Case-based and problem-based learning are instructional approaches that encourage active learning and promote for a mindful teaching experience to be used in higher education. The motivation behind both methods is to challenge students with open-ended problems or real-life cases to promote critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. By being exposed to new scenarios, student work in small groups to implement a solution by applying their knowledge to new situations in a team effort. In these pedagogical approaches, teachers often play the role of the facilitator directing the learning process and guiding students rather than providing them with direct knowledge.
Proponents have often stood by this method of teaching due to its positive impact on students’ abilities and motivation to learn. John Foran, one of pro active learning professors, describe in his article at the NEA higher education journal his journey to achieve this. He describes one of the greatest challenges in classroom “is to make the material come alive for students by making it comprehensible to them and relevant to their lives”. After trying different approaches to overcome the lack of interaction in his classrooms, he implemented the case-based approach. Foran describes the case-based flow he uses in his classrooms by a series of steps that involve: 1) Setting the scene by a series of factual questions; 2) lively role play, where students “inhabit” the case and debate the case settings, and 3) the analytic section where major assessment of the discussion is highlighted.
An article about problem-bases learning by Stanford University in 2001, found here, describes the need for learning to be “student-centered”, where students lead the class discussion and assess their own work and others. The goal is allow students to become “effective problem-solvers”. To do this however, students must be conscious about what they previously know about the problem, and what more knowledge they need to be able to develop strategies to solve the problem. The challenge comes in teaching students how to do that, and this is the role of the instructor, which becomes a “tutor or “cognitive coach” who models inquiry strategies, guides exploration, and helps students clarify and pursue their research questions”.
Despite all of that, active learning have drawn some criticism, mainly related to the important role the instructor has to do in accounting for the knowledge students must previously know. It is not an easy job for the teacher to play, and it does require a lot of planning outside classroom and a lot of awareness within the classroom. It makes us question how much is it worth it to teach students how to find the solution rather than just giving them the solution?