Instructional design/Generate PBL Problems/1.1 Problems reflect students' learning interests

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Problems reflect students' learning interests[edit]


Monica, a new Master's student majoring in Instructional Design System at XXX university, was asked by Professor K to work in a team to solve an instructional problem for a real client. Monica has a habit of writing a diary.

Monica’s diary:
Jan. 23rd, 2012
I am so excited to take this class; the final project sounds so appealing to me, I love group work and I need to solve a problem for a real client, I even can imagine my future business card. “Monica - Instructional Designer”, aha, sounds so professional. Way to go, Monica~
Feb. 2nd, 2012
I am a little bit worried about this project; due to “gender imbalance”, I was assigned with two other male classmates who have a lot of experience working in a corporate setting, while, for me I am interested in designing instruction for K-12 setting. Additionally, Professor K has such a strong background in bussiness, what if they insist on designing instruction for a business setting? How should I balance our interests?
Feb. 16th, 2012
I could be a fortune teller, as I “expected” Professor K asked us to design instruction for a company. Sigh, corporation, ok, business, fine….. Never mind, Monica, you can do it!!!
Mar.2nd, 2012
First interview with our client, it was so-so. I feel my team members have a special bond with our client, what is the term they are laughing about today? “Alden's Laws”? No…What is that, I cannot remember…
Mar.14th, 2012
I cannot believe this, how I can miss such an important requirement for our client? Oh, I was so lost in their glorious business titles… I felt so stupid today at our team meeting……
Mar.21st, 2012
Second round interview, unhappy…take notes…invisible…
Apr. 30th, 2012
Yeah, final report!!! No more “MBA” course!!!


In this case, Monica started with a great passion towards the final project but it ended badly. The reason for that is obvious. Even though the format of this problem (design real instruction) generated Monica's interest, the specific problem was not appealing to Monica. Professor K didn’t fully take his/her student’s learning interest into consideration, this is a process that should not be neglected by instructors and instructional designers. By framing learning with student interests in mind, instructors can increase student motivation and better learning outcomes.

Tips for generating problems that would reflect students' interests.

  • Gain information:

-Icebreaker: At the beginning of the class, list several questions from general to specific, such as from “where you have been” to “What course you have taken so far”, to have students answer (raise hands/stand up/write). In this way, instructors could have general ideas of his/her students’ backgrounds, so that activities in aligning with students' interests could be designed.
-Student Survey: Ask students to write a response to a series of open-ended questions about the upcoming class. The questions can assess their interests within the topic.

  • Alternatives:

-Provide students with 2-3 case scenarios that they can choose from. The alternatives should also be set up within students’ interests.


1 Which one is the IRRELEVANT understanding of Monica’s Case?

Start generating problems based on students’ interest.
Pay attention to the format as well as the content of the problems that would interest students.
Instructor should assign students problem based on his/her understanding about the teaching content.
Professor K could conduct an Icebreaker activity before assigning students into different groups.

2 Professor Hodgins is incorporating PBL methods into his language teaching class; students should work in a small team to help a real client to solve a curriculum problem. Four of his students decided to work together since they are all curious about building English Vocabulary for non native English speakers. Which problem should Professor Hodgins generate to this group?

7-day pronuciation teaching towards business vocabulary for non native English speakers.
10-day glossary teaching towards business vocabulary for non native English speakers.

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