Wednesday, 30 May 2018

What is Case Based Learning (CBL), Problem Based Learning (PBL), & Scenario Based Learning (SBL)?

What are they, why use them and suggestions on how to implement.

Yesterday was a fairly quiet at the School, so I got a chance to research and write up something on case vs problem vs scenario based learning.  These are my current notes and are likely to feed into a TEL briefing, staff development session, conference or journal article.


The School is interested in developing a pedagogy that will fare well with increased student numbers and the expansion into online provision.  There is an implicit assumption that an ‘active learning’ and/or ‘student centred’ pedagogy may be most appropriate.  These approaches often use problem, scenario, or case base learning (PBL, SBL, CBL), and thus this post summarises what we know, why they may be effective, and suggests ‘good practice’ for implementation.


Case Based Learning (CBL), Problem (PBL), & Scenario (SBL) are pedagogies that outline a case, problem, or scenario, and then ask the learners to consider the scenario in the context of learning outcomes to reinforce existing knowledge and perhaps find new information that is relevant. Typically, the approach uses small groups supervised by an expert (in content & teaching) who nudges learners towards the learning outcomes. Barrows (1986) outlines a PBL spectrum with two main variables – the amount of briefing (minimal to comprehensive), and expert input (minimal to ‘directed’), and concludes: ‘The term problem-based learning must be considered a genus for which there are many species and subspecies’ (ibid, 1986:485).  Currently, PBL approaches suggest minimal briefing and guidance, allowing learners to “explore tangents” (Srinivasan, 2007:74) whilst a CBL approach suggests increased guidance, avoiding “tangents” with guided questioning (ibid).

Kirschner, Sweller & Clark, (2006:75, my bolds) identify some PBL approaches:
 “…discovery learning (Anthony, 1973; Bruner, 1961); problem-based learning (PBL; Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980; Schmidt, 1983), inquiry learning (Papert, 1980; Rutherford, 1964), experiential learning (Boud, Keogh,  &  Walker,  1985;  Kolb  &  Fry,  1975),  and constructivist learning (Jonassen, 1991; Steffe & Gale, 1995).”

Scenario based learning is less well defined – a scan of contemporary literature reveals a paucity of description of the technique (Domingos & Lee, 2015; Ozogul, 2018; Khatiban et al, 2018).

Currently, I suggest that many implementations of PBL are more like CBL, and that at the School we tend to mean CBL when we mention these approaches.


The School favours CBL because it produces a deeper learning experience where a real understanding of the issues and techniques are developed and is preferred by students and staff (Hassoulas et al., 2017; Wilkes & Srinivasan, 2017; Srinivasan, 2007).  The approach and its inherent critique of didactic approaches is perhaps best encapsulated in the phrase:

“Tell Me and I Will Forget; Show Me and I May Remember; Involve Me and I Will Understand”

… often cited as Confucius (450BC).

However, there are tensions when introducing PBL to medical education as it takes significantly longer to cover the same curriculum items vs the traditional didactic method (Wilkes & Srinivasan, 2017).  It is also resource intensive in terms of space and experts’ time (Hassoulas, et al., 2017).  Kirschner, Sweller & Clark (2006) are also critical of a PBL approach, citing Albanese and Mitchell’s (1993) study of PBL vs conventional methods that concludes that “…although PBL students receive better scores for their clinical performance…” (ibid:82), they also find:
  • Lower exam scores;
  • No differences in residency selections;
  • More study hours each day;
  • Inefficient use of tests (significantly more tests & less benefit);


For the School, I suggest:
  • A social constructivist approach via group work (6-10 members);
  • Scenarios should be written, perhaps augmented by audio / video segments;
  • Scenarios may develop as a session progresses (e.g., emergency real time role-play);
  • An expert supervises the session – perhaps one expert for 6-8 groups;
  • Experts listen in and guide learners towards learning outcomes, with guided questioning or more direct intervention to reduce ‘off piste’ exploration.

Face to face:
Problems may arise supervising groups as they may not easily corral themselves to areas convenient for supervision.  Space for these sessions will be significantly more than that required by a traditional ‘lecture’ – ideally a large space with a handful of tables set far enough apart to allow group discussion and close enough to allow expert monitoring and facilitation.

This may be an easier implementation due to moving from virtual room to room via a click (for synchronous sessions) or being able to monitor all interactions on an asynchronous discussion board.  However, more supervision and guidance will demand more attention from experts.


