Problem-based Learning at TP

Welcome to the Temasek Polytechnic Site for Problem-based Learning

This website provides information on Temasek Polytechnic's Problem-based Learning (PBL) practices, and also offers a glimpse of development in PBL at Temasek Polytechnic (TP). TP is the pioneer of Problem-based Learning in institutes of higher learning in Singapore having implemented it in 1998.

Purposes of TP PBL Site

This is intended as an educational site providing information on PBL resources and happenings that may be useful for the professional development for TP staff as well as the wider PBL community.

TP PBL Framework

Different educational institutions have adopted PBL using a variety of implementation approaches. At TP, we have adopted a 7-stage PBL process where students work through a PBL problem in these stages using a thinking template known as FILA (an acronym for the categories of Facts, Ideas, Learning Issues and Action Plan). A snapshot of this is provided below, while details on FILA can be found here.

Problem-based Learning Framework

What Our Students Say About PBL at TP:

2nd year PBL learners from ASC:

  • "With PBL, we get to learn to research by ourselves to find the information we need. The process of doing it ourselves helps us to understand better."
  • "PBL allows one to brush up on team skills, yet shows us the importance of working independently."
  • "I like PBL because it relates to what our situation will be like in future when we work in industry. It also requires problem-solving skills, enhances our thinking skills; it’s more challenging, but also more effective!"
  • "In PBL, I enjoy the chance to be creative and come out with our own ideas without depending only on lecture notes."
  • "I really like being given room to explore on our own and at our own pace, it helped me to plan and manage my time better."

What Our Alumni Say About PBL at TP:

ASC graduate (currently working as a medical technologist at a hospital):

"Knowing the PBL Process has really helped me a lot at work. Through PBL, we learnt that one problem may have more than one root cause.  It is important that we identify the correct root cause in order to solve the problem and stop it from recurring.  In my workplace, when there are problems with the analysers, patient complaints, or stock inventory problems, we are able to identify what starts the chain of error and possibly stop the problem from re-occurring.”

BUS graduate (currently working as a financial manager, global marketing operations):

"PBL has helped me improve my current skills for my job; it taught me how to frame a problem so that I understand it better –to find out what’s really the issues and what are possible solutions that will help to resolve the issues.

PBL also taught me a systematic framework called FILA – Facts, Ideas, Learning Issues, Action Plan – the framework helps me to structure my problem in a logical way and find appropriate solutions to issues. It’s also taught me how to research in a very structured way and analyse data find solutions.”

What Our Facilitators Say About PBL at TP:

BUS lecturer teaching Professional Communication Skills:

  • "I I feel my subject really lends itself to PBL, because the content is constantly evolving, and using PBL, the student can uncover information from many different sources. Using PBL frees us up, we don’t have to be limited to just one textbook. I always find that textbooks get obsolete after some time as things change so fast. I think I would feel as if I short-changed my students if I was bound to one textbook."
  • "For PBL, the students need to give their opinion on their final answer, and need to trust themselves, and to take ownership of their own answer, instead of looking to the tutor to give her approval."


Latest News

  • Problem-Based Learning for ITE College East (December 2015)

    Temasek Polytechnic conducted the 3-day PBL Foundation Programme in December 2015 for the Nursing Department at ITE College East. It was the second run for ITE East, following the first run for their colleagues in 2014. This programme was intended to enhance the lecturers’ skills in facilitating the processes of problem-solving, decision-making and clinical reasoning. The participants appreciated that the programme was customised for their needs especially with nursing related problems crafted for discussions throughout the programme. They found the FILA thinking tool particularly useful for helping students to work through the problem- solving process.
  • Introduction to PBL for Kazakhstan Educators from the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (Nov 2013)

    Once again Temasek Polytechnic extended a warm welcome to a group of Kazakhstan educators for the Introduction to PBL Programme from 26 to 28 November 2013. This was the fourth group of Kazakhstan teachers to visit TP, following the first two groups in 2010, and the third in 2011, and we were very pleased to share TP’s approach to PBL with them.

