Eight switches to replace project-based studying within the 21st century –


8 switches to update project-based learning in the 21st century

by Thom Markham

Here are some simple calculations: 1.8 billion young people have to be trained for 21 yearsst Century life. And given that 21st Life in the century requires increasingly sophisticated professional skills, deep personal strengths such as curiosity, empathy and flexibility, as well as the ability to think and absorb content. It is better to have a good education.

What is “good” training? That debate is fading. Increasingly, there has been a consensus on teaching and learning systems that incorporate personalization, critical investigation, problem solving, design thinking, conceptual mastery and technical competence, and undated academic metrics. The conversation is mainly framed by references to project-based learning, which is emerging as a global alternative to traditional, teacher-centered classroom teaching.

It is important to understand that this is a global movement. From Finland to China to Peru and Canada to Dubai – and almost everywhere else – there are some variations on the PBL theme as educators in each country try to respond to the increasing agency for students and obvious signs of student dissatisfaction.

This provides an opportunity for educators to share PBL best practices and to contribute to a global, collaborative conversation about personalized learning, inquiries and the way educators keep an eye on students. PBL doesn’t solve all problems related to schooling, but the networked power of many educators will ultimately result in the right system to support 21st Century learn.

This possibility of helping to shape the outcome of PBL around the world – not to steer or direct, but to shape it – naturally also applies to American educators. But how much the US can contribute is doubtful. Exceptional pockets of innovation aside, a script-based, teacher-centered approach with a relentless focus on standards still marks too much PBL in the US

Let’s call it the NCLB hangover, but the end result is a watered-down PBL, often supported by coaches and counselors, that is not meant to change the equation between teaching and learning. This is not a model the US should be proud of exporting, nor one that other countries will import that have evolved or have never been obsessed with standards.

It is not time for US schools studying PBL to shift their focus. Rather than viewing PBL as a “strategy” for achieving accountability goals, educators should view PBL as the philosophical north star to guide us into the future and broaden the framework for PBL by adopting key principles that will become a global standard for PBL contribute. Indeed, it is time for the health of US education and other systems to step up and in these dangerous, chaotic times to define a future version of the research-driven PBL that needs to be implemented right now.

How can US PBL educators contribute to the global conversation? Here are eight ideas in broad order.

8 switches to update project-based learning in the 21st century

1. From formula to design

Solid PBL methodology is the foundation of good project design, but good PBL depends on a fluent, personalized, knowledgeable, and mindful approach from the teacher / facilitator working as part of a triad of the environment, students, and teacher needs and instructions.

This is far too complex to be reduced to a simple series of steps into a great graphic. PBL uses proven, tried and tested best practicesBut PBL and project design should be presented to teachers as a design challenge in and of themselves.

2. From silos to convergence: merging PBL, Design Thinking and Inquiry

Letting go of a formulaic approach to PBL is helpful to realizing its true potential as an investigative and Design process that leads to results other than those designated by the system. It is not enough to meet standards or, worse, to exceed standards. At its core, PBL is a creative learning experience that gives students parameters, guidance, and evaluative feedback as they build new knowledge, solve open problems, or practice innovation skills.

3. From standards to strengths

The above is not an argument for the elimination of standards. The overarching problem with the exclusive focus on standards, however, is that information and content in itself does not stimulate size, evoke deep personal strengths, or use the challenges and rewards of the experience inside. Today’s world, however, will challenge each of these 1.8 billion young people to find and use their internal reserves.

The answer is neither to give up the core knowledge nor to turn all education into an exploratory experience. However, it is up to adults to present a profound, meaningful challenge as often as possible at school. If PBL is well designed, it will achieve this goal. Each student should go through a number of meaningful projects during the year. anything else is a disservice.


4. From skills to people

When internal reserves are imperative to success, the five core strengths that virtually everyone on the planet agrees to – empathy, curiosity, flexibility, resilience, and persistence – must be purposely taught and assessed in school.

In PBL, these personal strengths can be made visible through challenge, reflection, discussion, awareness, and a variety of opportunities that good teachers know about. It is imperative to abandon the old model of social-emotional learning as opposed to academic learning. Strengths, skills and knowledge now work globally as one integrated package.

5. From either / or to both / and

PBL is neither student nor teacher centered so it is time to let go of this debate. It is a collaborative process in which responsibility shifts between the parties as they direct the problem-solving process, share useful facts and information, speculate about outcomes, and provide support into each other the skills and strengths of the new world. In school, as in life and work, it is now a world where transparent communication, respectful collaboration and redefinition of the boundary between teacher and learner are required.

6. From academics to social change

One of the main drivers of performance is the power of purpose. While college preparation still leads to focused learning, there is a feeling that a driving world needs more services from its teens who ask for this opportunity. PBL is by nature a service-oriented form of teaching. Many of the best project ideas revolve around significant social or environmental change.

PBL provides a powerful means of combining academic knowledge in the service of a community or cause. The combination of the two goals of intellectual competence and inspired engagement is a necessary task for the future – and can be decisive in harnessing the creative, purposeful power of today’s youth.

7. From ‘us’ to empathy

Make openness a key virtue

Without a world that can get along there will be no global education system, just a collection of fortresses with their own narrow vision of right and wrong. With this future looming, humility, respect, and empathy – the behaviors that define openness – become the foundation of great education, PBL, or otherwise.

But PBL, with its collaborative problem solving, teamwork and contact with the community, provides excellent opportunities to learn and practice the open minded attitude required in the diverse, research-based, constructivist, collaborative, distributed knowledge and individually empowered world of today.

8. From ‘Packaged PD’ to ‘Personalized PD’

After all, the skills of the successful PBL teacher cannot be mastered through conventional professional development.

PBL needs teachers who:

  1. can respond to student needs
  2. can respect the time and work restrictions
  3. will understand the balance between skills and content
  4. being able to coach the wanting and the unwilling through a deep learning experience
  5. know how to evaluate learners by both traditional and non-traditional standards
  6. have the ability and openness to coach teams and individuals at the same time
  7. React immediately to the inevitable failures when the project starts

And thats just the beginning.

The development of these broad skills cannot be achieved by “maintaining” traditional professional development from trainers. Instead, teachers need to get involved personalized exploration yourself, through professional learning networks, tailor-made online learning, deep collegiality with peers and loyalty to the old adage: “Know yourself”.

Thom Markham, CEO of PBL Global, provides world-class online training in PBL for teachers and schools. A public speaker, writer, psychologist, and internationally renowned research-based education advisor, Jan.st With his skills, project-based learning and innovation, Thom is the author of the bestseller Project-Based Learning Design and Coaching Manual: Expert Tools for Innovation and Research for K-12 Educators and Redefine Smart: Unleash the power of students to redefine their world, as well as the co-author of Project-based learning manual, published by the Buck Institute for Education.

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