Barrows, H. S. (1986). A taxonomy of problem-based learning methods. Medical Education, 20, 481–486.

Domingos, E., & Lee, J. (2015). The evolution of scenario-based learning. In Games+ Learning+ Society Conference. Madison, Wisconsin. Retrieved from 

Hassoulas, A., Forty, E., Hoskins, M., Walters, J., & Riley, S. (2017). A case-based medical curriculum for the 21st century: The use of innovative approaches in designing and developing a case on mental health. Medical Teacher. 

Khatiban, M., Amini, R., & Farahanchi, A. (n.d.). Lecture-based versus problem- based learning in ethics education among nursing students. 

Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work. Educational Psychologist, 41(March 2015), 87–98. 

Ozogul, G. (2018). Best Practices in Engaging Online Learners Through Active and Experiential Learning Strategies. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 12(1). 

Srinivasan, M., Wilkes, M., Stevenson, F., Nguyen, T., & Slavin, S. (2007). Comparing problem-based learning with case-based learning: Effects of a major curricular shift at two institutions. Academic Medicine. 

Wilkes, M. S., & Srinivasan, M. (2017). Problem Based Learning. In J. A. Dent, R. M. Harden, & D. Hunt (Eds.), A practical guide for medical teachers (Fifth, pp. 134–142). Edinburgh: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone. Retrieved from

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Using web conferencing for presentations

 … and how to avoid students saying 'Less Skype lectures please!'

Often, LSTM staff and visiting lectures are many thousands of miles away. Hence we sometimes use web conferencing to bring those presenters on site - into our teaching rooms.  However, sometimes the most excellent presenter and content will be undermined by poor internet connectivity – resulting in one of our student reps saying: “Less Skype lectures please!”

I found this phrase troubling – I was concerned that an excellent opportunity to hear from those at the top of their field, to pass their knowledge and experience on to our students, was being lost. Unpacking a little, I discovered the issue was poor internet connections being used to web conference a lecture - hence the student comment.

So, I came up with some advice for staff using conferencing technology themselves or using it to bring others into their lectures. A prerequisite is that staff realise that web conferencing systems will struggle over poor internet connections - relevant to LSTM as many of the geographic areas we work in have poor connectivity.  Once understood:

  1. For content - ask the presenter to forward (well in advance) learning materials so that the students can do much of the ‘learning’ before the session - perhaps a reading list, annotated notes, or a video of the presenter delivering the ‘content’;
  2. Ask the students to prepare two or three questions each, and have these emailed to the presenter so that they can address those questions - though avoid a didactic experience by the back door!?
  3. During the webinar (Skype or whatever), encourage interaction - use the tools - generate a dialogue - use the prepared questions as a starting point.
  4. Prioritise voice over video - still images may be fine, but video might be too challenging;

Plan B

So, what if the web conference software fails? Try some alternatives such as:

… though perhaps you should test one of these before you need to use it!

The current Zoom and terms allow free 1-2-1 use - suitable for the above scenario.

And if it really falls apart I’d advise using a discussion board to explore the questions - the board will wait until the network catches up.

Plan A - LSTM’s virtual classroom:

A better alternative to Skype etc might be our dedicated virtual classroom - YouSeeU - but that’s a whole other post. In the meantime, here’s a video that’ll show what YouSeeU looks like:

Whatever option you use, or if you want to discuss the alternatives, would be pleased to help - so email, call x3747, or just pop in!

Kindest regards to all,

Picture credits: ulrichw on and @D2L.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Peer review: How to enhance learning without increasing your workload.

Peer review and feedback is generally perceived as an effective pedagogy (Zingaro & Porter, 2013; Mostert & Snowball, 2012; Nicol, 2010; Crouch, et al, 2007; Mitra, 2003).  As stated by Nicol (2013:103):

Peer review is an important alternative to teacher feedback, as research indicates that both the production and the receipt of feedback reviews can enhance students learning without necessarily increasing teacher workload.

