Problem Based Learning

I have had a lot of questions about PBL so I thought I’d go into a bit more depth about what it entails.

Example Scenario- recent news article about an employee who has written a “tell all” book about their employer and it is about to be published.

The example itself will be about a page long usually but the above might be what your eventual summary will look like.

You first read through the problem, discuss, identify and then write down any unclear terms (which you may have, especially if they use legal terminology early on), then you again discuss, identify and write down the key parties and their interests. So in the example above it might be the employee and the employer, it could extend to the publisher and the public if it’s an issue which involves or concerns the general public.

Then you would discuss and write down the key facts of the scenario, it’s usually done like a chronology of events but you might prefer to do a diagram or something different once you get to grips with the method.

Following this you set out a summary of the case (this is something some people tend to dislike but I found it really useful for revision to read a quick summary to decide if my notes for this problem would be of any use to the topic I was revising).

Then you name the PBL problem, people use anything from song lyrics, puns, alliteration or anything else that helps it stick in your head. This is a stage where people show real creativity, if not always the best taste.

Compliance mind map, business conceptAfter all this everyone throws out ideas to produce a mind map of any possible legal issues you think could arise, it doesn’t matter if it’s a mess because you can highlight issues to group them together after. This is done to help you come up with the learning outcomes.

This is a particularly useful and often fun part of the PBL process. You just put down anything you think might be relevant. From the scenario above you might write some of the following:

  • Right to privacy
  • Defamation
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Employee contracts
  • Confidentiality

You would then expand upon these and be guided through this with your tutor. There tends to be an angle that the Law School wants you to look at the problem from, so in this case it might only be the defamation and freedom of speech issues they want you to focus on. It doesn’t matter if you go off on a tangent because the tutor will help you and either way it’s useful to start thinking broadly about the issues you see.

From this you identify and write down your learning outcomes, this is the probably the part where the tutor will be most active with you in helping you reach the right outcomes.

After a year of doing this you will be more than prepared for the PBL style exams which are very similar in style, you have 48 hours once the problem is released to research and top up your knowledge. Usually when it is released, firms go through this process together and sometimes work, research and feedback together.

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Hi, I'm Katie, I'm a second year law student at York University. I am in the law society, entrepreneurs society, aerobics society and cocktail society. I figured the aerobics cancelled out the cocktails. I'm hoping to become a solicitor in the future with the ultimate goal of being like Judge Judy.