PBL can refer to two different, but similar, teaching techniques, Problem Based Learning and Project Based Learning.  There is another related technique called Case Based Learning, or CBL.

Problem Based Learning

Problem Based Learning is a technique in which students are presented with authentic and real world problems to solve.  In order to make the learning authentic, students are not taught the skills needed to solve the problem directly, but instead can receive guidance from their teacher, or ask their teacher to teach them specific required skills.  The teacher will not, however, provide ‘the answer’.  Authentic real world problems will, in any case, be open and not have a single correct answer, but many possible solutions.

Some more information on Problem Based Learning can be found at the UQ Education Faculty Website.

Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning is similar, except that students respond to an engaging question or challenge, rather than a problem. The distinction between the two is fairly small.  An excellent example of Project Based Learning at a tertiary level is the Engineers Without Borders Challenge for first year engineering students.  Each year, EWB Challenge provides students with information about a specific third world or marginalised community, and challenges students to use their skills and knowledge to design a simple and culturally appropriate improvement for the community in one of several areas, such as sanitation, communication, energy or transportation.

The Buck Institute of Education provides a range of resources to assist with the implementation of PBL.

Case Based Learning

Case Based Learning is much more structured, in that the teacher provides the information needed to solve each problem at the start of each case.  The teacher is also more active in guiding the students towards a preferred outcome.  CBL is used in cases where there is more likely to be a correct answer, rather than for open ended questions and challenges.  It is commonly used at a tertiary level in the teaching of medicine.

This reference compares CBL and PBL, in the context of medical education.  It is, however, equally relevant to primary and secondary education.

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As canvassed on the Differentiation page, Personalisation is a technique whereby simply highly engaged students are given the opportunity to negotiate the curriculum and assessment with their teacher.  Unlike Differentiation, it is the student who drives the negotiation.

Personalisation of learning can include modifications to

  • Content
  • Context
  • Environment
  • Process, and
  • Product

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The key difference between Cosmopolitanism and Enactivism is that while Cosmopolitanism focuses on collaborative learning through observations and interactions with the world at large, Enactivism also identifies actions that result from that learning as a part of the learning process.  In other words, the learning process can itself result in action that changes the world we are studying (Sumara & Davis, 1997, p. 415).

Student Engagement

Enactivism will obviously only be relevant for students that are highly committed to their studies in a personal way, and own their education as a way to improve the world.  These students are also identified as being Authentically Engaged in the Schlechty model, as students highly committed to their own learning.

Teaching Techniques

Project Based Learning is an effective way for students to both learn about their world and learn how to make changes to the world at the same time. While designed for first year engineering students, the Engineers Without Borders Challenge is an example of the sort of instructional technique that embodies Enactivist thinking (Engineers Without Borders, 2014).

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In some ways similar to Constructivism, Cosmopolitanism as a Learning Theory also posits that students construct knowledge by reorganising information from a variety of sources, including the classroom teacher, and other sources such as their own experiences.

Cosmopolitanism differs from Constructivism in that Cosmopolitanism describes learning as a collaborative activity, and occurs as students collaboratively engage with the world.   Cosmopolitanism implies an openness to ideas and cultures that are different to our own, as a result of interaction with other people, cultures and ideas (Saito, 2010, p. 334).  This requires, from students, a high level of commitment in order to reorganise existing ideas and preconceptions to accommodate different ways of thinking, however the end result can be more enlightened and mature students, as their high level of work commitment causes a similar high level of commitment to alternate cultures and ideas (Saito, 2010, p. 342).  In a nutshell, students who work at this level are open to new ideas.

Associated Teaching Techniques

Instructional Techniques appropriate for Behaviourism are certainly not appropriate, and even Learning Intentions and Success Criteria need to be personalised, or negotiated between teachers and students.  Interaction between students and other cultures can be assisted through eLearning and Digital Pedagogies, such as is set out in Microsoft’s 21 Century Learning Design (21CLD).  Alternative techniques include PBL (and similar models) and Personalisation.

Under the Schlechty model, students working at this level are Authentically Engaged, as they are frequently directing their own learning, for their own purposes.