In written activities peer review facilitates ‘... improvement in writing style, an awareness of how to apply assessment criteria and an ability to self-assess future work ...’ (Mostert & Snowball, 2012:679).  Nicol (2010) goes further, and states that:

… the act of giving feedback is cognitively more demanding; it engages students more actively in the process; they spend time thinking about the criteria and how the assignment is related to the criteria ...
Nicol (2010, in University of Strathclyde, 2010:3:06)

A recent online course at Edge Hill University (Callaghan, 2013), following Salmon’s five stage model (2004) evidenced the effectiveness of peer review.  Here are some points from students’ perspectives:
  • More timely, and a greater quantity of feedback available (no ‘one academic’ bottleneck);
  • Several varied perspectives encourages deeper self-reflection;
  • Peer language is better received / understood (Topping, 1998);
… and that the quality of the peer feedback became more useful as the course progressed - and peers’ became more confident and competent in their review and feedback skills.

More recently, Nicol et al. suggest that peer review closes “ … the gap between receipt of feedback and its application” (2015:104), allowing opportunities to use the feedback in their current work, something that is “ … quite rare after teacher feedback” (ibid).

Issues / barriers

Some issues / barriers include:

  • Students’ having a lack of confidence in their own work (Callaghan, 2015 & 2013; Mostert & Snowball, 2012)
  • Students’ lack confidence in commenting on peers’ work (Callaghan, 2015 & 2013)
  • Students not happy with others commenting on their work (Callaghan, 2015; Wilson et al., 2014)
  • Quality of comments poor, in some part due to reluctance to offer areas for improvement (Callaghan, 2015)
  • ‘ … lack of confidence in assessors and/or assessments ...’ (Mostert & Snowball, 2012)
  • Mostert & Snowball report 47% of students found ‘ … the peer assessment exercise was not useful.’. [note though, this was assessment, not review / feedback]
  • Students concerned about others using their work (Callaghan, 2015 & 2013; Mostert & Snowball, 2012)
  • Evidence that instructor intervention is required to reap significant learning gains (Zingaro & Porter, 2014);

… and in an online ‘leveraged’ environment, where the the tutor's voice is amplified to 100s or 1000s of students, tutors will feel pressured to produce well polished interactions (Bair and Bair, 2011).

Here's a PowerPoint addressing some of the barriers: Peer Review as a Pedagogy, given as part of my SOLSTICE Fellowship at Edge Hill University.

Now what (Driscoll, 2007)

Intended outcomes of following this approach include:

1) Getting students more engaged with learning content - effectively: i.e., minimising interaction required from tutors.  However, those looking to reduce their workloads should be warned that such motivation is not a successful driver (Wilson et al., 2014).

2) Encouraging the use of technology to facilitate peer review - with echoes of 'Community of Inquiry' (Garrison & Anderson, 2003) creating a deeper and more engaging learning experience.  Ideas such as Zhao et al.’s (2014) three strands of participation, interaction and social presence may further inform your approach.

3) Also consider the role of the tutor - encouraging tutors to move away from being the source of knowledge or ‘Sage on the Stage’ (King, 1993) to be more of a learning facilitator, like a ‘Guide on the Side’ (Hertz-Lazarowitz & Shacher, 1990) or ‘Ghost in the Wings’ (Mazzolini and Maddison, 2007).

I hope that having read this far you might have a little more confidence and knowledge about the peer review process and have ideas about how to embed effective online discussion into their curricula.  I'm always happy to continue the discussion too - perhaps via @dbcallaghan - perhaps this may lead onto a webinar?


Callaghan, D. (2015) Experiences teaching an online 3rd year dissertation module at Edge Hill University, Nov 2014 - Feb 2015.

Callaghan, D. (2013) A Tidal Wave of Discussion … How active discussion produced outstanding results [online].  Available from: [13th May 2015].

Crouch, H., Watkins, J. Fagen, A.P., Mazur, E. (2007) Peer Instruction: Engaging students one-on-one, all at once in Reviews in Physics Education Research, Ed. E.F. Redish and P. Cooney, pp. 1-1 (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, MD, 2007). Available from:

Driscoll, J., 2007. Practising clinical supervision: a reflective approach for healthcare professionals. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Hertz-Lazarowitz, R. and Shachar, H. (1990) Teachers' verbal behavior in cooperative and whole-class instruction. In: S. Sharan (eds) Cooperative Learning. Praeger. 77-94.

King, A., Learning, P. A. and Questioning, G. R. P. (1993) From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41 (1) 30-35.

Mazzolini, M. and Maddison, S. (2007) When to jump in: The role of the instructor in online discussion forums. Computers & Education, 49 (2) 193-213.

