Integrating Experiential Problem-Based Learning into Executive Level Professional Programs

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

New York University, School of Professional Studies, merged two contemporary theories, experiential and problem-based learning, in order to create a dynamic learning environment for executive professionals. Experiential Problem-Based Learning (EPBL) supported innovative instructional design and content development and addressed obstacles reported in the literature by including best-practices in technology. This session will present examples of EPBL in practice.


I am the Director, Educational Technology in the Center for Academic Excellence and Support. Prior to joining NYU SPS, I was the Assistant Provost for Technology and Instructional Innovation at Saint Xavier University for almost seven years. During my time there, I led efforts to grow online offerings, improve LMS adoption, develop innovative learning spaces, and to foster a culture of continual pedagogical innovation. I have presented around the county to k-20 educators about the importance of creating progressive learning spaces and promoting a culture of innovation. My work within CAES focuses on developing a comprehensive approach to technology adoption and instructional development, as well as identifying new ways to foster and spread innovative teaching among NYU SPS faculty. I believes that faculty are not a homogeneous group and therefore growth in technology adoption must be fostered one-on-one and through the development of an “Empowerment” culture.

Additional Authors

Karen Miner-Romanoff is Assistant Dean for Academic Quality at NYU School of Professional Studies and leads the Center for Academic Excellence and Support. She holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration, with an emphasis in criminology, and a Masters in Public Policy and Administration. An attorney as well, she obtained her Juris Doctorate, with clerkships in the U.S. District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals, worked with a major law firm, and held a position as Special Assistant to the Ohio Attorney General Chief of Staff and Chief Counsel. Prior to joining NYU, Dr. Miner-Romanoff previously served as the Associate Provost for Academic Quality and Executive Director for the International Institute for Innovative Instruction, Dean of the College of Health and Public Administration and Criminal Justice Program Chair for Franklin University. During that time, her program received Outstanding Design Awards for both the program and the innovative Capstone. She is certified as an Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences peer reviewer and served as the Executive Counselor of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences section for Teaching and Education. She has received numerous awards and grants in the fields of criminal justice, leadership and teaching and learning, including the 2015 Academy of Criminal Justice Science Outstanding Mentor Award and was selected to serve on the ACE Women’s Network Executive Board. She chairs the American Education Research Association SIG for Faculty Development, Teaching and Evaluation and sits on multiple educational advisory, editorial boards, and criminal justice commissions, including the Ohio Consortium of Crime Science and the Franklin County Specialty Courts. She is a Fulbright Scholar having served in South Africa with the Human Science Research Council. She was also selected as a 2016 Learning Champion by E-Learning Magazine and is a National Science Foundation Data Consortium Fellow. She was recently honored for her research with the Franklin County human trafficking court as the 2017 Ohio Council of Criminal Justice Education Professional Practitioner. Her predominant research interests are juvenile transfer to adult court, deterrence as crime control, problem-solving courts and the teaching and learning sciences. Selected presentations include the International E-Learning Conference, International Conference of Social Science Research, the American Society of Criminology Conference, the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association, the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Conference, International Conference on Justice, Police and Law, and the Academy of Criminal Justice Science. Selected publications include articles in her major research interests, such as The Qualitative Report, Justice Policy Journal, Criminologists, American Journal of Criminal Justice, International Journal of Restorative Justice, Journal of Correctional Education, Journal of Human Trafficking, Journal of Criminal Justice Education, American Journal of Distance Learning, Journal of Online Pedagogy and Course Design, and South African Journal of Higher Education and was most recently recognized for her work in experiential online innovative curriculum at the 2017 International E-Learning conference.

Extended Abstract

New York University, School of Professional Studies, has merged two contemporary learning theories in order to create a dynamic learning environment for executive level professionals seeking additional professional development. Combining experiential and problem-based learning theories has provided content developers and instructional designers a unique and innovative design framework for professional education that blends the experiences professionals bring with them to the classroom and ill-structured problem solving.  Experiential Problem-Based Learning (EPBL) allowed for the overcoming of obstacles often reported in the literature by including best-practices in technology enhancements, faculty development and pedagogical advances. Classroom walls and silos are dissolved as real world problem solving and high level analysis become integrated into the learning environment. Faculty become facilitators as they present knowledge, lead critical discussions and provide feedback weekly that promotes cognitive growth and retention.


Since the late 20th century, leading educational researchers such as Chickering and Gamson (1987), Gagne (1985), and Merrill (2002) have observed that active learning strategies lead to more engaged learners and, therefore, improved learning will take place. Active learning strategies align with other validated teaching practices, such as engaged pedagogy (Edgerton, 2001; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Smith, Sheppard, Johnson, & Johnson, 2005), student-centered learning, and interactive engagement.  The strategies include approaches such as inquiry learning, problem- based learning, and collaborative learning, thus providing much needed support for the veracity of these strategies.


