Problem-Based Learning as a Critical Thinking Strategy

Problem-Based Learning – an Effective Tool for Teaching Biology

Activation of critical thinking plays a big role in improving the quality of the student’s knowledge. It largely determines the intellectual development of an individual and the formation of their scientific worldview, in fostering critical approach as a positive personality trait. PBL is understood as an organization of training sessions, which involves the creation of problem situations under the guidance of a teacher and the independent activity of the student to resolve them. According to Charoensakulchai et al. (2019), “PBL cultivates not only learning skills, but also critical evaluation of literatures, self-direct learning and use of resources and presentations skills” (p. 2).

Why This Approach Is the Most Effective

The possibility and pedagogical value of teaching by the method of searching, discovery, and active research was realized a long time ago. The goal of PBL is not only the assimilation of the results of scientific knowledge by the student, but also the development of very way of the process of obtaining these results. In addition to that, Brassler and Dettmers (2017) emphasize that interdisciplinary PBL leads to a better development of reflective behavior, collaboration skills, and ability to recognize different perspectives. Within this approach, the student is never simply given the answer to a problem – no, they need to discover it themselves by studying it closely and recognizing the connections between its parts. Most importantly, PBL allows the student to develop their own views using critical thinking and creativity.

Scientific Support

Many studies have been conducted on the topic of PBL, with various aspects of it in focus, highlighting its effectivity. Anazifa and Djukri (2017) claim that “students who participate in problem-based learning are able to store knowledge longer, identify causal relationships, and transfer the concept to new problems” (p. 354). Drawing on their study’s findings, Laforce et al. (2017) also conclude that PBL has an important role as a motivator for students to enter STEM careers. Moreover, according to Wyness and Dalton (2018), “students also believe that PBL is an appropriate and enabling method with which to introduce sustainability” (p. 1). Thus, it can be concluded that PBL is, indeed, an efficient and time relevant learning approach.


  • 75% of teachers in the USA who foster creativity in learning say their students often demonstrate problem-solving skills (Gallop 2019);
  • 26% of students say they often work on projects with real-world applications (Gallop 2019);
  • 81% of teachers say lesson plans that make transformative use of technology are better for students to connect their learning to the real world (Gallop 2019).

PBL is becoming increasingly more popular teaching method all around the world, as indicate the results from the poll conducted by Gallop (2019). Specifically, examples from Indonesia evidence that PBL is quite helpful in developing students’ critical thinking, even in such complex subjects as environmental chemistry or mathematics. Implementation of PBL has significantly improved students’ higher order thinking skills (Jailani et al. 2017). Moreover, use of PBL model in teaching environmental chemistry also enhanced students’ critical thinking abilities and conceptual understanding (Uliyandari et al. 2021). Botswana College of Education has also shown great interest in employing PBL, as the students began to argue they need more engaging and practical learning methods. It decided to support the implementation of PBL into their teaching approaches to ensure better student engagement (Major and Mulvihill 2017).

Three Skilled Practices of a Critical Thinker

A problem situation is an intellectual difficulty of a person that arises when they do not know how to explain a phenomenon that has arisen, or cannot achieve the goal in a way known to them. It prompts the student to look for a new way of explanation or a way of action through independent research and analysis of the data known and collected. As a result, the solution of a problem situation becomes a pattern of productive and creative cognitive activity. For the practice of teaching, it is especially important that thinking cannot be reduced to the functioning of ready-made knowledge.

Barriers to Critical Thinking and How Problem-Based Learning Helps Overcome Them

Avoidance, anger, and denial are common barriers to critical thinking, and they can hinder the process significantly. Due to the fact that problem-based learning offers the student a way to establish their own view on the problem and solve it in their own way, it provides a strategy to eliminate the barriers.

Compassion and Empathy in Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning is, perhaps, the most empathetic approach to teaching. Throughout the whole process of solving the problem, the teacher fully supports the student, acting as a guide rather than mentor, offering new perspectives and engaging in constructive discussions. It can also be said that teacher offers compassion in helping the student overcoming the challenge by gently directing them rather than pointing out mistakes.

Problem-Based Learning in Faith-Based and Secular Approach

Faith in God has never been a barrier to employing PBL in teaching. Theological studies often use discussions as a way to determine the truth, and PBL fully supports that. Likewise, secular approach can also implement PBL into teaching any subject – especially, science, as it uses critical thinking for argumentation.

How Problem-Based Learning Helps Avoid Common Errors

Perception errors often harm the learning process, hindering the student’s ability to think objectively and logically. Boss (2021) emphasizes that it is crucial to teach students to overcome their feelings to develop opinion based on logic and reason. PBL helps the student recognize perception errors in the process of their thinking and deconstruct them using acquired skills of critical problem solving.

Strategies Problem-Based Learning Helps Cultivate

PBL is a learning approach that brings out the student’s best skills and helps implement them into active critical thinking process. It cultivates healthy problem resolving mechanisms and aids the student in building their confidence. Moreover, it also builds upon the student’s personal strengths, allowing them to learn in a way that works best for them.


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ChalkyPapers. "Problem-Based Learning as a Critical Thinking Strategy." October 17, 2023.