Monday, June 16, 2008

Problem Based Learning (PBL) in Theological Education

Dr. Geoff Pound for Theologians Without Borders linked an earlier posting of mine about the possibility of using PBL based teaching in theological education in his post Problem Based Learning in Seminaries. His comments are

It is good to catch a glimpse of changing educational practice from another sphere. From what Alex writes, it seems that learning by the case study method and Supervised Field Education (SFE) or what is now called Supervised Theological Field Education (STFE), is probably closest to the PBL method.STFE begins with a pastoral encounter (or problem) and proceeds in the way of theological reflection and practice. It is being used extensively around the world and students often say that it is the most integrating subject that they do in their seminary education.STFE is described in this Resource Manual, written by my friend and former colleague, Colin Hunter, who is one of the leaders in this discipline.
While there may be similarity with the STFE, I believe that PBL is different from STFE. STFE is a supervised field study program based on theological reflection by students guided by supervisors. When I suggest PBLfor seminaries,I am suggesting a more radical approach. For years seminaries have been tinkering with theological education to make irrelevant. However, I personallybelieve that no amount of tinkering will make it relevant.

Theological education will need a radical deconstruction, to use their own terms. We need to remove the artificial divisions of systematic theology, pastoral theology, homiletics and other subjects. This is where PBL comes in. By dissolving these artificial divisions, academicians will get a more holistic understanding of their calling and be better equiped to lead his or her congregation who may be better educated, more innovative, better interconnected, have more resources and access to information, better at networking and very post modern in their thinking than the seminary graduate is. In PBL, there will be no more lectures but more collaborative learning effort.

Ultraconservative medical education has embraced the change. The healers of the bodies has moved with times. I wonder if the healers of souls will do the same?


  1. This is not a defence of traditional theological education for I yearn to see a more integrated, holistic educational approach in the same way that real life and ministry calls upon different disciplines all at the same time.

    Do you think, however, that there is still a need for courses on OT, NT etc prior to or alongside the equivalent of PBL, just like your med students will still be doing biology, anatomy, cardiology etc alongside their PBL?

    Thanks Alex for the stimulation of your views.


  2. hi geoff,

    of course they will have study OT, NT, hermeneutics as medical students have to study anatomy, cardiology etc. But not as as separate disciplines.

    One example is our recent study tour to Greece. We can use it to study Paul the person, Pauline theology, church history, ecclesiology, eschatology, spirituality, OT reference to Jesus etc.

    Then, like the medical students, once they graduate, those who want to specialise do so. Like in NT, Pauline, OT etc.

  3. Hi Alex,

    I have been trying very hard to take a little bit more holistic and integrated approach, like incorporating the various disciplines in my exegesis classes, but have not been seen much success. I thk some of our students are still caught in the "old" framework where different disciplines simply don't integrate in their thinking.

    Perhaps we should make more trips to Greece where we could incorporate all disciplines in our study tour....

  4. hi Kar Yong,

    I know what you mean. It is an uphill task, fighting against a century of educational indoctrination of the schooling model of modernity where everything is neatly packaged. We struggle against our colleagues and our students, and ourselves in this.

    Shall we go to Greece again?