  • Introduction to PBL for Kazakhstan Educators

    Introduction to PBL for Kazakhstan Educators (Nov 2011)

    Temasek Polytechnic welcomed a group of Kazakhstan educators to Temasek Polytechnic for the Introduction to PBL Programme from 2-4 November 2011. We were very pleased to share about TP’s approach to PBL with them. As the group comprised Science teachers, sample problem statements were developed to illustrate how concepts in subjects such as Chemistry and Physics may be taught using PBL.

    The group comprised Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and ICT teachers from the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools. The three-day programme introduced the teachers to TP’s approach to PBL including crafting and reviewing PBL problems as well as designing PBL kits for the facilitators and learners. The Kazakhstan educators commented that the programme was interesting and beneficial. They found the PBL approach suitable for use in their curriculum.

  • Problem-based Learning for Institute of Maritime Systems & OperationsProblem-based Learning for Institute of Maritime Systems & Operations (March 2011)

    Temasek Polytechnic continued their collaboration with the Institute of Maritime Systems & Operations (IMOS) by conducting the 3-day PBL Foundation Programme on 30-31 March and 1 April 2011. This professional development programme was attended by IMOS’ instructional designers as well as instructors. IMOS has been using PBL in varying degrees for several years and, in these sessions, they were looking for new insights on how they might enhance their current practices.

    The participants particularly enjoyed the session on Problem Crafting, where they were able to develop their own PBL problems about the maintenance and operations of maritime systems as well as critique those designed by their peers.There were also several animated discussions on issues such as: how to engage and motivate IMOS trainees, how PBL might be different from lectures, and the importance of the PBL facilitator in successful PBL implementation.

About Us

Problem-Based Learning at Temasek Polytechnic

PBL has been implemented in Temasek Polytechnic since 1998. It continues to be one of our key pedagogies today.

About PBL


Who We Are

Professional development and research in PBL at TP are handled by the Learning Academy, a team of academic staff developers with a diverse range of work experience in fields such as accountancy, business, design, education, law and linguistics. This combination of expertise and knowledge enables us to provide professional development to polytechnic lecturers and help them translate their own industry knowledge into quality learning-teaching.

The Learning Academy conducts research and projects to further the knowledge and practice of PBL, and also provides professional development in PBL. This is in line with Temasek Polytechnic’s aim to be a centre of excellence in the practice, development and research of Problem-Based Learning. To find out more about the Learning Academy, please click here.

Our Achievements

  • Organised TP’s 2015 International Conference on Learning and Teaching, 29 September – 1 October 2015, in conjunction with Temasek Polytechnic’s 25th anniversary.
    Theme: Re-thinking Teaching, Re-designing Learning
    Keynote speakers: Emeritus Professor Dylan Wiliam (University of London, United Kingdom), Professor Cindy Hmelo-Silver (Indiana University Bloomington, United States of America), Professor Dai Hounsell (University of Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom), Professor Tan Oon Seng (National Institute of Education, Singapore), Professor Norman Vaughan (Mount Royal University, Canada) and Professor David Boud (University of Technology, Sydney, Australia)
  • Organised TP's International Conference on Learning and Teaching, 9-11 June 2010 in conjunction with Temasek Polytechnic's 20th anniversary
    Theme: Creative Pedagogies · Changing Perspectives · Crossing Boundaries
    Keynote speakers: Professor David Boud (University of Technology, Sydney), Professor Stephen Brookfield (University of St.Thomas, Minneapolis), Professor Diana Laurillard (Institute of Education, London) and Associate Professor Gary Poole (University of British Columbia, Vancouver)
  • Published "Problem-based learning: New directions and approaches" in 2005, in conjunction with the Problem-based Learning Conference on 15-16 March 2005.
  • Organised the PBL Conference, 15-16 March 2005.
    Theme: Adaptive Strategies for PBL in a Supercomplex World
    Keynote speakers: Dr Maggi Savin-Baden (Coventry University, United Kingdom) and Dr Tan Oon Seng (National Institute of Education, Singapore)
  • Awarded the Enterprise Challenge Shield, Prime Minister's Office, in November 2003 for the project on PBL which has created the highest new value to the public service.
  • Organised the Second Asia-Pacific Conference on PBL, 4-7 December 2000.
    Theme: PBL: Educational Innovation Across Disciplines
    Keynote speakers: Dr Michele Marincovich (Assistant Vice Provost and Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, Stanford University, USA), Professor Donald R Woods (Department of Chemical Engineering, McMaster University, Canada) and Professor Anthony Dixon (Head, Family Medicine Unit, University of Hong Kong, HK)
  • Published "Problem-based Learning: Educational innovation across disciplines" in 2000. A publication in conjunction with the Second Asia-Pacific Conference on PBL, 4-7 December 2000.
  • Awarded the Enterprise Challenge (Innovation Award), Prime Minister's Office, in November 2000 for being the first educational institution to develop a Problem-based Learning Education Model for Singapore


