Making it Real: Psychology Applied Learning Scenarios (PALS)

Making it Real: Psychology Applied Learning Scenarios (PALS)

Psychology Applied Learning Scenarios (PALS) allow a learner to develop flexible knowledge of a subject area, improve the effectiveness of problem solving skills and self-directed learning skills, and increase collaboration and intrinsic motivation. Students engage in self-directed learning and assessment through which they are required to explore a scenario to which there is no definite correct response. Within collaborative groups these learners work through the scenario applying their learning to the novel situation allowing them to demonstrate a wide variety of both lower (AO1) and higher level (AO2) skills. This concept of learning through experience is central to the development of PALS and has its roots heavily it that of problem-based and inquiry-based learning which argue for the importance of practical experience in learning.

Inquiry-based learning and problem-based learning have been seen as a move forward since the 1960s where they were developed to formalise assessments within the medical school by Howard Barrows. Since then PBL/IBL has been applied to many different subjects at a variety of levels. Norton (2004) formalised PBL in Psychology through her work into PALS by providing specific guidance and examples of how these can successfully be embedded into Post-16 Education in Psychology. Over the course of ten years she developed PALS in a third year counselling module and has written guidance to practitioners as to how these can be embedded in a variety of different situations and for a variety of learners at different stages in their educational career (Norton, 2004).

When using a PALS the teacher acts as a facilitator helping to guide learners to possible solutions or signpost concepts, theories and studies that may hold part of a possible solution. A PALS distinguishes itself from PBL in the nature that within psychology learners are required to develop knowledge of several different approaches to understand behaviour of an individual (Norton, 2004). The nature of PALS allows the learner to engage with these different approaches to investigate and explore how these would provide differing explanations or treatments for the behaviour in question.

PALS foster engagement in class demonstrating to learners that the content that is delivered can be interpreted and applied in many different and novel situations. This ensures that we are meeting the learning outcomes that are expected of a psychology course. QCA state that within a psychology course some of the learning outcomes are to “develop an awareness of why psychology matters” (p3), and “develop an understanding of the relationship between psychology and social, cultural, scientific and contemporary issues and its impact on everyday life.” (QCA, 2007, p4). PALS allow a student to develop their knowledge and skillset and provide them with skills and experience that will make them better learners and improve their studentship skills, both now at A Level and by providing a solid foundation on which to build at higher education. Further to this PALS allow psychology and the studies and theories that a student has been exposed to be ‘brought to life’ illustrating to students the applied nature of the subject and improving motivation and engagement in lesson.

A PALS can be an effective tool if utalised appropriately by practitioners. The PALS need to be developed by the teacher and with classes, allowing them to develop and build upon their skills over the course of a module, course or year. In the current landscape of changing specifications and Ofsted requiring teachers to demonstrate that their students can independently lead their own learning PALS and other pedagogical tools such as this will become more important and necessary. A PALS allows a learner to both stretch and develop their learning of knowledge and skills in a collaborative way; by combining PALS with independent work or tasks following discussion the practitioner is providing a learning with a platform on which they can excel. Not only do PALS help contextualise current learning if delivered appropriately will ensure that the students start to ‘think psychologically’ and see the subject as more than just requiring rote learning of names and dates.

Would you or do you use PALS in class? Maybe you use them an never know about the evidence behind the use of them? Are they useful to use in class? Thoughts and examples in the comments as ever.


Norton, L. (2004). Psychology Applied Learning Scenarios (PALS): A practical introduction to problem-based learning using vignettes for psychology lecturers. LTSN.

(full text currently available online here)

Article based on a more formal and in-depth review of PALS by Jamie Davies found here.

4 Comments Making it Real: Psychology Applied Learning Scenarios (PALS)

  1. Jade Barnshaw

    Hey Jamie, I am a trainee teacher and really keen to implement PALS in the classroom to develop my Year 12’s application (AO2) skills. I am trying to create some PALS for the eyewitness testimony (memory section) of the AQA A Level course and I wondered if you had come across any resources in this area already? Thank you, Jade


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