Project based learning is a form of experiential learning. Experiential learning is best summed up as “learning by doing.” In post-secondary education, experiential learning may occur off-campus through Community Service Learning, unpaid internships, or paid work experience programs like AWE. Other forms of experiential learning, like project or problem based learning, may form part of classroom based learning on campus.
Project based learning is characterized by a question or problem that drives students’ subsequent activity (Helle, Tynjälä & Olkinuora, 2006). The end result of a project is an artefact. The goal is for both the process of production and the artefact that is produced to be as authentic as possible. Project-based learning is inherently inter-disciplinary, and also requires students to work extensively on communication skills, both in the team settings of production, and in the representation of their findings in final products or artefacts (Hanney & Savin-Baden, 2013).
Projects can be done independently, but are often completed in groups. This can be challenging for students and instructors alike. Research has shown that many students need support to work in teams, assess their own progress, and resolve problems that arise. Instructors are often unsure of how to evaluate team based assignments (Lee, Blackwell, Drake, & Moran, 2014). However, teamwork pays dividends as students learn to work collaboratively, express their ideas clearly, and reflect on their learning. They can carry these skills to future learning and work.
Project based learning requires a major “rethink” of the instructional role. In the traditional classroom, the professor is a typically the expert — the “sage on the stage.” It can be a challenge to let go of the control that comes with this role. But the rewards are in witnessing the engagement and creativity that come when students are given the power to direct their own learning. Watch Dr. Mikael (Mickey) Adolphson talk about how a project-based pedagogy changed his perceptions of his students, and his role as an instructor.
Keep watching for APRIL updates as we continue to explore the rewards, challenges, and learning outcomes of project-based learning and other experientially-driven pedagogies.