A Guide To Implementing Project-Based Learning in Higher Education
In the 1960s, a new wave of inquiry into the nature of learning and instruction emerged as a response to changing conceptions of students as workers and learners. In this context, project-based learning (PBL or PBJL) came about as a way to focus on developing skills for real-world contexts instead of the traditional approach, which focused on memorising facts and figures.
Today, the PBL approach is popular in primary and high schools around Australia and the world—but it’s also gaining serious momentum in the higher education sphere.
The benefits of PBL in higher education are limitless. This article will walk through all the questions you might have about the pedagogy and how to implement it within your institution or classroom.
We’ll start with a brief definition. Then we’ll dive into the detail.
What is project-based learning?
PBL is a student-centred pedagogy that promotes self-directed research and discovery, stemming from the broader concepts of experiential learning and inquiry-based learning. Students engage with meaningful tasks that connect to their everyday lives and real-world contexts.
The instructor guides PBL projects, but students and their peers take the reigns. Topics normally revolve around the students’ unique interests, skills, and future job prospects.
A typical project might introduce concepts or skills, provide opportunities for authentic assessment, encourage creativity, or provide an opportunity for collaborative problem-solving. Whichever path you take, PBL has one common goal—to inspire and engage.
Essentially, PBL is an immersive experience, giving students a chance to apply their knowledge and skills in a meaningful way. It also helps develop key skills, including:
- Creative thinking
- Interpersonal skills
- Workplace etiquette
- Learning agility
Want to reduce student costs by 90%? Download the ‘Quality in Online Project-Based Learning’ white paper to see how top institutions are doing it.
Here’s a quick example. Students studying architecture could collaboratively research, analyse, and report upon a sustainability issue in their local area, highlighting areas for change or improvement and expressing their problem-solving skills. They might then present their findings and ideas to the local council.
It’s important here to distinguish between project-based learning and traditional class projects. Unlike the traditional approach, which usually has distinct steps, PBJL learning is flexible and focuses on varied experiences. Learning stems from a central driving question, branches in many directions, and ends with deep reflection and evaluation.
Why should universities offer project-based learning?
As we discussed above, PBL is all about engaging students with the content at hand, highlighting how knowledge is created, shared, and used in the real world.
Today’s modern universities use PBL as a tool for discovery and experimentation, helping students find their strengths. Remember—an interested student is an engaged student!
In this way, students can make a more informed choice about their learning path and become more engaged with graduate-level course content, leading to better graduate career outcomes.
How can project-based learning benefit universities?
Project-based learning courses benefit universities in many ways. Let’s discuss just a few key advantages.
By implementing the PBL pedagogy, your institution will enjoy:
- The opportunity to enhance the curriculum with real-life experience, preparing students to enter the world after graduation,
- Improved retention rates and student engagement,
- Better employment outcomes,
- Enhanced professional higher education,
- Improved reputation,
- Stronger relationships with industry, government, and community partners,
- A leading-edge over competitors,
- A unique selling point, leading to a boost in enrolments.
Student benefits: confidence, critical thinking skills and more
As we discussed above, project-based learning is a student-centred pedagogy. It emphasises solving problems, intelligent inquiry, and collaboration, often outside the traditional classroom environment.
Regardless of the chosen project, PBL has common benefits for students across disciplines. Along with gaining a deeper interest in and understanding course content, students will develop critical thinking, analytical reasoning, teamwork skills, and creativity. They’ll also build confidence by taking control of their learning and guiding their unique path through the project.
For example, a recent study found that PBL increases STEM learning through advanced feedback, discussion, and self-assessment.
What courses are best suited to project-based learning?
Project-based learning is applicable across all kinds of courses and disciplines, although it may be easier to apply in some more so than others.
Here are a few problem-based learning and project-based learning examples, focusing on different courses.
History: research, design, create, and present a historically accurate museum display of an event or place,
- Law: representing a defendant in a mock trial, presenting an argument to the jury,
- Humanities: researching a pressing social issue and running a fundraiser to raise money for a related charity,
- Arts: planning and putting on a gallery display of student artwork,
- Science: visiting a research laboratory and assisting with an ongoing project.
- IT: designing a new program or app as part of a virtual internship with a local company.
- Engineering: enhancing engineering education through fieldwork and on-site projects.
How can higher education institutions offer their students project-based learning?
While the traditional, lecture-based model of teaching has its merits, there are also some shortcomings. Many students cram knowledge for tests and assignments, but without applying their new skills in real-world scenarios, they can quickly forget what they’ve learned.
As an alternative teaching style, PBHL allows students to apply their learned material in real-life scenarios and experience the fruits of their labour.
So, how can post-secondary education institutions offer this unique and highly beneficial experience to students?
It starts with staff. You’ll need a strong, dedicated, and supportive team ready to apply this new pedagogy actively. Thankfully, PBL education is just as beneficial for teachers as for students—so it shouldn’t take much convincing!
Educators, institutions, and students will also benefit enormously from using a specially-designed experiential learning platform like Practera’s. This software allows universities to deliver project and problem-based learning with ease, streamlining the entire experience from planning to delivery, feedback and reflection.
It also helps to look at examples of problem-based learning activities—this can give you a headstart when brainstorming ideas for your classroom or institution.
The benefits of using Practera for your project-based learning programs
Practera’s innovative platform provides a broad range of benefits for teachers and learning institutions hoping to implement the PJBL pedagogy.
Let’s dive into a few of the platform’s unique benefits, focusing on how you could benefit as a higher education teacher or institution.
The Practera learning platform allows educators to monitor each student’s performance in real-time. Using the system’s ‘Pulse Check’ feature, teachers can learn more about their students’ feelings about a project, monitoring their insights and reflections.
You’ll receive an instant notification if a student feels off-track, allowing you to easily manage participation and help your students learn and stay engaged.
Quality feedback to enhance learning outcomes
Through Practera’s learning platform, educators can monitor, analyse, and provide feedback on student work at a glance. It’s all easily accessible through one powerful program.
Not only can teachers provide feedback, but peers and industry members can, too—giving students a deeper understanding of their performance and skyrocketing learning outcomes.
Simple to use
Practera’s experiential learning platform makes it simple to launch and manage experiential learning programs for students.
The platform gives you access to templates which follow best practices and empowers educators to create custom authoring and library tools that will deliver your vision across multiple types of experiential learning.
30-day free trial
Receive an exclusive 1:1 onboarding for your 30-day free trial with one of our experts and learn how to author, manage and launch amazing experiential learning programs with one easy-to-use platform.
No commitment or credit card needed to get started with your trial.
Easily assess educational outcomes
The platform also features a real-time analytics dashboard, through which educators can assess educational outcomes with ease. The dashboard provides a 360-degree view of the student learning journey, including submissions, reviews, and intelligent insights. It’s a fantastic way to stop small issues from becoming big ones while reducing risk.
Advanced technology enhances user experience
Practera’s platform uses smart AI-based, advanced to personalise and enhance the user experience for teachers, students, learning institutions, and employers. These unique enhancements include:
- An AI-powered assistant—the first designed with experiential learning in mind,
- Chat-based collaboration features, allowing users across your higher education institution to stay connected, set reminders, and support each other,
- Customised experiences, allowing you to tailor the program to meet your unique needs—down to the smallest detail,
- Smart templates for a streamlined delivery.
Find out more today
To learn more about Practera’s platform and our managed services and how it can help you deliver better learning outcomes, get in touch with our team today. We’re here to help with any questions you may have.
You can also download our PBL whitepaper here to learn more about the project-based learning approach and its benefits for higher education institutions and students.