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If PLEs are incompatible with the system then how do we change the system?

Education plays a diverse role in society, ranging from formal research universities to practically focused community colleges. The method of education is generally structured – based on the assumption that if we have clear goals (i.e. learn this content), then we also need clear/structured approaches (objectives, instruction, evaluation. Some pockets of innovation exist. For example, during my current trip to Singapore, I heard about Republic Polytechnic, an institution completely based on problem based learning. I don’t know how well the approach is working, but at least they’re experimenting. But change in education is hard because change disrupts existing power relationships. In some cases that’s necessary, especially when the system is not meeting the needs of the intended audience. As Graham Atwell notes:

It is not just a question that curricula cannot keep pace with the speed of technological and social innovation. It is an issue that the skills and knowledge required by today’s technology cannot be delivered through a rigidly sytematised, market led educational system. Furthermore, globalisation, the rapid turnover in employment and occupations and the implementation of new technologies have led to pressures for continuing learning – what is being called lifelong learning. Present education systems cannot deliver this.


  1. University of Sherbrooke’s medical school is 100% PBL, with no lectures (ever). Université de Moncton has partnered with them and now offers same programme in NB. Sherbrooke has been using the approach successfully for 20 years

    Friday, December 12, 2008 at 8:10 am | Permalink
  2. Lanny Arvan wrote:

    Might it be that it is the learners who change, not the school? There is a very well known paper in economics – Job Market Signaling, by Michael Spence,a copy can be found here
    that suggests school can make sense even if there is none of the nurture function you want it to play, as long as it appropriately sort the students from the non-students (and also sorts students of different performance levels). If the sorting function continues to work, the right students still have the right incentives, and the status quo is preserved.

    This is not an elevating argument. It is only to say that forces for school to change are weaker than you’d like them to be.

    Friday, December 12, 2008 at 1:08 pm | Permalink
  3. Jon K. wrote:

    McMaster University has a PBL program for their Medical Students as well. They tie their graduation to whether or not the student passes their certification.

    Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 9:28 am | Permalink

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  1. [...] My brief, to present at a Year 11 conference about online tools, has accentuated, in my mind, how far away we are from providing the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) at school students need in a [...]