Does Exposure to Problem-Based Learning Strategies Increase Postformal Thinking and Need for Cognition in Higher Education Students? A Quasi-Experimental Study
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While the importance of technical skills has been established for decades, the demand for complex problem-solving and higher order reasoning skills in higher education adult learners has been steadily increasing. In light of these demands, it is important to consider alternative approaches to learning, such a problem-based learning (PBL). Although research on PBL has demonstrated increased higher order reasoning skills, very few studies exist that examine PBL's effects on the development of postformal thought (PFT) and need for cognition (NFC), the motivation to engage in complex problem-oriented tasks. This quasi-experimental study sought to answer the questions whether exposure to PBL has any effects on PFT and NFC in adult students. A total of 99 adult students from higher education institutions across Central Texas represented the experimental PBL (n=47) group and the traditional lecture-based group (n=52) that served as the control group. To measure potential changes in reasoning, both groups received the PFT and NFC instruments at baseline and posttest. Data were analyzed using One-Way ANOVA and ANCOVA. Results showed increased levels in NFC following exposure to PBL while no significant differences were found in PFT between the groups. Given the findings, PBL may have the ability to foster skills beyond factual learning and hard skills as shown by increased levels in the interest to solve complex problems, indicated by the NFC scale. This study showed that students had a higher motivation to apply higher order reasoning skills in the context of problem-solving following participation in problem-based learning courses.