Learning and Working, a new stimulus for Problem-Based Learning

Written by  Lucia Geurts Friday, 01 January 2010 00:00

Wim Gijselaers: “Back to the roots of Maastricht University”

A practicing doctor who wants some specific training, a lawyer who wants to obtain a doctorate, a foreign student who has to eliminate a deficiency in his educational package to be admitted to the university - all of these prospective students have one thing in common. They cannot be physically present to participate in a fulltime academic programme. The Learning and Working project of Maastricht University offers a solution for these people. Problem-Based Learning at a distance, with the help of the newest technology.

In March 2008 the UM Educational Advice Council asked four of its members to come up with an innovative project which would integrate new developments in educational technology with Problem-Based Learning (PBL). A few months later they presented the project 'Learning and Working'. The theme didn't just fall from the sky. The four were regularly asked to devise flexible educational programmes which people could follow in their own time and in their own environment. The demand for this kind of programme was also highlighted in the report, ‘Leren en werken’ (Learning and working), by the Research Centre for Education and the Employment Market (ROA), of the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE). “The demand for learning and working is only going to become more acute”, is a statement in the report. A dynamic linked economy, globalisation and the graying of the workforce have led to another type of student: older, working, and international. People are never too old to learn, even alongside their work.

Blended learning

For working professionals, flexibility is an important factor. They have to be able to study on their own time schedule and wherever they happen to be. A part-time master's student who is doing an internship in India can't be handicapped by the time difference with the Netherlands. A post-graduate who is doing on the job training wants access to study facilities at all times. And the programme must satisfy the needs of the target group, as well. A doctor in training for medical specialist searches a course that addresses questions that come up in his practice. A busy attorney who is a PhD candidate at the same time needs to exchange knowledge and experience with others, but must also keep his distance. The Council's work group chose blended learning – a combination of e-learning and face-to-face learning. The student follows part of the educational programme by logging on to a teaching platform, at home or wherever, and comes to the university for other parts.


First of all, blended learning must always follow the principles of Problem-Based Learning. A good example of blended Problem-Based Learning can be found at the business schools of Pace University and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore (US). They have developed master's programmes in which students work in small groups on projects or complex problems which have been taken from actual practice. The team members meet each other online as well as in 'residential meetings'. This is the source of inspiration for Maastricht.

The project has been received with enthusiasm. “All faculties were on board in no time. The university library also decided to participate, to make the Maastricht University learning environment suitable for Web 2.0.”, says Wim Gijselaers, Professor of Education at the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics and member of the project group. “We put a high value on diversity. Each faculty develops its own programmes. They are experimenting and exchanging mutual experiences. They make use of existing technology - for example, tools that are available through Google. Some of the faculties already have experience with part-time master's programmes or with instruction offered to correct deficiencies in one's educational package. Others begin the project with no e-learning experience at all. We learn as we work.”


The Learning and Working project is now in the development phase, building programmes and being tested. During the project a researcher measures the results. The project group wants answers to such questions as: 'How do you bring a virtual group together and how do you carry discussion forward? What is the role of the teacher in this new form of instruction, and what does this mean for training teachers in the future? What are the test results?' Gijselaers: “This really goes back to the roots of Maastricht University. In the early years, everyone was working intently on developing and at the same time researching educational programmes, based on a learning philosophy that was completely new for the Netherlands. Instructors owned the curriculum and therefore were completely drawn into it. That's happening again now. Learning and working have provided a new stimulus.”

Wim Gijselaers is the spokesperson for the Learning and Working project group. To underscore the broad scope of the group he would like to name each of the members: Herco Fonteijn (Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience), Wim Gijselaers (SBE), Manon Gorissen (Maastricht University Office), Jeroen ten Haaf (University Library), André Koehorst (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences – FASOS), Richard Koopmans (Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences – FHML), Karen Konings (FHML), Martin Rehm (Maastricht Graduate School of Governance), Bart Rienties (SBE), Dionne Steenvorden (FHML), Sjoerd Stoffers (FASOS), Daniëlle Verstegen (FHML), Cees van der Vleuten (FHML), Ria Wolleswinkel (Faculty of Law).

The ROA report ‘Leren en werken’(only in Dutch) was written by Didier Fouarge, Andries de Grip and Annemarie Nelen (ROA-R-2009/3, ISBN: 978-90-5321-474-0-9), and is available by sending an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by downloading the pdf from the website: www.roa.unimaas.nl.

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