This blog is the first of a series of blogs that explores (and re-thinks) education – particularly around the idea of Project Based Learning (PBL). This series, in a way, is also my own manifesto for what PBL programs should look like.
This first part breaks down the whole idea of a of a PBL program to try and explore what such a program should be designed around.
Foundation 0: A “safe” version of the REAL WORLD
Working at an educational institution, I have often heard people (specially those from outside the education industry) complain about the “gap between industry and education”. When people say this, one of these gaps I have come to realize is the gap not between education and the industry but the classroom and the professional world.
What’s the point of learning if it has no use in the lives of the learner? And all the people that complain that what students learn in the classrooms have nothing to do with their professional lives have every right to do so.
Therefore, it would be advantageous to have a program designed specifically to be authentic and to offer a safe environment in which to “try out” the real world. This thought forms the grounds for Foundation “zero” – named so as it is the foundation for all the rest of the foundational ideas that will follow.
“Schools are ideally situated to connect learning with real life; but typically, they do not.”
– Melaville, Berg and Blank, 2006
Academic works in the field of Project Based Learning emphasize the importance of the projects being “real” (Tretten and Zachariou, cited in Thomas, 2000). Additionally, Thomas (2000) also notes that a defining characteristic of PBL programs is the project being “[…] central, not peripheral to the curriculum”.
The current mode of projects in the learning environment at most educational institutions is a step in the right direction. As compared to the “traditional” learning/teaching approach, there is certainly an inclination towards making more than just textbooks and lectures. How much further from real life could you get than learning everything through lectures? (Observation reveals that) the execution of this mode of learning uses projects as a tool for teaching certain pre-defined disciplinary topics. For instance, a marketing curriculum would have projects for the students where the project a tool for student teams to apply what they have learned in class. “Create an advertisement for a product of your choice…” it would instruct.
Is this an application of knowledge in a simulated “real world” context? Maybe. I argue not. Think about it – Do you drive a car because someone taught you how to or do you learn driving because you feel the need (or at least the want) to? In essence, the current inclination is bass ackwards. Perhaps it is the tunnel visioned need for teachers to create curriculum where every learning is measurable; maybe it is the security of structure and predictability that us educators just NEED but those of us designing PBL programs start with specific disciplinary learning outcomes and not the mechanics of the real world in mind.
Ridiculous you say? Well, surely there need to be learning outcomes and assessments, right? If not, how would you know if a student has learned (say) maths? Well, my question is – why does the student need maths in the first place? I argue that PBL platforms give us the opportunity to place emphasis on replicating the real world where the learning is catalyzed by the project – which itself is supported by relevant disciplinary content. Also in the interest of replicating the real world, programs should feature multidisciplinary content. This would create a more accurate representation of a real world where a professional would draw from his/her understanding from various disciplines and apply them to address issues in everyday life.
Melaville, A., Berg, A. C., & Blank, M. J. (2006). Community-based learning: Engaging students for success and citizenship.
Thomas, J. W. (2000). A review of research on project-based learning.