27 Problem-based Learning and Case-based Learning

Teaching Strategies: Problem-based Learning and Case-based Learning

Problem-based learning

Problem-based learning, or PBL, in its purest form, presents a fully-formed “real-world” problem to students at the outset of a course. Students then experiment and explore to solve the problem, with the instructor acting as a “guide” in the process, offering correction, focus, and assistance to guide inquiry. 


During class time, the students are presented with a problem or issue that needs to be solved using the information they are learning about.  As a group, they decide what they already know about the subject, determine what they need to know to solve the problem, apply suggested solutions to the problem, and analyze the results.


The four basic questions of problem-based learning are:

  • What do you know (about the topic/problem/issue)?
  • What do you need to know to solve the problem?
  • How do you get that information?
  • How do you apply the information to solve the problem?

Case-based learning

Case-based learning and problem-based learning are instructional strategies that use the analysis of authentic, “real-life” scenarios or challenges as a means of demonstrating and/or building skills, competencies, and disciplinary intuition. Case-based learning tends to use cases as part of an integrated pedagogical strategy along with lectures, readings, and other instructional activities; once students have been presented with a theoretical framework they review a case and try to apply the principles to the case at hand, bridging theory and practice.

Quick Start Guide – PBL 101

Employing this strategy can be rewarding but takes careful planning to give your students the tools they need to solve the problem – we have created a planning document that walks you through the steps to creating a comprehensive lesson based on PBL, which can be found here: Problem-based instruction planning template.

Quick Start Guide – Case-based Learning 101

Employing this strategy can encourage critical thinking in students as they comprehensively analyze a case while connecting it to the content.  To help you develop the most robust case-based lesson possible, ATS has created a planning document that walks you through the steps to creating a case-based lesson:

Case-based instruction planning template


This section outlines how you might begin to think about adopting the aforementioned teaching strategies and the tools you might consider employing.

Problem-Based Learning

Project-based learning, also called PBL, uses extended projects such as problems, questions, or challenges to help students gain knowledge or explore information.


  • Online collaborative tools are useful for Problem-based learning.
  •  One Drive allows students to share documents in the cloud.
  • Mindmapping tools can help students brainstorm and create logic chains to solve the problem.


Problem Based Learning vs Project Based Learning

Problem Based Learning vs Project-Based Learning1

Case-based learning


In the Library

Allen, D. E., Donham, R. S., & Bernhardt, S. A. (2011). Problem-based learning. New Directions For Teaching & Learning, 2011(128), 21-29. doi:10.1002/tl.465

Amador, J., Miles, L., & Peters, C.B. (2006). The Practice of Problem-Based Learning: A Guide to Implementing PBL in the College Classroom. Boston, MA: Anker Publishing Company.

Crowther, B. (2002). Problem-based learning: Case studies. International Journal of Electrical Engineering Education, 39(1), 87.

Dolmans, D., De Grave, W., Wolfhagen, I., & Van der Vleuten, C.P. (2005). Problem-based learning: future challenges for educational practice and research. Medical Education, 39(7), 732-741.

Hale, S. (2006). Politics and the real world: A case study in developing case-based learning. European Political Science, 5(1), 84-96. doi:10.1057/palgrave.eps.2210060

Klenk, M., Aha, D. W., & Molineaux, M. (2011). The case for case-based transfer learning. AI Magazine, 32(1), 54.

Yew, E., Chng, E., & Schmidt, H. (2011). Is learning in problem-based learning cumulative? Advances In Health Sciences Education: Theory And Practice, 16(4), 449-464. doi:10.1007/s10459-010-9267-y1MrJanzen1984. (Creator). (2016, August 02).Problem Based Learning vs Project-Based Learning [digital image]. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Problem_Based_Learning_vs_Project_Based_Learning.png#file



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