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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

What's Wrong with Project Learning?

What's Wrong with Project Learning?

Related Tags: Project-Based Learning
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44 Replies 1936 Views
I'm not a teacher but, as a teaching/learning method, PBL seems like a no-brainer to me. Since it's not universally accepted and deployed, what are the downsides that I'm missing?

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Paul DeLong's picture

Hi Malaika, I've worked with Alice a bit here and there, and just completed an Ed Tech M.A. I can tell you there is good academic reference for PBL, but that most of it, just like inquiry learning, centers around science curriculum. A good problem, like a good teacher, is sometimes hard to quantify, because it's context specific. But here are a few references for you:

Goodnough, Karen (2006)Enhancing Pedagogical Content Knowledge through Self-Study: An Exploration of Problem-Based Learning. 11,3. Teaching in Higher Education.

Karen has data, but talks about how her teaching/classroom was transformed through the new paradigm.

Here is a more data based result for you. Strict study, direct results in student capacity observed:

Araz, G. and S. Sungur (2007). "The interplay between cognitive and motivational variables in a problem-based learning environment." Learning and Individual Differences 17(4): 291-297.

Samsonov, P., S. Pedersen, et al. (2006). "Using Problem-Based Learning Software with At-Risk Students: A Case Study." Computers in the Schools 23: 111.

This study is interesting because it deals with the special issues of at risk students, which qualify the use of PBL. The author makes suggestions on how to use PBL with at risk students.

The conclusion ends: "At-risk students may need greater guidance and support than not at-risk students to develop the skills necessary for effective collaboration within student-centered learning environments. Such support would require confronting the barriers to effective collaboration, such as those evidenced in this study, including the tendency by high achievers to avoid collaboration and the awkward interactions wherein students feel that collaboration amounts to being "taught" by their classmates. Open discussions of the issues involved in collaboration, modeling of effective tactics in a variety of situations, and reflection on effective collaborative experiences may help students acquire the values and skills necessary to support and be supported by their peers in student-centered learning environments."
(Samsanov, Pederson, et al., 2006)

Interestingly, in the "scientific" endeavor of PBL, with at risk students, anyway, it is the success of the human elements that determine successful outcome. "So say we all?"

Tristan de Frondeville's picture
Tristan de Frondeville
Project Learning Consultant for PBL Associates
Facilitator 2014

Thank you for your research suggestions.

I will read them and see if I can add any additional items to complement your articles.


Malaika Costello-Dougherty's picture
Malaika Costello-Dougherty
Former senior editor at Edutopia.

Wow! This group is great. Thanks so much for the suggestions. I'm also looking forward to Tristan's thoughts. I'll check back in soon. We are planning a package on project learning for 2010, so this is all helpful background.

A side note: do people call it project learning at all, or is it still referred to in the field as PBL?

Thanks so much!


Alice Mercer's picture
Alice Mercer
Elementary Computer Lab Teacher

Thank you Paul. You can see what an asset he is when you're writing a grant.

Chad Sansing's picture
Chad Sansing
Charter school humanities teacher for non-traditional middle grade learners
Facilitator 2014

Thanks for the great resources, Paul!

I'm in the midst of transitioning from a more compartmentalized class structure into a PBL one, and I constantly have to remind myself that any culture change takes time. Early discouragement -in general - is such an obstacle to innovation and change in education. It takes a lot of patience and forgiveness, especially of one's self as the planner of instruction, to get to the transformative results that PBL gives students - authentic, personally meaningful work created collaboratively inside school.

Deborah Hoffman's picture

I like that the study Paul cites was with at-risk students. Most people I know think of project learning as something that would be best with students in an AP class because it seems like it is more independent learning. Although I am not using PL right now I want to and I want see more classes in our school use it, too. To me it can become a way to individualize a program for students. I could be wrong on that???

I am a Special Education teacher at the HS level and to me PL would provide more opportunities for students to learn transition skills such as self-advocacy. I love the whole idea, too, because it is more likely to help students make learning a life long value. Are these some results people actually doing it see in the classroom?

Kristin Daniels's picture

Thank you so much for the information, especially papers/studies that have been written in support of PBL. It is a difficult change to make and the additional positive impact/results are often overlooked as we are used to measuring solely by the test. Ongoing discussion is one way to provide support/encouragement/resources for one another.

I would encourage everyone to join the PLN Ning created by Tom Whitby. There is a PLB group within this new Ning. I think it will be a great place to talk with other about PBL - http://edupln.ning.com/

Join the Ning and then join the PLB group!

See you there,

Kristin Daniels
TIES Education Technology Specialist
St. Paul, MN

Malaika Costello-Dougherty's picture
Malaika Costello-Dougherty
Former senior editor at Edutopia.

Can I ask something potentially a little sacrilegious? How do you keep up with the studies? As a lay-person, I have a hard time making sense of them at a glance. Are there any cheat sheets?

Terry Smith's picture
Terry Smith
Teacher Education Professor; Project-based classroom teacher

I find that the main thwarting factor to PBL is the pressure to "cover" content in preparation for high stakes testing, for avoiding the punishments of not meeting the dreaded AYP. The more assessments that are placed upon teacher instruction time, the more experimental time is squeezed out. If teachers could feel more relaxed, they might lean toward projects, and actually remember what it feels like to be enthusiastic for a change.

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