Add WSCJTC to your favorites

Main Directory

A | A

Problem Based Learning

Welcome to the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission's Problem-Based Learning page. This page was designed to explain what PBL is and how it impacts adult learning. On this page you will find downloadable articles, videos and other information to assist you in understanding the role of PBL. New articles will be posted as they are published so please check back!

What is PBL?  


In a traditional method of teaching, students learn the information and skills, then practice with the information and skills, and finally apply the information and skills to the “problem.” That “problem” most often takes the form of a written exam or final mock scene test. The curriculum and instructors tell the students exactly what to learn. The students just have to trust that the information is valuable to them. They don’t necessarily understand or believe why they are hearing it. And unfortunately, lecture is the most prominent delivery method involved in a traditional curriculum. Lecture surely has its place as a valuable tool in training – but hundreds and hundreds of hours of lecture is nobody’s idea of a good time.

So… what is PBL? Problem-Based Learning is an approach to training and learning. The main idea is simple. Let the students decide what is important. Let them take ownership of their own learning. Students will have real motivation to learn the new information or skill. They’re motivated because they are facing a problem that’s “over their head.” This complicated (ill-structured) problem requires the acquisition of new information and skills to solve. This process of facing the problem BEFORE coming to a solution is more realistic. Real life presents the problems first – not the solutions. Real life is “over our heads.” When we want to learn something new, we have to figure it out for ourselves. We have to take ownership of how we want to proceed.

A PBL curriculum teaches students how to solve problems. It provides a system for working trough problems. Students learn how to learn. And students take that problem-solving system with them into the work force. In its pure form, PBL seems quite unstructured. However, with well-designed ill-structured problems driving the learning, and a well-trained cadre of instructors, the learning goes where it’s supposed to.

PBL got its start in the medical field, at McMaster University. In an effort to improve the problem-solving skills of medical graduate students, Problem-Based Learning was developed. PBL is now the standard method of instruction for higher-level medical studies. Other fields have picked up on this teaching approach as well. In police work, PBL is closely related to the PTO movement, as PBL and the PTO model share many of the same goals and philosophies.

Only a small handful of police academies in the U.S. have implemented Problem-Based Learning into their curriculum. The WSCJTC Basic Law Enforcement Academy will be among the first to completely revise the academic curriculum with PBL as the primary format. There will, of course, still be a healthy mix of some more traditional instruction techniques utilized here – including a bit of lecture.

Debbie Mealy, Ph.D., WSCJTC Deputy Director

Additional Articles and Links 

Please click on this link for more information on our BLEA Field Training Workshops.

Problem-Based Learning at the Basic Law Enforcement Academy, Adult Learning in Action (Download now in PDF format) 
Problem-Based Learning at the Basic Law Enforcement Academy, The BLEA Problem Solving Model (Download now in PDF format)
Problem-Based Learning at the Basic Law Enforcement Academy (Download now in PDF format)
Problem-Based Learning at the Basic Law Enforcement Academy – Discipline Standards (Download now in PDF format
Effects of Problem-Based Learning and Traditional Instruction on Self-Regulated Learning (Download now in PDF format)



These Videos can be viewed but not downloaded.

BLEA Problem Based Learning Curriculum

Includes information on Independent Core Blocks, Skills Blocks, Academic Modules, Skills Modules. (Download now in PDF format).

The Changing Face of BLEA Seminar:

The WSCJTC provided two training seminars to spread the word about the new Problem-Based Learning curriculum at the Basic Law Enforcement Academy . PTO’s, FTO’s, and anyone involved in training new officers was invited to learn about the changes in the academy curriculum. Attendees experienced a PBL exercise first-hand and learned about how their training programs will be affected by the change in methodology. The WSCJTC wants to thank all the participants! Their interest and dedication is essential to training the nation’s best law enforcement officers. Click here to view the latest seminar schedule.

If you still have questions, please contact Manager Steve Lettic, 206.835.7337 Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Additional Links of Interest

Police Society of Problem Based Learning a site dedicated to the furtherance of PBL in Criminal justice,.
The University of Delaware problem based learning clearing house. This site has several excellent links and resources for PBL facilitators.
Problem Based Learning Online Resources.