Supporting students in problem-based learning curricula

Scholars tend to disagree about whether the appropriate amount of guidance is provided to students in a problem-based curriculum. Some authors argue that problem-based learning (PBL) is a minimally guided approach, in which insufficient support is provided to students to lead to meaningful learning (Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006). On the other hand, other authors suggest that PBL is in fact scaffolded in such a way that learning is actually enhanced (Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, & Chinn, 2007).

However, at a recent symposium on self-regulation at the Open University in Heerlen, prof. dr. Alexander Renkl argued that even when appropriate external regulation is provided in a learning environment, students still need to be supported in order to develop their self-regulated learning (Renkl, 2017).  Specifically, although the educator might give effective explanations, the actual learning process needs to be done by the student (Berthold & Renkl, 2010). Furthermore, it was argued in this presentation that students are not always able to optimally use the help tools that are offered to them (Schwonke et al., 2013).  Therefore, in addition to providing tools to students to guide their learning, it was argued that is also important to provide support in how to use this guidance.

One of the projects of the task force involves the development of strategies to support students in appropriately using the tools that are offered to them. Based on the persona method, eight prototypical student types were identified. For each of these types, we identified typical problems these students may run into during their studies, as well as the tools that could help solve these problems. The problems and associated solutions were grouped together in mind maps. Going forward, the solutions that were identified could be used to help students who are struggling in their studies, for example by offering them in the form of a workshop.

More information about the symposium can be found at More information about the persona project and the resulting mindmaps is available upon request.




Berthold, K., & Renkl, A. (2010). How to foster active processing of explanations in instructional communication. Educational Psychology Review, 22(1), 25-40.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Duncan, R. G., & Chinn, C. A. (2007). Scaffolding and achievement in problem-based and inquiry learning: A response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006). Educational Psychologist, 42(2), 99-107.

Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.

Renkl, A. (2017). Learning arrangements with high external regulation: Why fostering

learners’ self-regulation is of special importance. Keynote presentation at the Self-regulation Conference, Open University Heerlen, The Netherlands.

Schwonke, R., Ertelt, A., Otieno, C., Renkl, A., Aleven, V., & Salden, R. J. (2013). Metacognitive support promotes an effective use of instructional resources in intelligent tutoring. Learning and Instruction, 23, 136-150.