Beyond PBL, Part 1, The Next Step: Allowing Genius | Thom Markham | 6 Min Read

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…

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Thom Markham

Thom Markham is an educator, regenerative psychologist, and global entrepreneur. Thom pioneered the worldwide buildout of project-based learning and human development programs for youth and is the author of Redefining Smart: Awakening Students’ Power to Reimagine Their World. Currently, his work is focused on turning schools green through deep sustainability. He shares his ideas in Rx for the Planet, with Dr. Thom, a newsletter designed to prod human thinking beyond convention and assumption.