How Project Based Learning Boosts Personalization

A growing chorus of employers is voicing frustration about job applicants who are technically proficient, with touted high grades and test scores but lacking in key skills such as communication, decision-making, and problem-solving that are necessary to successfully do the jobs they have applied for.  To better prepare students for professions in the 21st century, educators are increasingly combining project-based learning and personalized learning.

Project-Based Learning (PBL) blends content mastery, meaningful work, and personal connection to create powerful learning experiences, in terms of both academic achievement and students’ personal growth. PBL can be transformative for students, especially those who lack access to school-time educational opportunities such as workplace internships.  

Project-Based Learning allows students to actively participate in activities that have real-world relevance and application. For example, students can solve problems that are important to them and their communities. At its best, PBL leads to deeper understanding and greater retention of content knowledge, with students better able to apply what they know to new situations thanks to a personal connection to their academic experience.

Let’s look deeper to see how project-based learning integrates technology and personalized student learning.

What is Project-Based Learning?

Project-Based Laerning PBL encourages students to investigate and respond to a complex topic, problem, or challenge.

With its ability to support students of different abilities, it is gaining popularity in schools and other educational settings. Problems can be provided based on a learner’s knowledge, making the experience unique for each student.

What are the benefits of PBL?

Project-based learning can be a catalyst for transforming learning, helping students move from asking “what?” to also asking “why?” and “how?”

In a traditional classroom, students often focus on memorizing facts to pass a test. However, research has shown that by organizing learning around meaningful goals, PBL can be an effective way to cultivate a “need to know” attitude in students—students are motivated to deepen their understanding in order to solve a problem that is meaningful to them.

Concepts are better understood when students see a need for their use, make an authentic connection with them because that need encourages them to apply what they’re learning to relevant situations, leading to a better sense of understanding. Researchers have also observed higher rates of students staying on task and paying close attention to the teacher and their peers.

Understanding the limits of Project-Based Learning

However, there are key characteristics that differentiate “doing a project” from engaging in Project-Based Learning.

However, without the correct tools, PBL can be just a buzzword. Active citizens and a fast changing workforce demand more than simply technology, personalization, and coding. Quality curriculum and instructional design are still the keys to PBL’s long-term influence on students.

A vivid example of these limitations is provided in the following passage from a 2017 Edutopia article:

“As students learn to read, it is critical that they build a strong and wide foundation of knowledge. Background knowledge plays an important role in a learner’s ability to acquire and absorb information from what they read. Thus, customizing learning through technology works best when combined with focused, coherent, and rigorous training.… Yes, tapping into and developing children’s interests and instilling in them a sense of ownership of their education is important. Yet allowing them the unbridled choice of what they learn, especially when they are young, means that in certain cases they will miss building that foundation… If students don’t have a working familiarity with a body of knowledge, a new passage on the topic—no matter how elementary it may seem and no matter how strong the reader’s fundamental decoding skills—will frustrate… Without at least a working familiarity with a topic, Google—where you have to generate the right question to ask—will only take you so far in the moment. That is because, as cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham wrote, “Every passage that you read omits information. All of this omitted information must be brought to the text by the reader.”

This passage is an important reminder that how educators incorporate PBL and Technology into their curriculum, will really define the success of their efforts and the long-term impact it has on students.

How does BSD use Project-Based Learning?

PBL’s greatest strength is its ability to engage students in virtually any learning situation. For example, PBL is the core of all BSD in-school and out-of-school time (OST) curriculum. Our approach has continuously proven to be the most effective strategy for igniting & sustaining engagement in the vast majority of students we work with, regardless of prior tech background or interest level.

PBL allows us to alter students’ thinking from ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ to ‘what problems do you want to solve when you grow up?’

Project-based learning allows students to see how abstract concepts and lessons can be used in the workplace. This offers students the chance to experience education through the eyes of artists, entrepreneurs, tech professionals, and more.

Contextualized professional alternatives stimulate students to learn more in a subject, transforming education from a task to an opportunity.

about Eva
Eva is the Director of Education at BSD. She previously worked for a womens magazine but decided to blend her passion of Media and Education. She provides engaging opportunities for students to learn through authentic curricular experiences.
Eva found her calling in Education when she left her job at a Canadian women's magazine in 2012 to join the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme to teach English at an agricultural high school in rural Japan. Blending her passion in Media Studies and Education, she later returned to Hong Kong to pursue a Master of Education at the University of Hong Kong followed by a PGCE with the University of Sunderland.

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