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In problem-based learning (PBL), students are presented with a driving question that is open-ended, without an obvious linear path to a solution. In PBL children solve authentic real-world problems while engaging in disciplinary-appropriate practices. Rather than memorizing information, students learn while engaged in an authentic process of exploring data, arguments, and explanations, and formulating their own hypotheses and tentative solutions. Students explore the driving question by participating in scaffolded practices that help them to define a problem statement and a path toward a solution. Students create a set of tangible products that address the driving question, supporting collaboration and metacognition. Research shows that PBL promotes student engagement, improves academic learning, and enhances social emotional learning. In particular, PBL promotes science learning for all students, including students who historically have not had access to STEM careers.
As new information technologies have emerged, whether radio, television, or computers, advocates of those technologies hoped that each would have a radically transformative effect on education. However, in many ways, the scope of the resulting educational transformation was less than many had hoped for. In the last two decades, a wide range of new information technologies, such as personal computers, handheld computers, wireless networking, and the Internet, have emerged that again have a potential to transform education. Cuban (1986) noted some reasons why previous technologies have been less than successful for supporting learning. First, there is a failure to understand how technologies must be shaped to support the needs of learners. Second, there is a failure to understand how technologies can be effectively integrated into educational contexts in ways that truly support learning activities and goals. Therefore, if computers are to positively impact learning, educational software must be designed around learners' goals, needs, activities, and educational contexts. This approach to designing software is called learner-centered design (LCD) (Soloway, Guzdial, & Hay, 1994).
Here we will provide an overview of learner-centered design and summarize how it is different from typical software design approaches. We will discuss both the critical role of scaffolding in learner-centered design and how software can serve a scaffolding function for learners. We will describe different design frameworks that can impact LCD by guiding designers and researchers in developing intellectual support in software.
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