Monday, September 21, 2009

What is Project Based Learning?

In my last post I set out on a quest to dissect Project Based Learning in the corporate world by starting some conversations and writing some blog posts. I believe that project based learning is ideally suited for adults in corporate training but sadly there is not much information available. I am hoping to shed light on some best practices that will improve the effectiveness of my project based lessons and hopefully help other instructional designers out there looking to get started with project based learning in a corporate organization. Part of the reason why there is not much information available may be that many instructional designers are creating project based lessons but they haven't put any label on it. I know I was already doing it but until I took a recent instructional design class, I did not realize there was an actual name for it. For this reason I'll start out my series of posts by covering what project based learning is and why there should be more of a focus placed on it in the corporate world.

So, what is project based learning? The textbook definition provided by the Buck Institute for Education in the "Project Based Learning Handbook" described standards focused project based learning with the quote below:
A systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks.
In my opinion it's a flexible term that boils down to scaffolding a lesson so that learners construct their own solutions rather than being told what the solution is through formal instruction. In project based learning students use a variety of resources such as the internet and books or even better, resources used to perform their jobs such as company intranets, software, job aids, manuals, and wikis to construct their own solutions to the problem they are being asked to solve. Project based learning helps learners to gain a deeper understanding of the instructional objectives by engaging them in an interactive lesson requiring them to perform the objectives in a safe environment.

Project based learning's focus on the learner constructing their own solutions using available resources is what makes it so ideal for the corporate world. In the workplace, employees don't have their training facilitator there to give a lecture any time they come across a problem they don't know how to solve so it is important that employees are trained to use available resources to solve the problem on their own. Project based learning achieves what a lecture cannot by providing the opportunity for the learner to practice using the necessary resources so that when they do come across a problem they are prepared to solve it on their own.

By now, I am sure you are well aware of what project based learning is so let's take a look at an example. Hopefully sharing my example will inspire readers to describe or post a link to their examples as a comment to this post. For my recent instructional design class I designed a project based lesson called "Selling Sleep Disorder Relief" which required participants to research a sleep disorder then create a presentation of how to make a sales presentation to a customer with the sleep disorder. By designing a project based lesson for this topic participants were not only better able to retain the information but they were also required to practice applying this information in a realistic "fail safe" situation. Hopefully this example will help others understand what project based learning is and hopefully spur some ideas or best practices for using it in the corporate world. Do you have any examples or insight you are willing to share? I am by no means an expert and would love to hear what others have to say about project based learning in the corporate world. Please continue the conversation by posting a comment with examples or just your thoughts on project based learning.

  • Buck Institute for Education. (2003) Project Based Learning: A guide to standards focused project based learning. Novato, CA: Buck Institute for Education.
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Michele Martin said...

Joe, I agree 100% that project-based learning is a great corporate learning strategy. What I've typically done is try to find a current work project or activity that is going on that I can then use to teach my learning objectives. I've also worked with managers to identify some "wish list" kind of project that they would love to get to, but haven't had time for that might be used as the structure for delivering the training.

I set up the basic structure, but engage the learners in defining how we will evaluate their projects, which becomes a good way to introduce a lot of key concepts and topics. Then as they do their projects, I basically act as a resource guide and connector. I will point out what another team or individual might be working on and make suggestions about how they could connect. I'll help them find the information and resources they need, etc.

My goal is that 1) people will learn the content and 2) they will have been able to put together a practical, work-related project that demonstrates their skills. In many cases they've actually gone back to work and implemented the projects they designed in my classes, which has been incredibly gratifying.

Great post and a great topic!

Joe Deegan said...

Thanks Michelle. Great example! It's great if you can tie it in to a current work project. It makes it easier to point to an ROI for the training when the learners actually completed a project while they were in the training. The goal of the training may have been to teach them how to complete the project but if they can also get it done then that is icing on the cake.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koutou e Michele!
Kia ora e Joe!

Project based learning is not just a 'corporate learning strategy', of course. It is an approach widely used in schools at all levels.

One of the reasons for its success is to do with the way it tends to engage learners in learning through participation. But more than that, it has the opportunity to prove relevant learning scenarios that also interest the potential participant.

This combination, or 'carrot' if you like, is the secret of successful learning engagement.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

Abdul said...

That's very informative .I'm very impressed upon your efforts.Thank you for sharing this valuable thing.

quranotafseer said...

great job keep on brother