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Two fundamental modes of learning and motivation: problem-based learning vs. learning by exploration


Steve Draper, Dept. of Psychology, University of Glasgow

Time and place

3:30pm, Tuesday 26 Oct 1999.
Paisley University: video conference room, main site (High Street, centre of Paisley).


This talk explores the possibility that there we could think about learning (especially in HE) as having two alternative (or complementary?) modes of learning: LBE (learning by exploration) and PBL (problem-based learning). They are characterised by a) different ways of organising courses and learning activities. b) different bases for learner motivation. They may also be associated with different bases for theories of learning and teaching.

LBE is a mode where you are given the means or methods in a topic, and explore what you can do with them. A bottom up mode that given means, discovers ends. It obviously fits with constructivism: supporting the learner in constructing their own conclusions. The motivational basis is play (curiosity, being in charge of one's own activity, ....).

PBL is a mode where you are given the end (the "problem"): something to be achieved, and the learner explores or discovers the means necessary to achieve that end. A top down mode that given ends, discovers means. It obviously fits with situativity: with apprenticeship theories where the learner observes a goal that experts achieve, and works to acquire that skill. The motivational basis is that of "authenticity" i.e. imitating the grown ups, learning to play socially important and useful roles.

The worst kind of instructivism / didacticism manages to miss both: dictating goals without conveying why they are useful, and means without the freedom to vary and explore them. Good teaching actually is likely to incorporate important bits of both regardless: e.g. local exploration within a PBL framework, bringing out connections to final social utility or personal relevance within an LBE framework. Is the LBE/PBL dualism merely an interesting way to structure a talk, or is it more fundamental?

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