Problem-based Learning


Over sixty years ago, Charles Gragg, one of the originators of case teaching at the Harvard Business School, stated: “Education in the professions should prepare students for action.”[iAs teachers of management, we have long shared Gragg’s value concerning the importance of this purpose of education. Indeed, our initial interest in problem-based learning (henceforth referred to in this volume as ‘PBL’) during the 1980s resulted from our own search for approaches to teaching and learning that met this criterion for education in the professions. Our subsequent experience using PBL management education programs in North America, Australia and Asia reinforces our belief in its efficacy as an approach that prepares ‘managers for action.’

PBL — problem-based learning — is an innovative learning-centered approach to leadership development.  Unlike the case method which focuses primarily on developing analytical skills, PBL provides equal emphasis to learning skills in application of knowledge. This website offers useful tools for learning about the use of PBL in leadership development including:

  • General information about PBL
  • Sample PBL materials used in leadership development
  • Computer simulations that are problem-based
  • Assessment tools or rubrics
  • Workshop resources used in training instructors in the use of PBL
  • Journal articles and conference papers on PBL written by Philip Hallinger

Problem-based Leadership Development

Leaders of all types of organizations in this era of global change need to be able to “manage for action.” They need to be able to analyze and also to “do”. Both prospective and practicing managers should be able to demonstrate the capacity to:

  • Analyze and define problems thoroughly and systematically;
  • Search for knowledge that is relevant to the problem from formal and informal sources;
  • Consider the contextual conditions that impact on the use of that knowledge;
  • Identify and develop solutions that are well-informed, practical, and justifiable in light of the information and assumptions provided;
  • Enact their solutions and experience the consequences;
  • Reflect productively on what they learned from their experience.

PBL seeks to foster the capacity to ‘manage for action’ in several ways including:

  • Placing students in self-managing project teams through which they are able to experience a variety of leadership and team member roles;
  • Transforming the classroom into a project environment in which students set goals, manage and delegate  work tasks, collaborate in finding relevant knowledge resources, address team problems, and achieve results under tight time constraints;
  • Using this project environment as a ‘crucible’ in which students experience the frustrations, pressures, joys and other emotional states that characterize the work context of the manager;
  • Requiring students to implement, to the greatest extent possible, the conclusions and recommendations that they draw from their problem analysis.

For more detailed information please see articles referenced and available for download below or books we have published on problem-based leadership development.

Problem-based Leadership Development: Technology & Computer Simulations

Problem-based learning provides a useful pedagogical framework for integrating learning technologies. Video technologies and computer simulations both offers means of integrating technology with knowledge resources in a problem-based format.

  • We have developed numerous PBL projects in which the problem is presented via a “video case scenario”. This has numerous advantages over the use of text case representations. See the paper and workshop presentation on Integrating PBL and Technology below for more examples.
  • Computer simulations may also be designed within a PBL framework. In this case, the problem is conveyed as the starting point of the simulation. Students acquire knowledge as they seek to solve the problem in an active learning context.

Prof. Hallinger offers access to several problem-based computer simulations that have been used extensively in education and training of school leaders and corporate managers. Please see the section of the website devoted specifically to the computer simulations.

Problem-based Learning: Assessment Methods

Serious users of problem-based learning at any level of schooling or executive development will quickly realize the need for more systematic and effective means of assessment. Although critics have sometimes questioned the efficacy of PBL on the criterion of knowledge acquisition, the fact is that the systematic use of PBL is often accompanied by much more rigorous assessment than is typically found in educational problems, again — at every level.

Since PBL focuses on the demonstration of knowledge acquisition to the greatest extent possible, faculty using PBL often turn to performance-based assessment as a proven means of increasing the rigor of evaluating learners’ knowledge and skill acquisition. This includes the use of assessment rubrics. Rubrics are protocols used to evaluate and provide numerical ratings of knowledge students’ knowledge. They can be used to score performances such as presentations, role plays, or essays.

Below we have included materials that can be used in a variety of settings for learning how to use rubrics as well as some sample rubrics that we developed in our master of Management program at Mahidol University in Thailand.

  • Download  Assessment Rubric Template  Download
  • Download  Assessment Rubric PowerPoint presentation  Download
  • Download  Assessment Rubric Team Participation   Download
  • Download  Assessment Rubric for Group Project and presentation  Download
  • Download  Assessment Rubric for Individual Project and presentation  Download
  • Download  Assessment Rubric for reflective essay  Download
  • Download  Assessment Rubric for personal case study Project  Download

Problem-based Learning: Workshop Materials

Professors Hallinger and Bridges have conducted numerous workshops for university faculty members and trainers on the use of problem-based learning in higher education and in leadership development. They have conducted these multi-day workshops preparing faculty to use PBL in the classroom in the USA, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, China, and Thailand. Below are workshop materials used to prepare faculty to use PBL. Note that these are representative materials that have been adapted for different settings and different disciplines.

Introductory Workshop on Problem-based Learning

  • Download  Short PowerPoint Presentation Handout  Download
  • Download  Because Wisdom Cannot be Told introductory case  Download
  • Download  Full workshop handout  Download

Other Workshop Materials on Problem-based Learning

  • Download  Half-day intro to PBL: PowerPoint Presentation Handout  Download
  • Download  PBL and Technology: PowerPoint Presentation Handout  Download
  • Download  PBL: Using Global Knowledge for learning to solve local problems: PowerPoint Presentation Handout  Download
  • Download  PBL in management education: PowerPoint Presentation Handout  Download
  • Download  PBL implementation in higher education in Thailand: PowerPoint Presentation Handout  Download
  • Download  Developing PBL materials: PowerPoint Presentation Handout  Download
  • Download  Research and Development Presentation, Hong Kong Institute of Education, September 2008  Download