PROJECT MANAGEMENT FOR LEARNING
The best Project-Based Learning uses project management methods to help students build skills and knowledge in a variety of subjects through exploration and practice. It is somewhat different from formal project management training, which is designed to train individuals in the specific professional skills of a project manager. Because stakeholders including the employer community and educators at all levels will need to understand PBL in order to move toward implementing it in the classroom, this document gives a brief overview of PBL itself and how it should draw on the project management skills that professionals use daily.
WHAT IS PROJECT-BASED LEARNING?
At its core, PBL is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge using project management techniques. They do this by engaging with designed “learning projects,” sequences of learning experiences that give students lots of opportunities to practice and improve all of their skills, while engaging in meaningful, real-world work that addresses compelling questions and problems.
PBL has proved to be an excellent approach to help students to build the learning and innovation, digital literacy, and career and life skills that are increasingly recognized as essential to work and live today. For example, research in recent years across several academic subjects has shown that PBL is a highly effective method to help students learn content, process, presentation, and problem-solving skills. In a Stanford University review of the accumulated research on learning methods used in projects, PBL has been shown to help students:
Learn more deeply when they apply their knowledge to real-world problems.
Participate and contribute in tasks that require sustained engagement and collaboration.
Achieve higher levels of academic performance and personal development, regardless of the student’s background or prior academic record.
Become more successful by learning how to learn as well as what to learn.
The benefits of PBL apply as much to the “4C’s” – Critical thinking, Collaborating, Communicating and Creative problem solving – as to the technical mastery, life and career skills, and core subjects that are also part of state standards like the Common Core and P21’s “21st Century Learning Framework.” Perhaps most importantly, project management is a universal business skill that is practiced in all industries and a skill set that is in high demand by employers.
WHAT IS PROJECT MANAGEMENT?
PMIEF defines project management as “applying knowledge, skills, and resources to accomplish activities that are intended to achieve a specific goal. It includes a set of usual practices and tools, but it is often as much an art as a science, because each project is different and every project is dynamic.” Trained project managers are able to approach a project systematically by breaking it down into different stages and steps, and guide it through its life cycle to successful completion.
To achieve that successful outcome, the project management approach is geared to ensure that the resources, schedule, cost, and worksteps are planned appropriately for the specified project and that all of the work for that project is completed according to those expectations and at a high quality. This includes identifying and managing potential risks and communicating progress to supervisors, project participants, and other stakeholders.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT IS A CRUCIAL COMPONENT OF EFFECTIVE PBL
The best Project-Based Learning gives students the opportunity to build and explore project management skills. Nevertheless, many of the projects used in classrooms, even if called “PBL,” do not allow students to truly utilize project management (for example, projects where the teacher directs the experience and makes most of the decisions). Effective Learning projects and PBL curricula should integrate opportunities for learning and practicing project management skills.
The Project Management Institute Educational Foundation (PMIEF) defines a well-designed, effective learning project as one that has the following features:
Project outcomes are tied to curriculum and learning goals.
Driving challenges that lead students to the central concepts or principles of the topic or subject area.
Student investigations and research involve inquiry, problem-solving, and knowledge building.
Students are responsible for designing and managing much of their own learning.
Projects are based on authentic, real-world problems and questions that students care about.
To these should also be added that the learning project be designed to help students build 21st Century competencies, that students receive feedback at each stage on the quality of their work, and that students publicly share their knowledge through a product and/or a presentation. Additionally, learning projects can be designed with a clearly defined outcome, or more open-ended with students exploring and “discovering” the desired results.
The separate resource document “Project-Based Learning in Action” includes brief summaries of several well-designed example learning projects.
GOLD STANDARD PBL
The Buck Institute for Education has worked with others to develop “Gold Standard Project-Based Learning,” a framework and guide for excellent classroom practice and deep student learning. The two diagrams below summarize this model from both the project design and the teaching practices perspectives, placing student learning goals at the center of each one. Understanding and maintaining these goals and standards will be key to ensuring that learning projects are high-quality and effective.