Conventional schooling as we know it today was designed for the efficient production of basic knowledge and skills needed for the factories of the 19th and 20th centuries. But the world has changed and as material resources dwindle and the unintended consequences of the industrial revolution threaten on a global scale, citizens must not only have an extensive store of knowledge, but also must know how to keep that knowledge current and apply it to solve novel problems. Unlike the traditional, objectivist approach to teaching that focuses on identifying the elements that the learner must know, the new, constructivist approach emphasizes the importance of learning in context. That is, it is no longer enough for learners to acquire concepts in isolation; knowledge which often remains inert. Instead, learners must develop and continually modify their understanding of the world as they interact with other learners to solve realistic problems situated in meaningful tasks. This modern view of the workplace has compelled many educators to rethink the ways in which students are prepared.
For many educators, problem-based learning (PBL) represents a particularly useful example of instruction that is consistent with constructivist learning principles. Problem-based learning is an instructional method in which students learn through facilitated problem solving. In PBL, students learn by focusing on a complex problem that does not have a single correct answer, and they work together in collaborative teams to identify what needs to be learned in order to solve the problem.
In theory, learning in PBL environments not only promotes more effective knowledge construction, but results in better learning transfer over time.