• Jeffrey Hinton

An Introduction to Project-Based Learning Part 1

Updated: Jul 12


This blog is part one of a two blog series about why Project-Based learning should be used to prepare students for the modern knowledge economy #AHandbookForTeachersd


"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." ~Benjamin Franklin.


Project-based learning, or PBL, is a teaching method that has been around for over half a century. It was introduced in the 1960s to train medical professionals to apply theory to clinical practice and has since found its way into many classrooms, from pre-kindergarten to graduate school across the world. However, even though PBL is a time-tested teaching method, many educators have only a tenuous grasp of its fundamentals, and many more are unsure of what PBL is and how to teach using the approach. PBL is defined as student-centered pedagogy in which the student actively engages in their learning through participation in an extended project that requires them to solve a real-world problem or address a complex issue through an inquiry process. Students then share the results of their research in a public presentation to community stakeholders.


Big Idea-PBL is often confused with traditional school projects. Projects are typically done after a unit of study as a form of enrichment that requires the student to create a product that deepens their understanding of a concept, idea, or point of interest that they learned about during a unit of instruction. For example, after a lesson on the Civil War, a student might learn more about “ironclads,” or wooden ships with iron plating fastened to them, by conducting research and building a diorama about the famous ironclad battle between the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S Virginia. The project is a fantastic way for students to take a deep dive and learn more about a topic that piqued their interest but is done in addition to, not instead of, the formal curriculum. In PBL, however, students learn the required standards by conducting an investigation that attempts to answer a driving question through hands-on learning activities. In other words, in PBL, students learn the required standards through student-centered learning activities that frame the curriculum and instruction, not teacher-centered approaches such as direct instruction.


PBL is a powerful teaching strategy because, in the PBL classroom, students engage in authentic learning tasks that help them develop aptitudes beyond the content standards. This is important because today’s students need to know much more than mere facts. While foundational academic knowledge is essential, most things required to be memorized in school can be easily looked up on smart devices anytime and anywhere, in or outside of the classroom. To be competitive, students must possess the skills necessary for success in the modern technology-rich economy, such as solving problems, communicating effectively with people of diverse cultures, and being literate in various mediums beyond reading and writing, such as information literacy, media literacy, and technological literacy. These skills are collectively known as 21st-century skills. 21st-century skills can be defined as the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that students will need for success in the modern world of college, careers, and public/personal life in a technology-rich world. Some examples of 21st-century skills include:

· Critical thinking

· Problem-solving

· Creativity

· Collaboration

· Communication

· Information literacy

· Media literacy

· Technology literacy

· Flexibility

· Leadership

· Initiative

· Productivity

· Social skills


These skills are critical because the way we live and work today and into the future is much different from the world in which public schools were created and, in many ways, still operate.


Today, we must prepare our students to meet the challenges of a new era of technological and economic advancement, the 4th Industrial Revolution, or as it is sometimes referred to, 4IR, or Industry 4.0. The 4th Industrial Revolution can be characterized as the development of disruptive technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), cloud computing, cyber security, and cyber-physical systems that span digital, physical, and biological domains (Philbeck & Davis, 2018). The transformation of social, economic, and political systems due to the 4th Industrial Revolution is staggering and continues to impact the world that today’s students will inhabit profoundly. For example, it is estimated that by 2030, 85% of the most in-demand jobs don’t even exist yet (Bourne, 2018). According to Monster.com, one of the world’s leading global employment websites, future jobs may include titles like chief productivity officer, drone manager, private industry air traffic controller, self-driving car mechanic, autonomous transportation specialist, and human-technology integration specialist, to name a few. Four significant technological developments drive the 4th Industrial Revolution: high-speed mobile internet, AI and automation, big data analytics, and cloud technology. Of these four areas, it is predicted that AI and automation will have the most significant impact on the future of work.


According to the report Jobs Lost and Jobs Gained, approximately one-fifth of the global workforce will be affected by AI. Researchers estimate that robots will replace 800 million workers worldwide. To offset this massive labor disruption and to maintain full employment across the globe, researchers predict that 75 million to 375 million workers will need to switch occupations as old jobs go away and new ones are created. The United States is not impervious to the changes in the world economy. Research suggests that 90% of US counties will experience displacement of workers between 22 and 33 percent, especially in low-growth and rural areas. As the workplace continues to evolve, it will become increasingly important for workers to develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions that will prevent them from being replaced by robots or at the least, adapt to workplaces where they will work alongside AI and robots. According to a study by Dell Technologies, “More than eight in ten (82 percent) of business leaders expect humans and machines will work as integrated teams within their organization inside of five years” (Bourne, 2018).


Robots and AI are excellent convergent thinkers. Convergent thinking is a term coined by psychologist L.P. Guilford and means the ability to calculate one well-defined correct solution to a particular question or problem. Because of the incredible processing power of today’s machines, robots and AI can do this much better than humans can. Robots have a significant weakness; however, they are not good divergent thinkers. Divergent thinking means finding multiple creative solutions to a particular question or problem. According to Michael Osborne, Associate Professor in machine learning at the University of Oxford, “Creativity is arguably the most difficult human faculty to automate: robots are unlikely to be fully creative any time soon.” Unfortunately, in our current system of education, dominated by high stakes standardized testing, emphasis is placed on teaching students the correct answer instead of providing them opportunities to exercise creativity. In addition to not being creative, robots do not possess social and emotional skills or the ability to transfer knowledge of a concept to new and novel situations, and they lack high-level cognitive abilities (Manyika et al., 2022). In other words, for today’s students to be competitive in a world dominated by AI and robots, they will need to develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that make them uniquely human and able to thrive in careers that, in the words of the author Joseph Aoun are robot-proof. An excellent way to teach students these skills is through project-based learning.



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