Our Services

We provide customised PBL professional development for TP staff as well as selected external parties. Click here to view details of our PBL Foundation programme. Professional development programmes are provided to teaching and curriculum planning groups in teams to facilitate future implementation.

Our Clients

  • ITE College East (December 2015)
  • ITE College East, Nursing Department (December 2014)
  • Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools, Kazakhstan (Nov 2013)
  • Institute of Maritime Systems & Operations (March 2011)
  • Kazakhstan educators (Nov and Dec 2010)
  • Ministry of Education, Singapore Home Economics teachers (Nov 2010, Oct 2009, May 2009, Nov 2008, May 2008, Nov 2007, May 2007, Jun 2006)
  • Institute of Maritime Operations & Systems, Singapore (Nov 2009)
  • Hua Yi Secondary School, Singapore (Jun 2010, Jul 2009)
  • Bowen Secondary School, Singapore (Jun 2008)
  • Ministry of Education, North 6 School Cluster (May 2008)
  • Institute of Technical Education (Simei campus), Singapore (Apr 2007)
  • University Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI), Faculty of Languages, Perak, Malaysia (Nov 2006)
  • University Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI), Faculty of Science & Technology, Perak, Malaysia (Sep 2006)
  • Institute of Technical Education (College West Clementi campus), Singapore (May 2006)
  • Temasek Junior College, Singapore (May 2006)
  • Nan Chiau Primary School, Singapore (Mar 2006)
  • National Colleges of Technology of Kyushu/Okinawa, Japan (Aug 2006, Mar 2006)

Some feedback on the PBL Foundation Programme from educators from ITE East (2014/2015 runs):

  • “What I liked best was the use of the thinking tool FILA, and several chances to practice using it in the workshops. FILA helps learners acquire problem solving skills, and this is important for their further education and future jobs.”
  • "I like the problem scenarios shared. Good facilitators! They made the effort to understand our nursing subjects.”

Professional Development Programmes

TP PBL Professional Development Programmes

We provide two programmes to build our staff's capability in developing PBL learning opportunities for our students. The PBL Foundation Programme is a 3-day customised programme for staff who are ready to develop their curriculum into PBL learning units. The PBL in THEC Programme is a 2-day introductory programme for new Temasek Polytechnic staff to understand and experience PBL.

  • PBL Foundation Programme
  • PBL in Teaching in Higher Education Certificate (THEC) Programme


Get Started with PBL

This section presents some PBL resources for you to get started with PBL.


To find out more about the PBL process, view the PBL Process in Action videos which show a group of students working with a tutor-facilitator through a PBL unit.


The FILA template is the thinking tool suggested for use in PBL in TP. The template helps students to think through and identify what they would need to establish before they start to search for a solution to the problem.

General FILA Chart Descriptors

General FILA Chart Descriptors

Sample 1 - Mouldy Bread Problem

Mouldy Bread Problem

Andy bought a loaf of bread from his neighbourhood bakery, Yummy Bakes, but upon reaching home, discovered small dark green specks of mould on it. He goes back to Yummy Bakes to get a refund, but Yummy Bakes refuses, insisting the bread was freshly made.
Andy is now wondering what has caused the mould to grow, and what he can do about the situation.

Note: The problem scenario and completed FILA chart shown here are for illustration only and have been developed for purposes of professional development.

Problem Scenarios

These are sample problem scenarios which are linked to the general learning outcomes of a particular PBL subject.

Sample 1 - Mouldy Bread Problem
Andy bought a loaf of bread from his neighbourhood bakery, Yummy Bakes, but upon reaching home, discovered small dark green specks of mould on it. He goes back to Yummy Bakes to get a refund, but Yummy Bakes refuses, insisting the bread was freshly made.
Andy is now wondering what has caused the mould to grow, and what he can do about the situation.

