Problem Based Learning with Herbal Challenges

How does a school of herbalism draw on the collective intelligence of its students, many of whom have been studying and practicing herbalism for years? How do we ripen personal experiences with evidence from clinical research? How do we sort through controversy to determine for ourselves where its resolution can be found? Most importantly, how do we feed curiosity? Our answer – in part – is through Herbal Challenges.

This approach originates with progressive educators who’ve adopted a learning methodology called Problem Based Learning (PBL). Gone are the teachers, replaced with facilitators trained to stir the pot of bubbling query among students collaborating to solve a problem that interests them, primarily because it relates to real life.

We’ve modified PBL for online study within a serious game. As we put our Open Badging System into place, one of our badges is now awarded to those who meet certain goals in making and responding to Challenges. The actual problems or questions arise directly from the student-members as they study a course, or from a situation they’re dealing with. If a student thinks the problem will be of interest to others, they turn it into a “Challenge” in their Challenges Notebook and facilitate discussion within the Challenges area of our forum.

In the forum, students clarify just what the problem is and share what they know already about it. Then, each student goes off to research and develop their own solution…returning with a presentation…either a document, notebook entry, audio or video when they believe they’ve discovered the best answer.

Meanwhile, the Challenger is awarding points for meaningful participation and for solutions. Challenges are left open so that students who come along later have the opportunity to Challenge the winning solution if they have experience or evidence that warrants re-evaluation.

There are some advantages this part of the game will offer our Herbal Coaches (besides learning about herbal medicine):

  • They’ll gain experience collaborating with other herbalists to hone their craft.
  • They’ll discover what kinds of problems/questions really interest others
  • Gain experience facilitating group inquiry
  • Exercise discernment and critical thinking skills when analyzing proposed solutions to questions about plants and healing
  • Develop research skills

On a personal note, this month I’m starting a course with the University of Edinburg on Critical Thinking Skills for Global Challenges. I suspect that what I’ll learn will help HCC in its mission to address the global challenge of health care.

Here’s a short “how to” video about Herbal Challenges.

A brief tutorial



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