Can engineering education in South Africa afford to avoid problem-based learning as a didactic approach?

Frederick Johannes Veldman*, M. A. De Wet, N. E. Ike Mokhele, Willem Adriaan Johannes Bouwer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


In this article, the authors support problem-based learning (PBL) based on its high level of alignment in addition to providing learners in engineering with an additional opportunity in learning process competencies, as contained within the South African National Critical Cross-field and Developmental Outcomes (COs). Constructive alignment describes a process in which the learning outcomes (LOs) become the objective for designing a curriculum that enables LOs to be achieved through appropriate activities and an assessment process that enables these LOs to be demonstrated. PBL applies problem-solving as a vehicle in achieving LOs. The degree to which a learner manages to achieve a given LO still serves as the authentic criteria for assessment. In addition, PBL provides learners an opportunity in acquiring non-subject-related skills, also referred to as process competencies, soft-skills, transferable skills, or graduate attributes. These skills are required especially for the management of human capital and are considered as crucial for successful practice in the engineering profession. It is therefore questioned why a PBL approach is not implemented by engineering faculties at South African Higher Education Institutions. The successful implementation of PBL, however, depends on a number of non-didactic issues that are highlighted in this paper. It is concluded that very few didactic methods can achieve the quality of learning we provide to engineering learners when using PBL, and therefore, it is proposed that South African Higher Education Institutions should also provide their academic staff with training opportunities in this regard.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)551-559
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Engineering Education
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 23 Dec 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Constructive alignment
  • Critical cross-field outcomes
  • Curriculum development
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Problem-based learning


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