Theorist: Cindy Hmelo-Silver

Learning Transfer:

Problem Based Learning (PBL) and Inquiry Learning (IL) learning transfer occurs when students engage in complex tasks that would otherwise be beyond their current abilities.

PBL and IL does provide considerable guidance to students from their instructors.

PBL and IL employ extensive use of scaffolding, as well as addressing other important goals of education that such as, content knowledge, epistemic practices, and soft skills that include collaboration and self-directed learning.

Theory: Construction of Knowledge. Problem-Based Learning, Project Based Learning, Inquiry Learning.

Timeline: Present. First Published in 1998.

Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at Rutgers University. She received an M.S. in Educational Technology from SUNY at Stony Brook and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Studies from Vanderbilt University.

Editor- The Journal of the Learning Sciences.

She is associate editor of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching and serves on the editorial boards of Journal of the Learning Sciences.
International journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, and the Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning.

Main Concepts:

Both Problem Based Learning (PBL) and Inquiry Learning (IL) are organized around relevant, authentic problems or questions. Both place heavy emphasis on
collaborative learning and activity. In both, students are cognitively engaged in sensemaking, developing evidence-based explanations, and communicating their ideas.

The teacher plays a key role in facilitating the learning process and may provide content knowledge on a just-in-time basis.

Scaffolded inquiry and problem-based environments present learners with opportunities to engage in complex tasks that would otherwise be beyond their current abilities.

Scaffolding makes the learning more tractable for students by changing complex and difficult tasks in ways that make these tasks accessible and manageable.

The PBL students were also more likely to make errors. But a close examination of these results reveals that although the PBL students made more errors,
they also created more elaborated explanations compared to the sparse explanations of students in the traditional curriculum.

Students who initially learn through exploratory problem solving, when employing statistical principles, learn more from a subsequent lecture than students who had initially learned from a worked example that the instructor explained in class.

“Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.”

Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Derry, S. J., Bitterman, A. H., Hatrak, N. (2009). Targeting Transfer in a STELLAR PBL Course for Pre-service Teachers. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning.3(2), 24-42. Retrieved from

Duncan, R. G., & Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2009). Learning progressions: Aligning curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46, 606-609.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E. & Barrows, H. S. (2008). Facilitating collaborative knowledge building. Cognition and Instruction.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Duncan, R. G., Chinn, C. A. (2007). Scaffolding and achievement in problem-based and inquiry learning: A response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006). Educational Psychologist, 42, 99-107.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E. & Barrows, H. S. (2006). Goals and strategies of a problem-based learning facilitator. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 1. 21-39.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2003). Analyzing collaborative knowledge construction: Multiple methods for integrated understanding. Computers and Education, 41, 397-420.

Cindy Hmelo-Silver