Current research regarding educational design embraces the real-world complexities and an iterative “development of solutions to practical and complex educational problems” within the context of empirical investigation (McKenny & Reeves, 2012, p. 7). While embracing complexity, educational design research does not attempt to remove or cleanse variation, but to provide “usable knowledge” for contexts that assume variability (Lagemann, 2002). As many design researchers explain, this leads to methodologically creative studies that are conducted in authentic settings (Allen, 2012) and that include designers’ abstracted experience and reflections about their designs (Kali, 2008). Similarly, while design research and theoretical modeling have been conducted for decades, very few studies address how instructional designers apply theories and models. This approach provides clear concepts maps that guide the designers and subject matter experts while combining multiple research-based best practices. The limited number of studies that have been completed indicate that instructional designers do not spend a majority of their time applying rigid models but may creatively utilize them to generally inform their varied and multivariate work (Kenny, et al., 2005). The proposed project will build on those prior studies to advance understanding of how curriculum design occurs, identify crucial and mediating factors within teaching and support services as they relate to learning in higher education, and evaluate the efficacy of various design approaches; this will result in the development of a model that can then be applied to improve academic outcomes, retention, and persistence in problem-based learning.


“The discipline of instructional design is concerned with prescribing optimal methods of instruction to bring out changes in student knowledge, skills, and thinking” (Reigeluch, 1984. p.4). Yet, instructional design value propositions are not widely understood in higher education. In practice, many decisions are made intuitively or unconsciously without referring to educational theory and strategy or acknowledging the tradeoffs, issues and values involved. As a result, college and university learning environments can include a highly diverse spectrum of approaches, which may unintentionally lead to inconsistencies, inefficiencies, or ineffective learning environments.


Through the certificate program development, proposed project, foundational understanding of how curriculum designers integrate technical, discipline-specific, educational and experiential knowledge and bring them to bear on complex learning challenges will be examined and the ability to enact evidence-based approaches increased. Several types of new knowledge the project will generate are a data-based understanding of the practical and interpersonal dynamics of curricular development, best practices for encouraging vital relationships between instructional designers and subject matter faculty, identification of crucial mediating factors in the process, and efficacy of various approaches, all areas in which the literature is very limited (National Research Council, 2012; Pan, et. al., 2003).


Image 1: Experiential Problem-Based Learning


As Feast (2012) advises, the design team will study how designers integrate the richness of past experiences, technical knowledge, and expertise and bring them to bear on complex learning challenges. This is important for students’ learning, for collaboration and efficiency in course design work, and for understanding the most effective approaches to improving education.


Since this research seeks to develop instructional design models that will improve curricular construction, teaching, and student learning outcomes, the following theoretical foundations underlie our research: action research and design research frameworks. We will use action research as an overarching framework for the entire project. Denscombe (2010, p. 6) states that an action research strategy's purpose is to solve a particular problem and to produce guidelines for best practice. Additionally, action research theoretical framework emphasizes community of practice. Both characteristics support the selection of action research as our overall framework in exploring how designers and researchers work with others to find a solution to practical problems.


Also, under the action research umbrella, we will use the design research theoretical framework and a grounded theory perspective. As stated by Wang and Hannafin (2005), design research is: “a systematic but flexible methodology aimed at improving educational practices through iterative analysis, design, development, and implementation, based on collaboration among researchers and practitioners in real-world settings…leading to contextually-sensitive design principles and theories” (p. 6). With this, we will apply the grounded theory perspective for identifying parameters of instructional design. Grounded theory develops a concept of the patterns and structures in the area of interest by constant comparison of existing information and data being accumulated. The process begins with an inductive approach generating theoretical constructs and continuing data collection further refines the developing theory while suggesting the next data sets to collect and progressively increasing the specificity of the research question(s) to ask.


This education session presentation will reveal the background on Experiential Problem-Based Learning, the research methodology, the technology integration strategies, the conceptual framework and the implementation protocols surrounding the learning experience. Those who will benefit from this presentation include faculty, instructional designers and program chairs at institutions of higher education as well as those from all levels of expertise.  The session outcomes are as follows:

  • Attendees will examine the viability of the NYUSPS design framework for implementation at their institutions.

  • Attendees will explore minimizing barriers to adopting new pedagogical approaches in a multicultural environment utilizing technologies to enhance faculty and student orientations to Experiential Problem-Based Learning and teaching model

  • Attendees will compare and contrast the utilization of Experiential Problem-Based Learning environments with traditional teaching pedagogies.


Plans/Strategies to Engage Audience

  • Presenters will utilize the socratic method to challenge conventional norms regarding course design and delivery.

  • Presenters will engage attendees in a robust discussion.