From PBL to PBD: Next Steps for Project Based Learning
March 10, 2018
Project Based Learning (PBL) has reached escape velocity. The small movement that began in the U.S. twenty years ago is rapidly becoming the teaching method of choice (and the hot topic of discussion) in virtually every country.
There is a simple reason for the ascendance: In an information-driven world that values an individual’s ability to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and a problem-solving skillset, nothing else works. The ‘doing’ is now the ‘knowing’, and seat time and certificates are fading as a good metric for competency. High-quality PBL, with its active, skill-oriented, problem-focused, and inquiry-based approach, is the answer to the challenge of the day.
But the world isn’t standing still. Two very large trends are becoming visible. First, globalization isn’t happening, it has happened. We’ve reached the point of culminating disruptions and instability in our political, social, environmental, and financial lives. The visible chaos will drive youth toward social entrepreneurship. In the next decade, expect a global youthquake—also known as a rebellion.
Second, events are pushing all of us, youth and adults, to develop deeper personal skills—in the form of empathy, curiosity, persistence, resiliency, and other attributes—critical to navigating the global environment. That’s why social-emotional learning has become as visible as PBL. While SEL needs to be built out into a more powerful strengths-based vision, including more SEL in classrooms is an overdue start on helping every young person develop the emotional capacity necessary for maintaining balance in an unbalanced world.
As a philosophy of inquiry, PBL offers a great framework for meeting these challenges. But the current version of PBL, as practiced in most schools, hasn’t shaken the legacy of the industrial mindset, in which the goal is to meet standards and master content. In the future, knowledge will matter, as it always has, but personal attributes and commitment to social entrepreneurship will matter equally and need to be the foundation for projects. In fact, the 2.0 version of PBL begins to resemble less a method for ‘learning’ than a system of team-based design, exploration, and problem solving—something we might characterize eventually as Project Based Design, or ‘PBD.’
How do we get to PBD? It starts by imagining a future PBL better suited to the issues of the future, and then being willing to follow the general world trend of rethinking best practices. Some possible steps:
PBL was poorly named from the beginning, causing educators to confuse a method of instruction by teachers with the deeper promise and purpose of PBL: To help students experience personal and intellectual growth as they move through a process of problem solving. Mastery, purpose, and autonomy have been identified as the key factors in human performance. PBL is a perfect system for making these critical elements the foundation for learning. The next step? Always begin project work with an authentic challenge tied to purposeful engagement, not the material to be covered.