Problem-Based Learning

Sometimes knowledge alone isn’t enough. In your career, you’ll need to be able to work independently, be assertive and solve problems. To prepare you for this, Maastricht University makes use of an education model known as Problem-Based Learning (PBL).

In small groups of roughly 13 students, supervised and assisted by a tutor, you actively seek solutions to real-life problems. In this way, you learn not only to operate at an academic level, but also to work independently on real-world issues – just as you will later on, in your career.

How does PBL work?

You:

  • read the assigned material before coming to class
  • discuss the assignment in your tutorial group
  • plan, in cooperation with the group and tutor, what you need to do and learn in order to arrive at a solution to the problem  
  • work either independently or as a group to reach the solution
  • present your findings in the following tutorial.

Problem-Based Learning at Maastricht University

PBL in a nutshell.

Four advantages of PBL

It revolves around you
In a PBL environment you are, aside from the supervision of your tutor, personally responsible for what you learn. You are therefore required to play an active role in the learning process. You analyse problems that lie at the heart of actual research being conducted in Maastricht. You take part in discussions, share knowledge and, together with the group, formulate your own learning objectives. Relative to the number of contact hours with your tutor, you spend comparatively more time on independent study and group assignments.

You learn dynamically
By approaching questions actively, you retain the theory better and learn to apply your knowledge to all sorts of questions. The group members often come from highly divergent backgrounds, giving you experience in a culturally diverse environment and making the discussions especially lively. Moreover, you learn essential skills, such as presenting your viewpoint, debating, writing reports and working together. You may be assessed on your performance in these areas, rather than sitting an exam.

Your tutors are approachable
Tutors participate in the tutorials by supervising the group process, asking important and critical questions, sharing their knowledge and providing support as needed. In this way, you get the most out of their expertise, while at the same time reaping the benefits of low-threshold, informal contact with academic staff.

You acquire skills for life
Our graduates are prime illustrations of the effectiveness of Problem-Based Learning. They are assertive, independent and knowledgeable professionals, competent at analysing complex problems, gathering and structuring information, working in international teams, conducting and leading discussions, and forming and presenting ideas.

What is it like to be in a PBL class? Our students tell you more.

Examples of PBL assignments

What does a PBL assignment look like? During our information sessions you can take part in a mock tutorial to see for yourself. Below are two (condensed) examples of real PBL assignments from Maastricht University.

Political Sciences
You and a couple of friends have had enough of the political climate in the country and in Europe. After some deliberation, you decide to go into European politics. You think the best approach is to become a member of the European Parliament, while your friends think you can have more influence on policy if you join the Commission. Unconvinced by their arguments, you decide to postpone your decision until you can do more research. What questions should you be able to answer in order to arrive at a plan of action?

European Public Health
The municipal health service in Aachen, Germany, informs the Maastricht health service that a GP from Liège, Belgium, has reported a case of open tuberculosis. The patient, a 39 year old electrician, is employed by a highly specialised installation company. He recently carried out work in the hospitals in Aachen and Maastricht, travelling to both by public transport. A few days later another case of open TB is reported, this time in a Maastricht train commuter. You study questions such as: How is tuberculosis spread? What are the risk factors? What national and cross-border measures are needed to prevent the further spread of the disease?

Did you know…

  • UM has been using PBL ever since the university was founded in 1976. Since then, more and more universities in the Netherlands and abroad have started working with this education model.
  • we are constantly working to further develop the model, with multiple initiatives coordinated by the EDLAB, UM’s centre for educational innovation.