Completed FILA chart of the problem:

Completed FILA chart of the problem

Sample 2 - Engineering Problem
Your friend is a teacher at a college. He complains that his students tend to sleep during lectures, and asks you to make a device to check if they are sleeping. The lectures have 200 students, all of whom are required to wear name tags.
Do a prototype of your suggested device for your friend.

Sample 3 - Law Problem
Your auntie Bee's neighbour keeps a pet rooster. Lately it has been making so much noise early in the morning that she cannot sleep. This is affecting her health, and her work too. She has complained, but her neighbour is not helpful at all.
She asks you, as a paralegal student, whether she can legally do anything to force her neighbour to get rid of her rooster. She says, "It is a real nuisance!"

Note: The problem scenarios and completed FILA chart shown here are for illustration only and have been developed or modified for purposes of professional development. Sample 3 has been adapted from a problem scenario used by TP’s Diploma in Law & Management.


Explore Further on PBL

This section presents some references for further exploration on PBL.

Recommended Texts

The first two of the texts below are published by the Learning Academy, Temasek Polytechnic. If your institutional library would like a copy, kindly contact us.

  • Problem-based Learning: New directions and approaches

    Problem-based Learning: New directions and approaches

    Tan, K. et al. (eds.)(2005). Singapore: Learning Academy, Temasek Polytechnic.
    Click here to see the articles in this text..

  • Problem-based Learning: Educational innovation across disciplines

    Problem-based Learning: Educational innovation across disciplines

    Tan, O.S. et al. (eds.)(2000). Singapore: Learning Academy, Temasek Polytechnic.
    Click here to see the articles in this text.

  • The Challenge of Problem-based LearningThe Challenge of Problem-based Learning

    Boud, D. & Feletti, G. (2008). London: Routledge.

    Professor David Boud is Emeritus Professor, Communication & Learning Group, University Graduate School, University of Technology, Sydney Australia.
    Professor Boud is also currently a consultant for Temasek Polytechnic.

  • Foundations of Problem-based LearningFoundations of Problem-based Learning

    Savin-Baden, M. & Major, C.H. (2004). Maidenhead, Berks: Society for Research into Higher Education: Open University Press.

    Professor Maggi Savin-Baden is Professor of Higher Education Research, Director of the Learning Innovation Research Group, Coventry University, Coventry UK.

  • Problem-based Learning and creativityProblem-based Learning and creativity

    Tan, O.S. (ed.) (2009) Problem-based Learning and creativity. Singapore: Cengage Learning, c2009.

    Dr Tan Oon Seng is Dean, Foundation Programmes, Psychological Studies Academic Group, National Institute of Education, Singapore.


Journal Articles

Here are some articles published in conjunction with Temasek Polytechnic's pedagogy and PBL conferences.


Chan, C.W.. (2010). Exploring students’ experiences in intensive Problem-based Learning (IPBL) in an area of informatics


The articles in this section are found in: Tan, K. et al. (eds.)(2005). Problem-based Learning: New directions and approaches. Singapore: Learning Academy, Temasek Polytechnic.


The articles in this section are found in: Tan, O.S. et al. (eds.)(2000). Problem-based Learning: Educational innovation across disciplines. Singapore: Learning Academy, Temasek Polytechnic.


Conferences with PBL as one of the main tracks of the conference proceedings.


Recently Concluded

  • 4th International PBL Symposium 2015, Singapore 18-20 March
  • International Conference on Learning and Teaching, Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore from 29 Sept - 1 Oct 2015
    (One of the speakers Professor Cindy Hmelo-Silver, Indiana University Bloomington,shared about scaffolding and facilitation strategies)

Useful Links

External links to useful internet sources on PBL:

Happenings at TP Schools

PBL Initiatives, Projects and Events in TP

The Keeping-in-Touch(KIT) and RePBL Projects at Temasek Polytechnic


The RePBL Project

The Keeping-in-Touch (KIT) project (2013 onwards) involves the review of selected 100% PBL subjects each semester. Its objective is to strengthen TP’s PBL practice with a view to enhance student learning as well as build staff capabilities by focusing on PBL implementation at the subject level. This follows on from the Reviewing & Enhancing PBL (RePBL) project (2009 – 2012) which had similar aims of strengthening TP’s PBL.

