suggestions of resources to investigate. The problem can be tackled individually or in groups. The jigsaw pedagogical pattern is a good way of structuring a group-based activity. In this a group of 4 students are given different aspects of the problem to investigate. All the students looking at one aspect of the problem then get together with other students in other groups to share their findings. Then they return to their home team and share their collective understanding.

What does it look like?

The interdisciplinary iScience BSc at the University of Leicester is based on Problem-Based Learning. Each module begins with a key Science problem, such as comparing whether humans can run as fast as machines or issues around ecology and climate change. The students are presented with the problem and provided with advice on how to tackle it. Each topic addresses at least two discipline perspectives, including Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Ecology. In addition, they are provided with support on any competences they need to develop such as Mathematical or computing skills. Below are a few screenshots from the iScience course.  The course is organised into folders around a series of substantive interdisciplinary topics; each topic folder then contains links to relevant resources, expert sessions, group allocation (much of the work on the course is group based), brainstorming documents and any quizzes. Finally, there are a series of sub-folders articulating the key problem that the students are expected to investigate. For example, for the ‘Near Space’ module there is a link to a pdf, which begins with the question: ‘What information regarding glaciation on Mars  (and other planets) can we gain from study of glaciers on Earth?’ The document then goes on to articulate relevant information and provides the students with suggestions for how to go about their research.


Figure 1: A screenshot of the first level of folders for the course


Figure 2: Screenshot of the folders in the Science of the Invisible topic


Figure 3: Screenshot of the documentation associatted with the frozen worlds topic

Further information






2 Responses to “A template for designing Problem-Based Learning”

  1. Anne Whaits Says:

    Thank you for sharing this Grainne. Any chance you would share your other templates too?

  2. Gráinne Says:

    Hi Anne

    Unfortunately I didn’t create the others so I can’t share :-(

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