Home » Standard 1: Design » 1.1 Instructional Systems Design » EdTech 542: Criticisms of PBL

EdTech 542: Criticisms of PBL

What are some potential criticisms that you might receive from administrators, parents, and colleagues?

There are many reasons for criticisms of different instructional methods. According to Andrew Provan (2011),  the are many differences between “idealized PBL” and “actual PBL.”

  1. Introducing students to problems without a knowledge base with which to solve the problem leads to the necessity for relearning.
  2. PBL could be wasting time as students research possible answers only to find out later that the research has nothing to do with the topic.
  3. PBL could lead to higher frustration levels in students as they perceive the initial introduction to a project as a waste of their research time.

Others may offer criticisms such as:

  • There are absolutes in the world and learning incorrect information is never good.
  • PBL may result in learning false facts.
  • PBL may result in learning ineffective reasoning.
  • PBL may lead to relativistic thinking.
  • PBL takes too long.
  • Some direct instruction is always needed.
  • “Education involves more than acquiring skills and procedural knowledge.  Education also involves…propositional knowledge.”

How will you respond to those criticisms?

Project-based learning does not replace teacher instruction. It builds on the instruction of facts from teachers by including authentic, student-centered activities that take learning from meer mind exercises into real-world contexts.  This moves learning from short-term memory into long-term memory as students make meaningful connections with their own personal lives.

Some teachers confuse PBL with the creation of a presentation or project at the end of a unit of study.  PBL is not simply a classroom “project” in which students create a presentation.  PBL centers on a driving question or problem presented for further inquiry. PBL includes inquiry and research to support the formulation of a solution.  PBL involves students working together on authentic assessments to demonstrate learning. PBl has foundations in real life.

What rationale can you give for incorporating PBL into your repertoire of effective instructional strategies?

PBL engages learners from the start by introducing them to a real-life problem or question. PBl removes the onerous of learning from the teacher and places it on the student.  The student is the motivator in their own success story.  To me, this idea of teaching students to learn and then they become life-long learners is the most appealing part of using PBL in my classroom.


Provan, A. (2011). A critique of problem-based learning at the University of British Columbia. British Columbia Medical Journal: British Columbia, Canada. 53:3, pp. 132-133. Retrieved August 1, 2015, from http://www.bcmj.org/mds-be/critique-problem-based-learning-university-british-columbia

Silby, B. (2013). Is Problem-Based Learning Superior to Direct Instruction? The Journal of Education. Retrieved August 1, 2015, from https://thejournalofeducation.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/is-problem-based-learning-superior-to-direct-instruction/

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