In the RePBL project, the team examined 18 PBL subjects. Some observations arising from the project were that the practice of PBL at TP was sound, with many good practices in the following areas: authenticity of problem statements; high levels of student participation and engagement; the requirement for higher-order thinking, collaborative learning and/or other process skills; and (in some cases) good staff and student induction. However, areas that could be strengthened included: stronger emphasis on the development of process skills and more clarity on the aim of PBL for specific subjects (including clarity on how PBL is different compared to projects).

In the ongoing KIT project, about 50 subjects have been reviewed to date. Problem statements continue to be authentic and based on real-life, industry-relevant situations. It has also been observed that a good variety of appropriate scaffolds have been used to help students cope with the demands of being a PBL learner, and these may vary depending on whether it was the students’ first, second or third PBL experience. The project has also reminded us that integration of the PBL subject(s) with the rest of the curriculum is crucial for students to gain maximum benefit from PBL. This is because TP’s curriculum implementation requires that each TP student should have at least one experience of PBL; the other subjects they take may use pedagogies such as project- based learning, inquiry-based learning and experiential learning.

The PBL Efficacy Project/Research into PBL at Temasek Polytechnic

In 2016, TP will conduct sample studies of students to determine whether the skills gained through PBL (the desired outcomes of PBL) are applied to other subjects.

The PBL Efficacy Project comprises 2 studies:

a)    Students’ Self-Directed Learning Readiness (SDLR) Study.

This study aims to measure students’ self-directed learning readiness, using a survey with 42 items divided into the categories of self-management, desire for learning, and self-control (as developed by Fischer et al., 2001).

b)    Transfer of Self-Directed Learning Skills Study

This longitudinal study will examine questions such as: In what ways did the students’ development of SDL skills in the previous semester contribute to their PBL experience in the current semester? To what extent are SDL skills demonstrated by students in their current project work after their PBL experience in a previous semester?

Ongoing PBL Initatives at Temasek Polytechnic

Ongoing PBL initiatives include the following:

  • Additional peer support of PBL facilitators is being explored. A PBL Mentors’ Scheme has been set up, and adjustments are being made on how best to support and develop this important group of people.
  • PBL professional development beyond the foundation level by way of new workshops have been offered to PBL subject teams. Titles include:
    • Maximising thinking tools in PBL and beyond
    • Reviewing and evaluating problems in PBL
    • From knowledge to solutions: synthesising research in PBL
    • Enhancing self-directed learning - improving research and peer teaching in PBL and projects
    • Using technology to support PBL.

2015 International Conference on Learning and Teaching

The 2015 International Conference on Learning and Teaching took place in Singapore from 29 September - 1 October 2015 with six internationally renowned speakers and over 550 delegates. One of the speakers, Professor Cindy Hmelo-Silver, from Indiana University Bloomington, shared about scaffolding and facilitation strategies in problem-based, project-based and inquiry based learning.


Problem Solving Skills Acquired at Temasek Polytechnic

Two TP alumni, Terence Tan and Lionel Wong, are improving local produce with the skills they learnt from using PBL when they were students. The co-founders of Upgrown Farming Company studied Biotechnology at Temasek Polytechnic, and credit their success to problem-solving capabilities developed from their days as PBL learners. Their company consults on, designs and builds farms with technology that allows crops not naturally found here to thrive and be harvested. Through mimicking natural conditions, such as sunlight via modified lights with adjusted wavelengths, Terence and Lionel have seen non-native varieties of leafy greens and herbs introduced to local farming through their projects. Their story was reported in January 2018 in the newspapers.

In the video below, two other TP alumni speak about how using PBL has benefited them in their work and in their career.

Contact Us

Sharing Our Expertise

We hope to share our expertise with you. For further information on professional development, consultancy or any matter related to PBL, contact us.

Learning Academy, Temasek Polytechnic
21 Tampines Avenue 1, Singapore 529757

6780 5149
6789 8223

Ms Keng Wan Ling, Senior Manager, Pedagogy & Problem-based Learning
Ms Shirley Tan, Educational Developer

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