Is Project-Based Learning Actually Effective?

In a morning journey that begun with this small article that asked: “Do the Most Innovative Schools Actually Prepare Students for the Real World?” I ended up looking a few articles discussing Project-Based Learning.

One of the major criticisms, or barriers to the approach – according to this (US context) article – appears to be where it is sandwiched in a learners’ educational journey:

graduates end up in large, public institutions in which they sit in massive lecture halls with several hundred other students as a professor talks from the front of the room…students find themselves overwhelmed by the different environment at college and have a difficult time making the transition to lecture-hall learning.

There is also a feeling that PBL doesn’t offer the full breadth of the curriculum:

Critics of project-based learning say the model doesn’t provide a rigorous enough education or a breadth of knowledge. While students tend to delve deeply into a single topic, many others subjects are not addressed.

It seems that this is a question of values – do we value content more that skills and competencies? Does PBL offer more opportunity to explore the skills and competencies that are relevant in today’s workforce than the content that might help them there?

My personal feelings on PBL is that is works best in a blended model of learning. PBL shouldn’t be the dominate form of instruction, but it should be part of the journey because of the hugely valuable learning opportunities it encourages. It is “contextual, creative, and shared” and it makes the learning meaningful.

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