AAU Career

Problem based learning is a competency

"Project-oriented problem-based learning", "the Aalborg-model", "PBL" – it goes by many names, and it's key to studying at AAU. It makes group work possible. It implies project work. It requires a problem formulation.

But what are the actual advantages of working with it? And what does it mean in a career context?

If you're new at AAU and think that PBL is hard, it's normal! A lot of students find it challenging - both international and Danish. But it will be easier in time. And it's a great thing to know when you enter the job market!

➡ Here, we will explain to you why it is an advantage for you in relation to your career.

Problem-based learning – what does it mean career-wise?

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    What are the advantages of collaboration with external partners?

    The ‘problem-based’ part of ‘problem-based learning’ implies that the basis of your project and learning stems from a problem – and where is a better place to look for ‘real’ problems than in external companies and organisations?


    There are many positive factors in collaborating with an external partner on your projects:

    • You will expand your network
    • You will get an insight in the work of the organization
    • You will get to know your skillset better as you apply it in a non-study setting
    • It will be clearer what kind of job you can have or task you can solve after graduation
    • Maybe you are lucky to get a student job at the company
    • You get the opportunity to work with other and different ‘profiles’ than yourself. Working with people from other traits or with different educations than yourself will make your own clearer to yourself. And chances are you will learn something new


    Read about project collaboration

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    What competencies do teamwork give me?

    Teamwork is in demand.

    Being able to be a constructive part of a group is a very sought-after competence. It is a competence, which you can already build upon during your studies.

    Some of the specific skills that you can either get from or refine by working in groups are:

    • Better knowledge about yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses when working with others. When do you have a tendency to take charge, and when will you stay in the background? With that knowledge, you can improve your teamwork abilities so that you can avoid or solve conflicts be more easily.
    • Your ability to communicate constructively and give proper feedback to your teammates.
    • Organisational and structuring skills are important when working towards a collective goal.
    • The ability to define the collective goal and to identify and narrow down your problem formulation.
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    What will I gain from a project oriented course (internship)?

    In an internship, you have the opportunity to practice what you have learned, and an internship is possible as part of most studies. You gain ECTS-points during your internship.


    There are many career-relevant things to take from an internship:

    • Usually, the internship takes place late in the study, and therefore the company could be your future employer – so stay in touch
    • The experiences are very valuable on your CV
    • Maybe, you will discover what you definitely do not want to do when you graduate – the flipside of knowing what you want to do is just as important for making decisions
    • You get the opportunity to see that workplaces can apply your skillset – and how you can apply it. In addition to the insight you will get during a project collaboration, you will be part of the culture in the organisation and you will be included in side projects and small ad hoc-tasks that call for different and maybe new aspects of your set of competences.


    Read about project oriented courses (internships)

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    Isn’t it just a university-thing working project-oriented?

    Working project-oriented is very common outside of the university world.

    Doing project work is a relatively free form of work that requires planning and coordination – skills that have a great value when put into a job context. Project management and project work in general is a very common way of working in many organisations. Improve your skills within the different phases of project work, and you will have some competences that translate directly to labour market skills.

    The phases and different parts are:

    • Identification of a problem field
    • Narrowing the problem field and specific formulation of what should be “answered” as the result of your work
    • Choosing the right methods and theories – and ensuring scientific validity thorough your use of philosophy of science and general academic principles
    • Concluding something based on your findings. A conclusion that corresponds to your problem formulation
    • If the project has been part of a collaboration with an external partner (e.g. a company), you might even be part of the implementation of your findings
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    How can I use it “in the real world”?

    Exemplarity. Yep, it is a thing – and it is even a pretty important thing in a PBL context.


    Basically, it means:

    What you learn in one setting should be able to be applied in other, different settings.


    It entails:

    It is a very useful thing to be aware of during your studies because it makes the potential use of what you have learned much clearer – and expands your field of work to some maybe-not-so-obvious work areas.

    In short:

    • It means that what you learn in one setting should be able to be applied in other, somewhat similar and somewhat different settings.
    • The better you get at seeing different applications for theories and methods and similarities between different research areas, the broader the perspective you get.
    • It means that you will be able to see plenty more possible roads to go down when it comes to e.g. finding your first job.


    It requires:

    An attention to both the small details and the larger perspectives. Here are some questions that might help you grasp the potential extent of your knowledge:

    • Does the knowledge/methods/theories/results from the latest project overlap with the ones from a previous project?
    • If yes, how? What are the overlaps?
    • How do they differ?
    • While working on the project, did you stumble upon any current ‘problems’ that could be ‘solved’ with some of your tools?
    • What are the similarities between those problems and the one you dealt with in your project?
    • Can you either broaden or specify your theme or field of research? What is the political surrounding? Why is your theme important? For whom is it important? What else could be important for them? Or whom else could your theme be important for?

    There are many questions to ask – and you might not be able to find answers to all of them. That’s ok. The point is to  reflect on yourself and be able to see the connection between the specific and the general; how is this very specific thing part of a more general theme? Or vice versa; what are the specific and more detailed contents of the bigger picture?

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    How do I find the similarities to utilise my learnings?

    Instead of focusing on differences, a keen eyed AAU student can see the similarities even though they might not be obvious. Many subjects or themes contain parts of other subjects or themes.

    To illustrate that, we want you think of the differences between a lemon and a banana. One is sour and one is more sweet. One is kind of mushy and the other is juicy. One is relatively high in energy density and one is low.

    Now, focus on the similarities. They are both yellow. And they are both fruits. And they can both be put in a smoothie or in a dessert. And they both contain vitamins.

    When you think about the things you have learned and experienced, have the same focus. Even though, you might not have worked specifically with a theme, you might have worked with something that has some or even many things in common with it. Zoom in or out depending on what you need to focus on. Most things are in some way - directly or indirectly - entangled. Your job is to identify the similarities and be aware of the differences.  

    Here is a picture of our logically very sound argument:

    The banana/lemon model

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Why should I do a project oriented course with a company? And how can the internship become my way into the job market?

Project oriented course (internship)

What can I do, exactly? Which competencies do I posses, and how do I differentiate between professional and personal competences?

What competencies do I have?