Mitra, S. (2003). “Minimally Invasive Education: A progress report on the "Hole-in-the-wall" experiments”. British Journal of Educational Technology, 34(3), 367-371.

Mostert, M.; Snowball , J. (2012) Where angels fear to tread: online peer-assessment in a large first-year class Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education Vol. 38, Iss. 6, 2013

Nicol, D. (2010) The foundation for graduate attributes: Developing self-regulation through self and peer assessment. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.Scotland,

Nicol, D., Thomson, A, and Breslin, C. (2013) Rethinking feedback practices in
higher education: a peer review perspective. Assessment and evaluation in higher education. 39(1),  102-122.

Salmon, G. (2004) E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online. London: Routledge.

Topping, K. 1998. Peer Assessment between Students in Colleges and Universities.  Review of Educational Research, 68(3), 249–276.

University of Strathclyde (2010) REAP Video [accessed 20-05-2015]

Zingaro, D., & Porter, L. (2014) Peer instruction in computing: The value of instructor intervention. Computers & Education, 71 , 87–96.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Blogs, discussion boards and journals.

A frequent question is how to use blogs and discussion boards.  Here's some recent advice:

Thanks for this opportunity to think things through – I feel a blog post coming on!?
I like discussion for collaboration – it’s a fab tool for those developing their confidence with their peers, reinforcing concepts; exploring issues; learning by explaining to others etc.
Blogs may be useful for more confident /capable students as there is an intended audience to write for and the possibility of critique / criticism.
Journals should also be considered – these are usually private to the student and tutor, so are great for less confident learners to build up their writing skills.
So, in summary, and making swathing* generalisations, journals for Y1, blogs (perhaps just Blackboard / internal ones) and discussion for Y2, and for Y3 look at public blogs and engagement with public discussion forums (TES etc).
Very kindest regards,
*Did you know a swathe is the amount of hay you can cut by hand in one pass? (late night R4!?)

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Creating talking head and similar videos

A popular topic on the Edge Hill PGCert course has been making ‘talking head’ and other videos / screen casts for teaching and learning.

I encourage colleagues to create ‘rough and ready’ / disposable video for teaching and learning. However, if colleagues want to move to the next step, here’s an excellent piece outlining an approach to create great looking video: (via @edutopia)

Link to mic mentioned: Movo PM20 Dual-Headed Lavalier Lapel Clip-on:

Other resources for video creation:

Monday, 15 June 2015

Education should be learner led, facilitate unfettered access to best of breed materials, and ditto staff (teachers, facilitators, co-constructors) (Bonk, 2009)

Larry Cuban's recent post on school reform ("Educators’ Love Affair with Change") reminded me of the preface to my MA dissertation from 2010 - posted below.  Even though this is six years old (and for the first time in public here), it still feels very contemporary and perhaps even prescient given more recent developments such as MOOCs, the Khan Academy and Sugata Mitra's work:


“Whether you are a scientist on a ship in Antarctic waters or a young girl in a Philippine village, you can learn whenever and whatever you want from whomever you are interested in learning it from.”

From the cover sleeve of: “The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education”
Curtis J. Bonk
July 2009

The statement is not as outlandish as it might seem on first reading.  Curtis Bonk is making the point that technology, and in this case the Internet, and more specifically the services that are facilitated by the Internet, have made information available on a scale unimaginable to previous generations – and that it’s possible to harness those services in the pursuit of education, the gathering of information, and obtain assistance converting that data into knowledge.

I, too, have a strongly held belief that technology will transform the world’s educational systems, for the better.

Thus I began to explore, using this dissertation as a vehicle for that exploration, how university teachers use on-line learning environments in their teaching.  Originally the technology I intended to study was “Multimedia” (audio and video content), but it became clear later in the study that “Multimedia” must include text based content and therefore the study expanded to include attitudes and opinions towards on-line learning environments that by their nature are often heavily text based.

This might be an appropriate point to inform the reader of my background, to help them place my words and ideas and others concepts and notions into the reader’s knowledge landscape – to give a context to this dissertation.

Computers and me go back a long way.  I first came across computer equipment first hand in school in 1976 – firstly using a local council mainframe via a remote tele-type device and the second was an early micro-computer from Research Machines using a Z80 8-bit microprocessor.  I studied computer science at school, gaining 'O' level, 'A' level and then my first degree in the subject.  Hence my background with the technology is deep, wide and, perhaps in the IT industry, ancient; or in e-learning, even pre-historic.

