COETAIL, Course 4

Problem-based learning = IB MYP design cycle?

Problem…or Project?
I recently mentioned the variety of X-based learning vocabulary that has invaded the education world. When I first saw PBL for this week’s blog I had to do a double take – I thought the P stood for ‘Project.’ So I needed to do a little research to understand the difference between Project and Problem -based learning.

In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking). (source)


In a problem-based learning (PBL) model, students engage complex, challenging problems and collaboratively work toward their resolution. PBL is about students connecting disciplinary knowledge to real-world problems—the motivation to solve a problem becomes the motivation to learn. (source)

Twitter and Google searches also helped aid my understanding between the two models. John Larmer contends that problem-based learning is a subset of project based learning and provides a helpful table to differentiate between the two. In Geoff Krall‘s opinion the two biggest differences are time and order and he also provides a great pie chat of the differences and similarities.

With a clearer picture of what these two models actually are I definitely see advantages to them. Just as I do with several of the other X-based learning models (game-based learning, challenge-based learning…).

IB MYP design cycle?
One of the features of problem-based learning is the ‘steps that can be repeated and recycled.’ The inclusion of authentic problems and the prescribed steps remind me of the IB MYP design cycle (and design thinking).
MYP Technology Design Cycle


The core of why I like the MYP design cycle, and all the X-based learning/thinking, is that they are student centered and move the teacher from the sage to a guide. What is best for my students is the question I always want to be reflecting back on. Are these models (or a hybrid or them) best for my students? Probably!

As for technology’s role this these models – it becomes a tool for learning, not the base of all learning. You could actually go through the entire design cycle without once using technology. Would it help facilitate the cycle? Most likely. But is is absolutely necessary? Not always. Design and X-based learning models have the potential (if done right) to give true meaning to technology integration.

Disclaimer: I don’t actually teach the MYP design cycle nor have I received official training. I’d love to hear opinions from any of you that do teach it / are trained!


9 thoughts on “Problem-based learning = IB MYP design cycle?”

  1. Hi Lissa,
    A post dear to my heart. You can definitely go through the entire design cycle without using digital technology. But, you are right, it does enhance learning -> While “investigating”, students can create a learning network on twitter to get connected with professionals in the field of the product they want to create (For example, architects, artists, chefs, game designers). There are hundreds of ways to use technology through the design cycle, but I love it when they use to to share their prototypes or final products to get feedback from others – classmates, other people from our community – or anyone out there who stumbles upon their blog.
    I love teaching MYP Design – there are so many skills that can be taught across so many content areas with in a meaningful way, when it’s an authentic problem/opportunity for the students.
    Hopefully this week, IBO will be releasing the new documents of MYP Design-Next Chapter. I can’t wait to see the documents and examples. I love the new concept they’ve put in the evaluate criterion which has the kids think about developing their product for the commercial market. Students should be creating REAL products like an iOS app, video, graphic design or a non-digital product, like a food product, event or organizational tool. This part of the cycle will encourage students to think about what they can do with successful products and helps motivate them beyond a grade.


    1. In the limited experience I’ve had with Design, it’s definitely something I think I’d like to get trained to teach (if I went back to the classroom)! As I think you know, we’re currently experimenting with integrating the design cycle into some of our specials classes (art, French, drama, band, etc). I haven’t finished my course 5 brainstorming post yet, but I’ll be eager to get your (and other Design teachers’) input!


  2. Ooh, are you thinking about doing a PBL for your Final Project??? I’m intrigued. Let me know when you decide (or I’ll check your blog). Maybe we can chat/hangout in January if you decide to go that route. I’ve done a few integrated projects with Languages and Band. Drama is great, but it never works with our schedules/reporting cycle (I realize how lame that sounds).
    I’m not sure what I’m doing yet for my final project. I’m thinking gamification, but it scares me a bit ^_^.
    I’ll be interested to see how MYP Design teachers reply to your post!


  3. I teach in a room that is also used for MYP Design Tech classes, so I have a poster of the design cycle in my room. It’s absurd how often I reference that poster in my humanities class. So much so that my area of focus for my professional growth plan is Design Thinking. Because these two ways of thinking about learning give our kids a vocabulary and a protocol for solving problems where ever the find them.

    Good luck as you get ready for Course 5! I’m excited to see what direction you find yourself going.


  4. Thanks for pointing me in the direction of Geoff Krall and his PBL resources. I’m thinking about implementing PBL in my math classes for my Course 5 project and his website seems like a great place to start!


  5. While your description of project- and problem-based learning is accurate, most educators would take issue with John Larmer’s definition and table. Most consider problem-based learning (PBL) the umbrella term, and project-based learning is a subset of PBL. PBL is a type of instructional strategy that employs projects to solve problems. While you can certainly solve a number of problems in a project, you plan lessons in which students undertake projects to solve an overarching problem.


  6. Hello Everyone,

    Nice to see you all and the discussions.
    Actually I am planning the curriculum for the next academic year year 2015-16
    Can anyone tell me units under digital design.

    Warms Regards,


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