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Constructivism as a Learning Theory assumes a greater role for relationships between learners and the world than in Behaviourism.  The teacher is no longer the only source of knowledge or facts, and students construct knowledge gained both from the teacher, and from their own experiences and sources outside of the classroom.

As in Behaviourism, the world exists independently of us, however there is an acceptance in Constructivism that it cannot be well defined (Schuh & Barab, 2008, p. 71).

Associated Teaching Techniques

Constructivism describes the reorganisation of information (learning) as an individual activity (Ausubel, 1961), and so Direct Instruction and similar forms of instructional techniques used in Behaviourism are inappropriate.  However, students may still be guided in their learning by the teacher, so the provision of clear Lesson Intentions and Success Criteria can be useful instructional techniques to allow students to judge their own success as learners, although the criteria for success are still set by the teacher rather than the student themselves.

The Flipped Classroom is a technique that has been gaining popularity in recent times, and works well with students who are are to work autonomously.  Discovery Learning also works well, but unlike Flipping which focuses on changing the way content is delivered, Discovery Learning has a greater focus on changing the way students synthesise knowledge.

Students that show a high level of attention, but without ownership of their own learning, learn well under Constructivist learning theories, and can best be described as Strategically Compliant under the Schlechty model for engagement.

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Behaviourism as a Learning Theory can be described as direct transmission of knowledge from teacher to student.

It follows from this that Behaviourism does not require interaction between learners, or even between learners and actors outside of the classroom.  Behaviourism is Objective in nature as the facts of the world are seen to be independent of human understanding or interaction with the world.

Associated Teaching Techniques

Programmed Instruction, Explicit Instruction and Direct Instruction are all teaching techniques that are based on Behaviourism as a Learning Theory (Schuh & Barab, 2008, p. 76).  Each of these techniques make it very clear to students what is expected for them to succeed, but give students no ownership of learning, and so tend to result in low commitment, other than what is immediately required for each lesson.

Proponents of these styles of Instruction often value teacher accountability, and describe these techniques as evidence-based in terms of producing improved results.  However, accountability as a strategy for improvement is a relatively poor way to look for improvements in outcomes. (Fullan, 2014, p. 27) If teachers are primarily accountable for the data and results they produce, then that will become the focus (Kreber, 2013, p. 859).  Behaviourism, as a learning theory, works well for students who are working at the level of Ritual Compliance, in that they have low commitment and attention, but will do what is asked by the teacher in order to avoid negative consequences.

A very common technique is Differentiation.  Simply put, Differentiation is a process where a teacher directs students at different levels of ability to complete work at different levels of complexity.  This is not usually done on an individual basis, but by grouping students according to ability, and perhaps by work ethic.

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Whole School Engagment Schema

Whole School Engagement Matrix

Schlechty Levels of Engagement Rebellion Retreatism Ritual Compliance Strategic Compliance Engagement
Dimensions of Engagement

Diverted Attention

No Commitment

No Attention

No Commitment

Low Attention

Low Commitment

High Attention

Low Commitment

High Attention

High Commitment

Student Goals Disrupting Learning Avoiding Learning Avoiding Punishment Learning for Grades Authentic Learning
Teacher Actions Appropriate Learning Theories









Behaviour management and Well-Being strategies









High Classroom Expectations and Well-Being strategies

Behaviourism Constructivism Cosmopolitanism & Enactivism
Characteristics  Direct transmission of knowledge from the teacher Learning from the world (ie from sources beyond the teacher) Learning from the world collaboratively (Cosmopolitanism) and through interaction with the world (Enactivism)
Instructional Techniques

Direct Instruction

Explicit Instruction


Discovery Learning

Learning Intentions

Flipped Classroom




Systemic Processes Walk throughs, PD, Peer observation, Collaborative planning
Well-being and supportive structures

CBT & Counselling

Stone & Water

Resilience Training

Restorative Justice

Learning Support

Paediatric Support

Learning Support

Cyber Safety Resources

Pastoral Care

As per the left, plus

Leadership Training

Teacher Goals Survival Making Success Mandatory Making Success Achievable Making Success Desirable Making Success Personal

Essay that explains the derivation of the framework available here.