I spent 20 years in the IT industry, became a classroom teacher of ICT from 2003 (following my PGCE) until December 2007, when I took up the role of a Learning Technologist.

Hence I have a good background in technology and education – and am currently finding my role as a learning technologist suits my experience and background.

Over the past few years I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the education system.  This paragraph is explicitly designed to be contentious in order to illustrate – and I admit that it suffers from the precise “Academic Liteness” I go on to accuse the educational establishment of.  Around 2005, whilst working as a classroom teacher, I came to the conclusion that the UK’s compulsory education system, especially provision from 11 years on is dis-educating our children.  During my time as a teacher I have observed children being taught how NOT to learn, sometimes as a side effect of the system evidencing how good it is at doing its job.  Notions of “Spoon Feeding” only scratch the surface of my dissatisfaction.  And now as a parent I see my own children suffer the same fate.  Parents remain trusting of the system to educate and/or contain their children.  Educators impose their attitudes and beliefs as to what is best from a frequently paternalistic and often “evidence lite” perspective.  Such approaches echo with Freire’s (1972) notions of colonial education, where the oppressed (children) are educated using the curriculum of the oppressor (education system).  I believe that to be effective, education must be driven by the desires and interests of the learner, not of the system.  There are initiatives in many countries that adopt this “Radical” educational approach, such as the Sudbury schools in the USA (Holzman 1997) and the educational philosophy of the city of Reggio Emilia, Italy (Thornton and Brunton, 2006).  In the UK, Summerhill School (Andresen et al., 1995) has shown both how successful the philosophy can be and how distasteful the educational establishment find the approach (the school has suffered a barrage of attacks from Ofsted (House of Commons Standing Committee G (pt 9), 2002) and the DfES (BBC News, 2000).

I believe the free and open educational resources that are mushrooming via the Internet (MIT, BBC’s Byte Size etc.) will evolve, Darwinian style, into the best of breed.  There is nothing any authority, government or educational stakeholder can do to stop this.  To prevent our learners, at whatever age, access to these resources in full, by overtly blocking access to, like the Chinese government, or implicit restrictions, like the UK’s education system demanding that our children attend the sort of institution a child from the workhouses of the 18th century would recognise, is wrong.  Further, these attitudes are dangerous to the prosperity of future society.  Curtis Bonk explores these issues in “The World is Open” – (2009:367-368) in which he suggests (demands?) that education be learner led, facilitate unfettered access to best of breed materials, and ditto staff (teachers, facilitators, co-constructors).

David Callaghan
December 2009

Friday, 23 January 2015

First vs Third person?

A recurring question for academic work is whether to write in the first or third person.  If you are researching someone else’s area, then third is the obvious choice.  However, if you are, as in the case of most teacher researchers, researching YOUR practice / context / setting then I would suggest you use the first person.

Below are four snippets from a discussion board I ran acouple of years ago that I hope you might find useful:

You can write it all in the first person.  Perhaps what Michelle means is that the literature review should only present other people's opinion and not your own.  There might be occasions that bringing your own voice to the review would be useful - hence 'I' in the literature review on these occasions is fine.
03 March 2013 21:27
There are benefits to both first and third person. First person: is more authentic – you can get more passion in the text and therefore more engagement from the reader. Third person: May help you maintain an academic and balanced style. It’s your choice – but if the story is yours, your ‘narrative’, please consider using the first person – perhaps try writing the introduction in the first person and then post it on the Introduction discussion for some feedback.  It's your decision - whatever you feel works best for you - but please be consistent!
18 January 2013 18:41
You should aim for consistency across the piece.  I notice in the draft methodology I have you have used first and third person.  This late on you may benefit from changing to first person because you will gain authenticity, and at the same time be protected against falling into the trap of anecdotal or emotional writing because you wrote it in third person originally.  However, either is acceptable and the only difference in grading will be in the use of English row on the grading grid if you're not consistent.
18 May 2013 10:42
Writing in the third person is perfectly acceptable - although I'm encouraging you to try the first person, note that many colleagues here at the University would frown on such a suggestion - so please don't be swayed by my suggestions - it won't make any difference to the marks.  Though do ensure that if you use the third person that you get the passion and commitment in there - so easy to lose when discussing 'the researcher'.
14 March 2013 23:23