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What is Project-based Learning and how does it help students?

Project-based Learning is increasingly relevant in education today

Project-based Learning has shown to have a positive impact on student performance

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Sep 10, 2018    By Team YoungWonks *

Project-based learning (PBL) is a common buzzword you hear in educational circles today. So why is that so? How is project-based learning beneficial for students? The answer to this question begs an understanding of project-based learning and what it entails. 

What is Project-Based Learning?

It is a method or style of learning that believes that students can and should acquire a deeper knowledge through active exploration of real-world challenges and problems. Project-based learning promotes learning through doing, that is, actually working on a given project instead of merely committing to memory theoretical knowledge about the said project. It thus contrasts with paper-based, rote memorization, or teacher-led instruction that just presents established facts. 

More importantly, it allows students to take advantage of digital tools to produce high quality, collaborative products; so the onus is not on finishing the curriculum but actually making sure the student has understood what is being taught as part of the lesson. 

Origins of Project-based Learning

American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer John Dewey is credited with being among the first ones to promote “learning by doing”. In his book My Pedagogical Creed (1897), Dewey shared his beliefs regarding education, "The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these.......I believe, therefore, in the so-called expressive or constructive activities as the centre of correlation.”

Over the years, experts have found several benefits to the implementation of project-based learning in the classroom; these include a greater understanding of concepts, broader knowledge base, improved communication and interpersonal/social skills, enhanced leadership skills, increased creativity, and improved writing skills. 

For instance, the Department of Mathematics at the Sebelas Maret University in Indonesia studied the Effectiveness of Project Based Learning in Trigonometry by observing its students in the semester 2 of the academic year 2016/2017. They found that the mean / average score of students taught under the project-based learning learning model was 84.5, significantly higher than 76.26, the average score of students taught under the classical learning model. 

Why Project-based Learning Works 

The project in question could even be a typical homework project that students are often assigned to work on at home in a traditional teaching setup. But in a project-based learning-driven setting, students work on the project in class and not at home. Vishal Raina, founder and senior instructor, YoungWonks, says that the whole point of project-based learning is to get the student to actually work on the project in the class under the teacher’s supervision. “This helps the teacher assess and guide the student better. The project, in fact, gives the student a meaningful purpose that he/ she can work towards and this kind of approach actually gets the students excited about learning,” he shares. 

He cites an example to explain. “For instance, just reading a book or studying a diagram about a circuit can be boring. But if you ask and demonstrate to the same kid how he / she can light up an LED without having it blow up, then he / she would be a lot more interested in the lesson.” 

The idea then is to not just ensure that the student knows something but that he / she can actually use that knowledge to do something. This is why project-based learning is far more engaging as a teaching method and is highly effective for students not just in one class but across classes, levels and subjects.

How Project-based Learning prevails today

 Acknowledging the benefits of project-based learning, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provides funding to start holistic project-based learning-driven schools across the United States. The European Union has also providing funding for project-based learning projects within the Lifelong Learning Programme 2007–2013. 

Project-based learning is known to yield the best results when combined with 21st century tools/skills. This means a setting where students get to work on their project by using technology to investigate and analyze the subject at hand. The term IPBL (Interdisciplinary Project-Based Learning) has also been used to reflect a pedagogy that encourages an interdisciplinary approach.

That said, it’s important to note here that like with most things, execution is crucial when it comes to project-based learning. A common criticism is that some kids in a group can veer off the intended track and slack off leaving just a few focused ones to actually learn and grow. Raina says that this can be avoided by ensuring each student gets enough attention. “Be it our physical or online classes, the student teacher ratio is something we take seriously. In the former setting, it’s 4: 1 and in the latter, it’s 1: 1; which means there’s no room for any student to be neglected,” he shares, adding that YoungWonks also believes in self-paced learning which keeps the peer pressure at bay. 

Another teaching strategy that deserves a mention here is problem-based learning, as it has a similar pedagogic approach. However, this style of learning dwells more on students solving specific (usually open-ended) problems rather than having students come up with their own problems while working on a project. All in all, both styles are known to make the subject more interesting and thus aid long-term retention of material.

 

Sources: 
The Effectiveness of Project Based Learning in Trigonometry as examined in the paper, 'The influence of project-based learning on the student conception about kinematics and critical thinking skills'; authored by J Handhika, C Cari, W Sunarno, A Suparmi and E Kurniadi 

http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1742-6596/1013/1/012028/pdf

 

 

Shared below is an interview video throwing light on the same subject:

*Contributors: Written by Vidya Prabhu; Photo courtesy: Shutterstock

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