Problem-based Learning in an Online Course: A case study

November 4, 2005


Problem-based learning (PBL) is the use of a “real world” problem or situation as a context for learning. The present study explores the use of PBL in an online biotechnology course. In the PBL unit, student groups dealt with the ethical, legal, social, and human issues surrounding pre-symptomatic DNA testing for a genetic disease. Issues concerning implementation of PBL in the online environment are discussed, as are differences between online PBL and face-to-face PBL. This study provides evidence to suggest that PBL stimulates higher-order learning in students. However, student performance on a lower-level exam testing acquisition of factual knowledge was slightly lower for PBL students than for students who learned the same material through a traditional lecture-based approach. Possible reasons for this lower level of performance are explored. Student reactions and feedback to the PBL format yield more insight into issues surrounding the implementation of PBL in the online environment.

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