Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Task-centered Learning Differs from Problem-Based Learning

A recent publication by Joel Gardner and myself talks about how task-centered learning (TCL) differs from problem-based learning (PBL). When this article was submitted to Educational Technology, the editor asked if the distinction between TCL and PBL was just one of those simple academic discussions that has little effect on practice. I wrote him back that the contrary was true and shared a few experiences where people have discussed PBL, but what they were really discussing was TCL. This was the reason for the article. Some ideas and theories in instructional and educational technology really are the same thing, discussed in different ways from different people, but in academic discussions, I believe that we benefit from defining clearly what we'
re talking about.

One experience I had occurred at the AECT International convention. I attended a presentation on PBL in which the presenter had implemented a PBL experience for one semester which had all of the hallmarks of PBL, most significantly, the PBL experience provided minimal guidance and coaching for students. The result was a failed class, student scores did not improve significantly. "But," said the presenter, "we implemented some changes the next semester, and saw markedly improved student scores." The second semester was a great success. The presenter still called the second semester approach PBL, but I think it was mislabeled.

As I sat in this session I noticed that the changes that were made to improve the second semester scores were the same types of practices advocated in a TCL approach, not a PBL one. These included the instructional guidance and coaching that are so much a part of the TCL and First Principles of Instruction models for learning. So I guess that is the reason for the article. I believe that this distinction should be important for anyone in instructional or educational technology.