Case-based Pedagogy

I think in general, case-based or problem-based learning can be a great tool. However, I think there is a limitation in how relatable some subjects can be. Typically in my field, the cases that are presented are all medical based. In some ways it is extremely helpful and maintains relevancy because much of the neuroscience field is imbedded in the clinical and medical context. We often learn how mechanisms of the brain work because at some level they go wrong, and we can learn from how they went wrong. I’ve learned about lots of systems this way. We talk about and discuss diseases, what areas of the brain/neurotransmitters/genetic mutations cause those diseases, and then we learn how they may be treated and get taught most of what we know of the brain through that scope. Ie, if there was a lesion on this nerve, what would you expect to happen to the ability for someone to move their eye? I think eventually though, problem-based learning stops working. At that point just understanding how things work becomes the problem, and you can become extremely limited in the concepts you can convey by consistently presenting “real-world” examples. Everything about biology is a real-world example, at the same time it’s all theoretical and abstract. I think at this point it can at least be extrapolated into lab classes. I may be thinking of too strict of a structure on “PBL” in that a problem needs to be presented, but I think any real world experience you bring to learning is helpful.

2 thoughts on “Case-based Pedagogy

  1. Thanks for sharing! I see your point that sometimes to understand an abstract concept a real world example may not work, but I don’t think that means that problem based learning is not an option. I think problem based learning can also be used to examine hypothetical/abstract problems. In fact, I think this is a really effective way of getting students to think outside of the box and apply they concepts they’ve learned examining real-world examples to something they have never seen before. You could ask questions like what do you think would happen? How would you test your hypothesis? etc.


  2. Hi Earl,
    I think I actually mentioned this in my own blog post or in a comment I left on another class-mate’s post but I also come from a relatively rigid field. There does exist a wall at some point in problem based learning where you *have* to know the information and the fundamentals in order to get somewhere with the problem. I work in the packaging engineering field and so there are a limited amount of solutions that exist for different problems so as I’ve been working on the PBL project for our course it’s been difficult to choose something that students can have a little more wiggle room with. Highly recommend talking to students that are graduating or students that have already graduated to see what type of activities may have been helpful during their time as students.


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