A Pilot Study of Problem Formulation and Resolution in an Online Problem-based Learning Course


  • Rick Kenny Athabasca University
  • Mark Bullen British Columbia Insitute of Technology (BCIT)
  • Jay Loftus Athabasca University




Online learning, problem-based learning, problem-solving, Constructivism, instructional design, content analysis


This paper discusses an exploratory study to investigate the existence, and nature, of student problem formulation and resolution processes in an undergraduate online Problem-Based Learning (PBL) course in Agricultural Sciences. We report on the use of a content analysis instrument developed to measure problem formulation and resolution (PFR) processes in online asynchronous discussions (Murphy, 2004a, 2004b) to analyze students' text-based, online discussions. The results offer evidence that students do engage in problem formulation and resolution and that these processes appear to be consistent with the PBL process carried out in this course. However, the nature of the PBL pedagogy, at least in this instructional context, ties the PBL problems to be solved tightly to a marked assignment structure and, therefore, appears to restrict the PFR process in its early and late stages.

Author Biographies

Rick Kenny, Athabasca University

Richard Kenny PhD is an Associate Professor with the Center for Distance Education at Athabasca University, where he teaches instructional design and learning theory. His research interests include instructional design and change agency, emerging technologies to foster higher-order thinking, and mobile learning applications and strategies. Dr. Kenny can be reached at: rickk@athabascau.ca

Mark Bullen, British Columbia Insitute of Technology (BCIT)

Mark Bullen PhD is Associate Dean, Curriculum and Instructor Development, with the British Columbia Institute of Technology, Learning and Teaching Centre. Dr. Bullen also teaches in the AU Master of Distance Education and the UBC Master of Educational Technology. His research focuses on international issues in distance education, planning and management of e-learning and fostering critical thinking in online learning. Dr. Bullen can be reached at: Mark_Bullen@bcit.ca

Jay Loftus, Athabasca University

Jay Loftus is a graduate student at Athabasca University in the Centre for Distance Education. Jay is presently teaching adult education in London, Ontario. Jay Loftus' email address is: j.loftus@sympatico.ca



How to Cite

Kenny, R., Bullen, M., & Loftus, J. (2006). A Pilot Study of Problem Formulation and Resolution in an Online Problem-based Learning Course. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 7(3). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v7i3.248



Research Articles