Experiences in problem-based learning


HAMK is involved in educational capacity building in east and southern Africa through its Africa Projects. In this blog, we present the results of the PBL-BioAfrica project from an individual point of view. A committed participant and beneficiary of the project, Miriam Kyule, unravels her learning path, and the tangible outcomes and changes that occurred, while a staff member of the project, Satu Määttänen, explains the rationale of the project work.

Professional teacher training programme on problem-based learning

Staff member (Satu):

The teaching in most African universities relies on “traditional”, teacher-centered approaches – mainly lecturing –, which fails to develop graduate competences needed for the world of work, and leads to high levels of graduate unemployment.

The PBL-BioAfrica and AgriSCALE projects were designed to change this status quo, by promoting and increasing awareness and skills in student-centered teaching methods, such as problem-based learning (PBL). During the preparatory work for the projects, it was recognised that many teachers in the partnering universities lack proper pedagogical training, and perceive to have limited knowledge of pedagogical theories and approaches. Yet, the staff shows great interest in learning new teaching approaches and improving their teaching competences.

To provide staff members with tools and knowledge to implement student-centered methods, HAMK organized a professional teacher training programme on PBL for the agricultural teaching staff of seven universities in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia during the year 2021.

The learning path

Participant (Miriam):

Participating in the professional teacher training programme was a turning point in my teaching career. The training changed my thinking of teaching and learning, and the way I formulate learning activities.

My teaching at the university has majorly been informed by my previous experience as a university student. I used to embrace the lecture method and group discussions, which I initiated without much consideration.

The PBL training changed my mindset on several aspects of lesson preparation and execution. It became clear to me that I should change my teaching approach from sole lecturing to more learner-centered approaches with active student participation.

After the training, I have focused on and emphasized learning activities that elicit critical thinking, promote collaboration, imagination and creativity. I plan and implement learning activities that encourage learner participation, giving students the opportunity to control their own learning.

I have learned to appreciate learners’ effort in the tasks assigned, monitor and reward their progress, and motivate them to remain focused on the task. My assessment skills, especially group assessment, have improved. In PBL, it is important to evaluate knowledge and skills acquisition at every stage of the learning process. Constant evaluation enables the teacher to correct any forms of misconceptions that may arise during the learning process.

I have developed skills to facilitate group learning and engage learners in groups. Group learning dynamics and learners’ diversity have to be taken into account when forming student teams. Cultivating respect to the learners goes a long way in keeping the groups intact. Active groups in turn promote peer- and collaborative learning.

I believe that PBL can help students to attach to the world of work: to develop the 21st-century competences and values demanded in the working life.

Championing problem-based learning

Staff member:

For a wide-scale impact, such as transforming the whole education system to student-centered methods, it is not enough just to train a limited number of individuals and leave the process there. Instead, it is crucial to institutionalize and cascade the new knowledge, attitudes and competences developed. Thus, as part of its projects, HAMK utilizes training-of-trainers approaches and supports beneficiaries to further spread their knowledge and become agents of change.


I had the opportunity to share my PBL learning experience and knowledge, and to champion the approach when HAMK supported me to participate in a side event of the RUFORUM 18th Annual General Meeting.

I facilitated a session under the subtheme “Curriculum Training of Trainers and University Managers”. My audience consists of 40 University vice-chancellors, deans and principal investigators from 34 different countries. The participants appreciated the PBL pedagogical approach, and its strength in providing learners the opportunity to construct their own knowledge and be innovative. It was also acknowledged that PBL can contribute to solving problems existing in society.

However, participants had concerns on how to implement PBL in large classes, and to ensure active participation of all student team members and assess the team works. Resource inadequacy to implement PBL also aroused concerns.

It was discussed that as a solution, the participants will appeal to their university leaders to provide the teaching staff with opportunities for pedagogical development. In addition, the curricula need to be aligned to the needs of society to be able to produce competent graduates.

For retooling the RUFORUM universities with the PBL approach, champion teachers could be identified. These champions would be trained on the PBL approach, and they would share their learning to others, cascading the knowledge and use of the practice to other staff members and to the whole institutions.


Miriam N. Kyule, PhD in Agricultural Education, Researcher and Lecturer in Curriculum Development, Pedagogy, Measurement and Evaluation at Egerton University, Kenya.

Satu Määttänen, Research assistant in HAMK Bio Research unit

Photo © Adobe Stock

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