Problem based learning and liberal education

Monday 9 May 2016, 12.30PM to 2.00pm

Speaker(s): Carrie Bradshaw, York Law School

PBL workshop 9 may 2016

Problem Based Learning (PBL) has been developed and extensively deployed in medical schools with explicit aims of fostering more vocational, clinical and professional skills.  In recent years, this form of curriculum design has increasingly been adopted in fields beyond medicine, including here at the University of York’s Law School.

Arguably, the purpose of any undergraduate degree should include a number of ‘liberal’ or ‘avocational’ goals, where the aim is not purely to prepare students for a particular job or profession, but to foster the “pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake”. However, I have observed a tendency for PBL to steer student thinking and skills-development to more ‘vocational’ approaches to learning, and to ask and seek answers to more ‘applied’ as opposed to theoretical or critical questions.

Is this vocational ‘feel’ inherent to PBL, and thus potentially a straight jacket to a ‘liberal’ university education? Or is controlling this perceived slant more a challenge of appropriate design when transplanting PBL to disciplines beyond medicine? And how are we to grapple with that challenge?

More broadly, how does undergraduate curriculum design – including the adoption of PBL – fit within broader debates regarding the purpose of universities and the “global knowledge economy”, the contemporary contours of which represent a perceived challenge to the very idea of a liberal education?

If you wish to attend this event, please use our booking form or email

If you are unable to attend the event, please look at the Forum blog for further information.


Location: RCH/103 CPD seminar room, Ron Cooke Hub, Heslington east