Core principles of PBL: constructive, collaborative, contextual and self-directed

This video series is designed to explain the educational principles of Maastricht University (UM), namely that learning should be collaborative, constructive, contextual and self-directed (CCCS). The intention is to guide the teachers on how they can implement these principles in their everyday teaching methodologies. The videos look at the definition of Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and CCCS, at how they can promote better learning skills and competencies. In addition, they provide guidelines on applying these principles in course development (group)assignments and assessment, the organisation and delivery of lectures, and the organisation and facilitation of tutor sessions.

Depending on the target group, the videos can be embedded in a different learning context (theory and assignments), either in combination with printed, online or face-to-face instructions and learning activities. They can also be coupled with existing videos that show how these core principles have been implemented by some of our teachers (creative PBL series).

If you have questions about the PBL learning principles, you can contact

1) Contextual – PBL uses real everyday problems. Hence the learning material is more relevant and will be easier to apply in real situations1)
2) Constructive – PBL is a student-centred approach in which learners construct their own knowledge, and the teacher or tutor serves as a guide on the side
3) Collaborative – PBL stimulates students to co-construct knowledge and to share ideas and knowledge
4) Self-directed – PBL promotes self-directed learning skills among students. Examples are planning, reflection, evaluation of understanding, and managing information and resources

Problem-Based Learning at Maastricht University

In Problem-Based Learning, students adopt a deep approach to learning. They form small groups to discuss a real-life problem or cases by activating their prior knowledge on the topic, relating the new information to their prior knowledge, structuring new ideas and critically evaluating their findings. Depending on the complexity of the problem learners collaborate with their peers and seek support from their tutors.

Contextual Learning at Maastricht University

Discussing meaningful, authentic, or professionally relevant problems should be the starting point of learning in problem-based learning. Contextual learning emphasises that learning should happen in multiple meaningful contexts. In such a learning environment, students discover how to relate abstract ideas to practical real-life situations. Through this process of discovering, reinforcing, and relating, students internalise new concepts.

Constructive Learning at Maastricht University

By asking critical questions, reasoning and checking contradictories learners become aware that there is often more than one correct answer and many points of view are valid. Knowledge is constructed by the learners as they reconcile new information with past experiences, analyse various source materials, and work collaboratively with others to deepen their understanding. Here we emphasise guided exploration, reflections, and evaluation.

Collaborative Learning at Maastricht University

Learners engaged in collaborative learning share common goals, depend on each other’s contributions, evaluate each other’s ideas and monitor the work of their team members to successfully complete a task and solve a complex problem.

Self-directed Learning at Maastricht University

Self-directed learning describes a process in which individuals take initiative, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.

You want to know what the CCCS can look like in practice?

A number of creative PBL implementations can be found here. We are continuously collecting new and different examples. If you have an example of a new practice, we’d love to showcase it on our website, so please get in touch!