Making Learners Ready for the Real World with Project Based Learning

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

In a competitive age, practical applicability of information is the key to successful learning. Such an attitude towards applying gained knowledge can be invoked through Project Based Learning (PrBL). PrBL invokes active, inquiry-based learning among students by presenting them with practical challenges that require them to understand concepts through practical applicability and analysis.

Contrary to the existing teacher-centric paper-based learning, PrBL ensures knowledge-attainment since learners need to completely understand the concept before devising a plan of application to solve the task at hand. PrBL invokes creativity, resilience, passion and empathy that can only be learnt out of experience.

PrBL works somewhat like this: the educator designs a project related to a topic that’s being taught; the students undertake this project individually or in collaboration with peers. Completing the assigned task would require their understanding on the subject matter. Take for example explaining the concept of object density in a 5th grade science class. Students can be asked to collect various objects and immerse them in water to note whether an object floats or sinks. This observation of object buoyancy can help them better understand object density.   

The core elements of PrBL incorporate the inclusion of significant content matter, invoking inquiry towards the subject matter, variable pathways depending upon personal choices, collaborative brainstorming (optimized output through teamwork) and constantly evolving and developing higher-order skills.

Project Based Learning: Educating Right

The role of an educator has transformed phenomenally from becoming the only resource of learning to a facilitator of understanding various subject matters and learning tools. One of the key aspects of this transformation lies in motivating students to learn. To instil the drive to learn and understand new concepts and analyze facts with a unique perspective, educators no longer rely on a rewards-punishment strategy. They’re required to rely instead on a more intuitive activity-based teaching method that sparks student interest, which in-turn leads to successful learning outcome. Project based learning is one such approach that greatly motivates students to learn.

Establishing a Self-Learning Attitude

Many researchers have deducted that the driving force behind students’ interest in learning is directly related to their sense of control over the topic being taught. In a classroom where PrBL is implemented, students have complete autonomy over the task – from resource management to the approach pathway for figuring the solution. Such independence includes educators’ participation as a facilitator, with less factual input and more assistive guidance. Resultantly, learners gain a sense of responsibility and are able to understand a concept more thoroughly.

Learning to Collaborate and Work in Teams

Project based learning gives learners plenty of opportunities to work in teams and collaborate on a common task. A sense of collective responsibility is instilled and learners become accountable for not only their work, but for their peers’ work as well. Leadership qualities are cultivated naturally in such a scenario where learners step-up and aid a member who might lack clarity on certain related concepts. This provides a platform for students lacking concept clarity to understand and learn from peers. Such an interaction assists in broadening the horizon on the learnt topic, since each student would have a unique perspective towards the task. These pooled perspectives may result in a solution that’s mutually understood and developed by the entire team. A sense of equal opportunity and appreciation is achieved as well.

Let’s consider an example:

A biology teacher may assign a team project related to identifying different plants present on the school grounds. Each team would have to discuss and assign a member to research and assess the different components of a plant, listen to alternative ideas before deciding on the most suitable one, and finally complete the task and present the results.

Such collaborative efforts positively impact learners in the following manner:

  • Learners develop a sense of belonging.
  • Fosters acceptance of team members belonging to various ethnic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Instills leadership qualities.
  • Facilitates knowledge attainment among students who haven’t grasped a concept by pairing them up with someone who has.
  • Develops a sense of equal opportunity and peer appreciation.
  • Learners begin to empathize and develop strong moral values.

Preparing for Real-World Applicability

Instead of following conventional examples/problems provided in texts, students find real-world problems more interesting and challenging. This compels them to learn and understand in a completely different manner because a real-world example is relatable, and thus, becomes personal. For example, asking students to perform a play or a skit of a literary piece helps bring out individual perspectives on the subject matter. By collaborating in a group to enact a scenario from their English chapter, students improve their understanding while learning from their peers’ perspectives.

Such learning requires the student to formulate a novel pathway to approach the task since that task is personal and dependent on factors that the student would understand best. Logical understanding is greatly enhanced and a problem-solving attitude is invoked in the learner that would be of help during any other future challenge. Learning outcome of such a real-world scenario is highly relevant since it finds applicability in the learner’s daily life.

Projects empower students to solve real-world problems with collaboration and effective communication, while critically analyzing and addressing them. PrBL is a student-centered approach that incorporates knowledge and standard concepts that enable learners to approach personal as well as global issues with a problem-solving perspective. Since these virtues are almost impossible to teach through conventional teaching methods, several schools have reported a significant rise in knowledge attainment as well as increased student interest in learning since they implemented PrBL in classrooms.

Better Learning Outcomes

While working on projects, students subtly learn the virtues of collaboration, creativity, knowledge upgradation, variable approach, peer review, and several other qualities that help them in their personal lives as well. Such learning helps develop a positive, problem-solving attitude that learners can use to create solutions innovatively. Conflict resolution becomes a natural quality in PrBL learners. There is a rise in implementing PrBL by many schools after witnessing evident results of such an intriguing approach.

PrBL also aids students in developing higher-order skills that enhance their communication, collaboration, analytical thinking and creativity. Such learning outcomes go beyond the learning outcomes from conventional methods of teaching where concepts are explained hypothetically. A striking feature of PrBL is the applicability of this method to all subjects across all grade levels. Working towards their resolution enforces learners to engage themselves in research and analysis indirectly to find a viable solution.

As mentioned earlier, it is imperative to invoke a habit that indirectly diverts any future issues towards resolution rather than an unresolvable panic. And this transition of incorporating PrBL over conventional text-book based learning is in the hands of the educator. In a project based learning scenarios, teachers play a vital role in learners’ understanding. They constitute a significant guiding factor throughout the learning process while maintaining a systematic approach of implementation-based practical learning.

Contrary to paper-based learning, where student rely entirely upon their memory to understand and apply knowledge, PrBL enables students to actively understand and remember learnt content since they worked upon a project that required them to apply that knowledge. PrBL is, in itself, a knowledge-based ecosystem that not merely inculcates better and more adaptive learning in students, but enhances and elaborates the involvement of teachers as guides.

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