The Week in Print [Sept 29, 2011]

28 09 2011

Wirkala, C., & Kuhn, D. (2011). Problem-based Learning in K-12 Education: Is it Effective and How Does it Achieve its Effects? American Educational Research Journal, 48(5), p.1157-1186.

This just out in the American Educational Research Journal by Clarice Wirkala and Deanna Kuhn, Problem-based learning in K-12 education: Is it effective and how does it achieve its effects? This article claims to be one of the first to truly look at problem-based learning (PBL) in situ and in a controlled quantitative study. The study involved three classes each with approximately 30 students for a total of 90 participants. They were assigned one of three conditions under the first trial and then a second comparison condition for the second trial. The assessments for learning were applied in a way to get at long term learning. The three conditions were lessons delivered as PBL- individual (no group work), PBL-team (group work) and Lecture/Discussion (LD). Topics for the lesson were selected to be of equal difficulty and equally unfamiliar to the students. The design was elegant:

Topic 1 Topic 2
Class 1 PBL-individual PBL-team
Class 2 PBL-team LD
Class 3 LD PBL-individual


  1. Both versions of problem-based learning proved to be far superior in long-term learning than the lecture/discussion modality.
  2. There was no difference between the PBL-individual and the PBL-team indicating that the social interactions are not part of what makes PBL so effective.

They state “The present research indicated that collaboration is not one of the essential components of PBL. This leads to the question of who benefits from group work? The authors offer prior research that indicates that the superior performance of the group is due simply to the increased probability of someone in the group possessing the needed expertise.

Also from their discussion, “Lecture…is thought to be effective in part because it provides students with multiple examples that reinforce their learning…However, without a coherent and memorable context, the information may not be as effectively encoded and stored in memory…Although LD students in this study arguably should have learned more because they received more information, there is no benefit if the student is unable to recall, comprehend, or apply the information.”


The authors are very clear that this study does not discount the importance of group work but rather looks specifically at the role of group work in the learning process in PBL. Considering the collaborative and connected world we live in, the need for being able to work as a group or team toward a common goal of understanding is more important than ever. As the study was limited specifically to a link between group work and learning in PBL, I have to wonder about all of the other spaces where the intersection of ideas leads to new ways of knowing, new knowledge. This leads to the second article for the week from the October 2011 issue of The Atlantic.

Mone, G. (2011).The Idea Factory: What happens when you gather the world’s most imaginative minds under one roof? The Atlantic, October, 2011.

This short article describes MIT as the most “hyper-interdisciplinary think tank”. Now that is COOL! Here is a place where ideas abound and amazing knowledge is constructed daily. Simply look at the map of the building and some of the current projects- how the different research groups are all working in harmony with ideas flowing between disciplines and work groups creating connections between knowledge confluences never explored before. Here is one example from the article:

Your Phone Will Know Everything
From do it yourself eye exams (Camera Culture Group) to universal-remote-control projects (Fluid Interfaces Group), new task for smartphones are all over the lab. Alex Pentland, an engineer and psychologist leading the Human Dynamics Group, thinks the phones can begin to offer new insights into how we behave and even feel. By analyzing movements and call patters, software he’s created can already render conclusions about a person’s physical and mental health.

What makes MIT so amazing is that they embrace the interface and confluence of knowledge domains. These two articles are giving me new ideas to play with on an emerging theory I have been working to develop for a couple of years now- Developing Synergistic Knowledge. It seems I have some new material to consider as I toss this around in my head.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: