Problem-Based Learning in Online Settings during COVID-19


  • Anna Caroni University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland
  • Anna Nikoulina University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland


Purpose: Problem-based learning (PBL) provides an appropriate instructional strategy to engage a student in active learning, enhance student interest, improve retention, and promote problem-solving and critical thinking skills. This study aims to report on student and faculty experiences in a problem-based learning course consisting of a preparation phase and a reporting phase during the COVID-19 lockdown and present potential implications for online PBL course design.

Study design/methodology/approach: A survey was conducted to compare the two instructional PBL settings, i.e. face-to-face and online. Descriptive statistics as well as a general inductive approach for analysing the qualitative data are used to evaluate the results of the survey.

Findings: The results show that students appreciated the new small group discussion format in the online PBL course over the whole class discussion in the face-to-face setting and that an online PBL course can help students integrate knowledge and promote the deep learning approach.

Originality/value: The study contributes to PBL research by examining student and faculty experiences in a case-based PBL course. A new instructional online PBL course design is presented, with the main change in the reporting phase. The study shows that the shift from a physical to an online setting has no detectable negative impact on the ability of students to achieve set learning goals if the PBL approach is slightly modified.