Problems don’t come much bigger than getting 12 European countries to sign a treaty to form a single currency – an event hosted by the city of Maastricht in 1992. Today, Maastricht is also hosting another significant problem solving activity – PBL, or Problem Based Learning.
I was lucky enough to be able to visit Maastricht University this weekend where I learned about their PBL approach to teaching and learning. The idea is simple yet extremely powerful. Maastricht University recognises that tradtional lectures and book based approaches to learning are comparatively inefficient compared to team based problem solving.
Knowledge and skills are better developed when students are given structured tasks that involve analysis, synthesis and producing something. For example, a PBL task in Business Studies could invovle asking a team of students what a mulitnational car manufacturer could do to increase its sales. This would involve team discussions, with students taking turns to chair the meetings; private study followed by contributions to further team work; then a team presentation of their conclusions. Asssement is made up of a mix of components – verbal or written contributions to the team discussions, submitted materials such as papers, and examinations.
PBL at Maastricht is well supported by IT. The university boasts extensive online learning, productivity, and statistical applications, and students can make use of a ‘Student Desktop Anywhere’ function which lets them use the full range of e-learning, library and research services from anywhere in the world.
Originally PBL was developed as a way to teach Medicine, and many universities now use this approach. Maastricht, however, is the only university in the world to use PBL across all of its courses. Judging by the growing numbers of students applying to join the university, one of the biggest problems of our times – how to provide effective and relevant education – is being solved in the heart of Europe.