While this type of approach ("problem-based") will be familiar to anyone who has put together a scenario-based training activity, I'd not heard of it referred to as PBL until reading about "constructivist" approaches for instuctional design (ID) and delivery for one of the courses I'm taking this semester at OISE/UT (CTL 1602S). Problem Based Learning: An instructional model and its constructivist framework.
NOTE: This paper is posted as a PDF file. Click here to access the installation page, if you haven't already installed the Acrobat Reader on your computer.
While I'd not heard of PBL, Fred Ayres indicates that it is anything but "new":
"Like most 'new' ideas, problem-based learning (PBL), or learning because you need to solve a problem, is a natural process that has been around for centuries! Our Stone Age ancestors constantly had to learn skills and approaches to solving problems simply to survive, but it is unlikely that they commented to each other 'Didn't know you were into PBL!'"
Ayres goes on to list:
"THE EIGHT TASKS OF PBL
PBL is based around eight tasks, as defined below.
Task 1: Explore the problem, create the hypothesis, identify issues and elaborate.
Task 2: Try to solve the problem with what you currently know. A clearer idea of what you already know that is pertinent will emerge from this.
Task 3: Identify what you do not know and therefore what you need to know because your lack of knowledge is impeding the solution of the problem.
Task 4: Prioritise the learning needs, set learning goals and objectives, and allocate resources so that you know what is expected of you by when. For a group, members can identify which tasks each will do.
Task 5: Undertake self-study and preparation.
Task 6: For a group, share the new knowledge effectively so that all the group learn the information.
Task 7: Apply the knowledge to solve the problem.
Task 8: Give yourself feedback by assessing the new knowledge, the problem solution and the effectiveness of the process used. Reflect on the process."
Another thing that caught my eye, is that "contrary to expectations," PBL does NOT contribute to the development of problem-solving skills. Ayres states:
"Contrary to expectations, participation in PBL does not, of itself, appear to develop problem-solving skills. Research consistently shows that giving people the opportunity to solve problems rarely develops their problem-solving skills. As a result, most US universities offering PBL programmes screen students on problem-solving ability as part of their criteria for admission. However, with explicit intervention by a tutor, PBL provides an excellent opportunity to develop problem-solving skills."