October 11, 2023
In my 2009 Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide, I speculated about the longevity of Project Based Learning. I titled my introductory paragraph ‘PBL: A Bridge Just Far Enough.’
By that, I meant that PBL was not the final iteration of great teaching and learning. As the world around schools changed, I saw PBL evolving until the label faded. At that point, the student-friendly process of challenge, inquiry, design, solution, and presentation—the essential elements of high-quality projects—would be commonplace. I imagined that one day a young child would announce to her parents at the dinner table that “Today, we did something really weird at school. It was called a lecture.”
It’s clear PBL has not reached the exalted state I predicted. Call me naïve; I plead guilty. However, unexpectedly, the prophecy came true. The original vision of transformation associated with project-based learning has disappeared in many schools, watered down with ‘projects’ designed to entice students into engaging in a standardized curriculum with little authentic meaning beyond testing and admissions.
The reason behind the disappearance is no mystery. High-quality ‘real’ PBL succumbed to environmental conditions unfavorable to creativity, experimentation, deep reflection, extended collaboration, and meaningful…