The University of Leicester, UK has been supporting the Catholic University of Cuenca (UCACUE) in Ecuador to deliver its vision of ensuring that every student on every course is exposed to an authentic problem-based learning (PBL) experience. By doing so, it is hoped that students gain a deeper understanding of their subject while also developing and using high level research, professional, and 21st Century skills to solve real community, regional, or national health, environmental, societal, business, or economic problems.

The project’s primary object was the training of 70 core academic staff, composed of teams representing departments from all 8 faculties of UCACUE . The resulting capacity building programme has required the participants to participate in a series of 5-day workshops designed to develop their expertise in the application of two structured models of PBL. Based on a four-stage model and a 5E learning cycle model, the training programme has provided the academic staff with high-level skills to develop their own problem-based learning units (PBLs), perform action research to evaluate the outcomes of using PBL with their own students, capacity build other academics within their subject teams, and carry out and publish research on the implementation of the programme at UCACUE.

After completion of the second year of a 3-year project (2015 – 2018), this team of 70 core academic staff have capacity built a further 103 academics, overseen development of 53 new PBLs, helped engage 2,561 students in problem-based learning activities, and published 5 academic papers.

This paper will provide an introduction to the two PBL models adopted by the project and approaches used to capacity build the core team of 70 academics. It will also introduce case studies detailing how students from different faculties have utilised PBL to address real community problems, the solutions they have developed, and the outcomes of extensive research carried out on the professional development of academic staff. Also presented will be descriptions of how these forms of PBL have impacted the student learning experiences in terms of their ownership of individual projects, motivation, knowledge retention, overall understanding, achievement, team working skills, communication skills, problem solving capabilities, collaboration outside the classroom, engagement in the learning process, and their development of critical and creative thinking skills.

UCACUE places a high level of importance on community outreach and this paper will also explore the ways in which their adoption of PBL has allowed its academics to engage with external bodies in ways that have raised the institution’s profile in ways that were not originally envisaged at the project outset.