Exploring the near-future or next practice of PBL


Problem Based Learning has by now become a widely accepted pedagogy in many higher education institutions. There are, however, three emerging trends inviting us to challenge, develop, criticise or expand our conceptualisations of Problem Based Learning and how we practice it. The trends prompt us to begin asking for one thing: how should PBL in Higher Education be practiced in the near-future, and what are emerging examples of ‘next practice’ within PBL? Secondly, what theoretical and methodological frameworks do we need to understand, analyse, envision and to develop new PBL models and practices?

One trend is the ‘digitalisation’ of higher education where digital technologies are reshaping disciplines, but also how lecturers teach and supervise, how students collaborate, and how lecturers and students can practice PBL. New ‘blends’ between online and onsite teaching and learning are emerging enabling the development of new hybrid PBL models.

Another trend is the ‘institutionalisation’ of PBL in higher education. Rather than PBL being pursued mainly in single courses by individuals or small teams of lecturers we are seeing an increased move towards institutions taking a greater responsibility for rethinking programmes, the curriculum or even the entire institution according to principles of PBL.

Finally, a trend of ‘conscientization’ where PBL is seen as a means to raise critical consciousness around issues such as sustainability, climate, equity and social justice. Rather than simply an ‘effective teaching strategy’ PBL is increasingly seen as a pedagogy for students to engage as critical change agents with complex real-world grand challenges.

These trends together can potentially trigger the design and development of entirely new types of hybrid problem-based learning models and environments. For example, PBL designs that:

  • Merge online and offline activities and spaces.
  • Explore new types of collaborative engagements that go beyond the boundaries of a single group and engage students in complex networks of collaboration.
  • Works across geographical, institutional and disciplinary boundaries to engage students with complex real-world problems or grand challenges, such as sustainable development, poverty, climate or social justice.

These are visions of future PBL models that explore ‘hybridity’ across different dimensions, such as online/offline, disciplinary/interdisciplinary, local/global, small-group/complex network. Secondly, they are visions of PBL models that move beyond a narrow focus on disciplinary competences and employability towards an aim of engaging students as critical learners and change agents who develop the competences to actively participate and function in an increasingly complex, global and network-based society.

They are visions of models that seek to harness the opportunities afforded by digital technologies, while remaining firmly grounded in a commitment to students’ mutual learning, sense-making and collaborative engagement. No less important, they promote engagement with grand challenges such as sustainable development, social justice and equity.

The goal of this special issue is to invite papers that explore near-future or next practice PBL and which challenge, develop, criticise or expand our current conceptualisation of PBL and how we practice it. This includes research-based development and concrete examples of near-future and next practice PBL, as well as theoretical, conceptual, and methodological papers. The latter could be papers conceptually unfolding future visions for PBL, theoretically exploring particular concepts (hybridity, collaboration), or presenting new methods for researching or designing for PBL. The editors remain open to discuss and co-explore ideas with potential authors. 

Guest Editorial group:

Lykke Brogaard Bertel, Assistant Professor, Aalborg University

Thomas Ryberg, Professor, Aalborg University

Anette Kolmos, Professor, Aalborg University 

Time schedule:
  • Deadline for abstracts: 15 April, 2020
  • Feedback to authors: 1 May, 2020
  • Full paper due: 15 December, 2020
  • Feedback from reviewers: 15 February, 2021
  • Revised paper due: 1 May, 2021
  • Publication of issue: 1 November - 1 December, 2021     
Submission and Review Process

Prospective authors intending to submit a paper for the special issue are asked to supply a 500-word extended abstract, outlining the content and aims of the proposed paper, plus a list of 7 to 10 key references that the paper will be informed by and/or drawn/built upon. The editorial team will review the proposals and identify abstracts that are suitable for being developed into full papers.

Please send the abstract to Stine Randrup Nielsen: srn@plan.aau.dk

Full manuscripts should be prepared in accordance with the journal's author guidelines and submitted via the journal’s manuscripts system.

Manuscripts for the special issue must be between 4,000 and 7,000 words in length (Please note that the word count is all-inclusive of the title, author details, approx. 150 words abstract, keywords and reference list as well as any tables and appendices that the manuscript may contain).

Manuscripts must be original and may not have been previously published, nor may they be under consideration for publication elsewhere at the time of submission to JPBLHE and throughout the duration of the review process. Each full manuscript will be subjected to double-blind peer review.

For full details of the editorial criterias and comprehensive instructions on how to submit a paper, please consult the journal's author guidelines. For further information, please visit the journal web page: http://www.journals.aau.dk/index.php/pbl

Queries and requests for further information may be directed to the editors-in-charge of this special issue of JPBLHE: Lykke Brogaard Bertel

Abstracts or papers not selected for the special issue will be considered for the regular issue of JPBLHE. And JPBLHE remains open to ongoing submission of papers.