Project-Based Learning

Most of yesterday’s effort centered around the much touted school reform movement in education advocating Project-based Learning or PBL for short. The PBL effort is grounded in laudable goals of assisting the learning of 21st Century skills including creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication. It is a worthwhile movement away from the linear application of a Core Curriculum and opens possibilities for a much more authentic approach to education both inside and outside of schools and classrooms.

My early morning writing effort was sidetracked by an email from the Buck Institute for ‘Education. BIE is it is known to the Internet ( ) is a not-for-profit organization that preaches and teaches the virtues of PBL nationally. It has assembled practitioners as a National Faculty now consisting of 81 people with experience and skill to support teachers, schools, and school districts across the US who want to make the most of PBL.

The National Faculty of the Buck Institute provides speaking, coaching and workshops as professional development programs. Reading through the credentials of a few of the Faculty, I found a golden thread of commitment to the benefits of PBL for kids. Indeed, there is little to indicate that the Institute is looking outside of K-12 for a constituency. Yet applications of PBL can be envisioned from Early Pre-K through adult education. But I’ll write more on this at a later date.

PBL to be successful must, of course, be age appropriate. Moving into the reaches of high school and higher education there are inevitable challenges of readiness for participation in a project-based learning scenario. At least, the challenges are different from K-6, for example. If a problem requires engineering, science or mathematical skills, it could prove overwhelming as a learning framework. As with any learning design consideration, there is a real need to assure that a proper scaffold is in place to support the learner.

However, the scaffolds do not have to be stumbling blocks. That is especially true when two considerations are in place. First, access to expertise is no longer limited to what is within the four walls of a classroom or a school’s library. The Internet linkages to expertise and solid principles are, with guidance, but a click away. Second, the learning environment or culture must be open. Open to questions is central and open to ending with an admission of ignorance is essential. No matter the level of PBL, there will come a time when questions remain. Celebrating those questions is a path to new learning opportunity.

Creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking emerge from a PBL environment. Growth in 21st Century skills does not happen from design but rather is an emergent property of the learning environments when projects are a central focus. Accepting the diversity within a small group contributes to a social milieu that cannot be predicted or tested. The really good idea of PBL is to let it happen.