Learning sciences: students need to work with real problem situations

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In the framework of the traditional learning system, students absorb huge information volumes and not always understand what abstract theoretical concepts are needed for. Case-based (or problem-based) learning is designed to compensate for this drawback.

This educational system has been used in law and business schools since the 1960s, has both advocates and opponents, provokes a heated controversy in the academic community. Some people claim that case-based activities are great for honing practical skills, while others doubt their efficiency. Experts from Pro-Papers have analyzed the main characteristics of problem-based education to help you decide whether this instructional model can be applied in your class.

Features of case-based learning

CBL is a form of project-oriented education. Students consider real-life scenarios, reach new levels of theoretical cognition, become good team players, and acquire strong practical skills. Academic activities are focused on cases considered in groups. Learners collaborate, collect and analyze data, exchange ideas, distribute responsibilities, coordinate actions, work under the professor’s supervision, can ask for one’s help and advice. Nowadays, it’s a normal practice to ask an essay writing service to do an essay for you, since it’s quite cheap and good quality.

Problems elaborated in a class are linked to students’ future professional life and the challenges they may face. As a rule, issues are open-ended and do not have the only correct solution. This allows everyone to approach a task in one’s own way, find connections between a story and personal experience, demonstrate one’s principles and values, look at a case from classmates’ perspective, reason on actions which students would take on a hero’s place, develop original strategies, and reach full creative potential.

Since learners’ opinions do not always coincide, cases provide the field for discussions, help young people to hone the art of persuasion, learn to defend their point of view, articulate logical arguments, seek compromises, show empathy, and avoid conflicts.

In contrast to the teacher-centered approach, there is no strict control from a professor in CBL. One acts as a facilitator ready to lend a helping hand whenever necessary, a coordinator explaining the rules of CBL activities and checking whether everyone meets them, a motivator ensuring that everyone is engaged in the educational process and enjoys it.

Cases were first used in the framework of vocational training to help specialists hone problem-solving skills. More recently, this method was adopted by medical universities. Experts claim that it should be introduced in all other academic areas, and this idea is already in the process of realization.

How to use cases in a class?

Educators should study CBL methodology consisting of a variety of academic activities and choose methods that are the most suitable for their students’ age, major, natural inclinations, and goals. Depending on these factors, cases may be used episodically or become the main educational approach, invite learners to analyze a certain story or take actions and influence scenario development. Also, much depends on the class size. Check out the ways how hypothetical problem situations may be used in different learning environments.

Large class

“Large” means 100+ students in one lecture hall. Short cases are used to introduce listeners to a topic, draw attention to its importance, awaken associations, and prepare young people for other educational activities. Professors usually allocate 5-10 minutes for describing a problem and may show a video with background material. Then questions are asked, and several students give answers. If assignments are performed in groups, representatives of each group report on their teams’ progress.

Professors should be ready for noise accompanying communication of 100+ students. This mess is the main disadvantage of CBL at mass lectures. However, such peer interaction prevents boredom and the loss of enthusiasm characteristic for long theoretical classes, inspires young people to think, analyze incoming information instead of passively absorbing it. Learners become much more attentive and responsible, take notes diligently when knowing that questions may be asked.

Small class

Students get more benefits from CBL in small classes. It is easier for a professor to control all groups’ work, maintain discipline, stimulate interaction between groups, make observations, and seek ways to improve assignments. Learners may ask questions and request the educator’s support when facing some challenges.

Virtual class

Thanks to technology development, new learning space has been forming over recent years. In the framework of e-learning, cases are provided electronically and elaborated by groups communicating online. This is a great opportunity to form practical skills for working and older students, persons who should relocate, live in a dorm and spend extra money to attend on-campus classes.

Learners and professors negotiate on working time convenient for everyone or extend task performing. For example, an educator may provide an assignment and say that it should be ready after several days. Students may exchange ideas and share materials in instant messengers and social networks, have some time for research and reflections, develop a project whenever and wherever convenient.