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What is Project-Based Learning (PBL)?

What is Project-Based Learning (PBL)?

Project-based learning - AKA- PBL, is a breakthrough educational phenomenon that enables students to apply their knowledge to real-life issues. In doing so, PBL enriches individuals in both academic and practical fields.

Over the decades, one of the primary concerns of effective learning has been decreasing student interaction in classes. Studies show that learners tend to find traditional learning methods boring. Hence, they find it easy to distract from the learning in class.

One of the experimental solutions that educationists found was to integrate social learning into classrooms. Consequently, project-based learning became popular. The idea arguably dates back to the early 20th century. One can attribute this to the philosopher, John Dewy and physician, Maria Montessori. However, in its current modern form, PBL is attributed to educators, Krajcik and Blumenfeld.

PBL works by prioritizing the learner and stimulating them to investigate an original, out-of-the-box question. The key is to use problems that exist in their real world so that the solutions students find are thereby also realistic and practical. In doing so, not only do students become book-smart but also street-smart at the same time.

Project-based learning

On the contrary, some critics doubt the credibility of project-based learning. They report that such complex learning methods overwhelm students and prove counter-productive. Despite such reservations, some researchers support PBL as an effective tool that outperforms traditional learning methods on all levels.

Fundamentals of Project-Based Learning

Develop a research question

To formulate a research question is to identify a problem. This is a prerequisite for any project work. One needs to have a basis to work and hypothesize on. Later, students develop their findings around that problem. However, it is not as easy as it sounds always. Problem-finding requires an active mind and keen eyes. And most of all, make sure your problem exists in the actual world and is not made up.

Support with evidence

Explore the key concern and read up on it. Therefore, learn about what other researchers have said about your topic. Use data and evidence to support and answer your research questions. It is essential to have generous background knowledge before formulating your conclusions on any topic. That is to say, do not jump to conclusions!

Work together

An integral part of project-based learning is the learner-instructor relationship. Without this connection, the method fails to prove fruitful. Since taking on projects can be overwhelming for some students, instructors need to be present to assist the students through any confusion and difficulties. Build a healthy bond where students feel welcomed to raise their concerns.

Integrate scaffolding

Scaffolding is a collaborative learning technique whereby instructors provide the learners with primary instructions and guidelines upon which they have to act. Just like scaffolding provides support to buildings during construction, similarly, scaffolding during learning provides educational assistance.

Materialize and share

Last but not the least, develop all your findings, solutions, and suggestions into a tangible final product. Make sure to keep it interesting yet simple for others to easily understand. Exchange your ideas with others, and give and receive feedback. This step is all about learning through each other.

Tools of Project-Based Learning

Active construction

This tool stresses building healthy and responsive networks with others. Since PBL is not a one-man show, it goes without saying how important communication and networks are. It is only along with others that one can truly dissect the problems and come to viable solutions. Moreover, in the real world,  one works alongside others.

Situated learning

For PBL to function optimally, make sure to base the learning in reality. For this, use case studies and real-life examples which help students implement their acquired knowledge to solve actual problems in the world.

Social interaction

Stimulate students to exchange their ideas with each other. To do that, hold healthy discussions and debate sessions where students feel in charge of the ground. Students need to feel confident around others to dissect problems and concepts together. Hence, it is crucial to stress upon constructive social exchanges.

Cognitive tools

The use of cognitive tools is an absolute must to make classes fun and engaging. Make sure to use infographics, fun games, etc to shake things up a bit. You can make use of tools such as Branchware for simulations and Miro for a digital interactive whiteboard. For more on such interactive online tools, follow our list of top collaborative tools.

How to introduce Project-based Learning in online classes?

PBL is such a versatile and flexible teaching strategy that one can easily apply it to online classes. Here are some quick and simple steps on how you can introduce PBL to your online courses:

1. Choose a suitable platform

The key to hosting any online class or educational session is finding is the right platform. You must be wondering that just about all LMS should be suitable for this. However, the reality is contrary to this. There are certain primary features that you need to have to implement PBL in your online courses. These include live video conferencing, peer review, discussion boards, and channels among others. Along with a few others, Teachfloor is an LMS that provides all these features under one name.

2. Determine an 'entry event'

An entry event sets the context of the project. It can be a case scenario, a real-life issue, or any concern that will stimulate students to think about it deeply. However, for that, the idea needed to be rooted in reality so that learners can build a connection with it. Something which concerns somebody tends to motivate them to think about it and hence work on it. Together with the participants, isolate top issue-areas that they would like to work on throughout the course.

3.  Driving question

During the online session, have students pose questions that arise in their minds when they think of the particular ‘entry event’. An ideal way to carry this out online is by opening a discussion thread on your course page. Here students can add their responses and also share comments on the questions of other peers.

4. Breakout groups

Use Zoom for breakout groups or similar features to separate your online class into smaller groups. Assign them roles or sections to work on concerning the broader research question at hand. Encourage them to find probable solutions on their own to the issues. Later, bring them together to discuss their ideas with other groups for suggestions.

5. Design the project

Once learners are done discussing their individual group topics, it is time to have them visualize the solutions for presentations. Students can use apps such as Seesaw where they can collaborate together and develop presentations, infographics, videos, etc.

6. Share and evaluate

The final stage in this process is sharing the final products of the projects. Here. students exchange their findings and give feedback on each others’ work. This can sound pretty basic but it is an essential part of the process. It is here, that students engage in independent critical thinking to respond to other peoples' works.

Conclusion

Project-based learning is revolutionizing what it means to learn in a distant and online setting. Despite being locked away in our rooms and on our screens, we can receive an education that is relevant to the real world and is based on actual problems. It is sure to improve student performance and participation during online classes. Most of all, it is sure to make learners practical in their approach.

Further reading

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