What Can the Corporate World Learn from PBL?

Project Based Learning (PBL) is an education trend wherein teachers devise interactive student projects that incorporate curriculum components from the common core and encourage students to take charge of their own learning, understanding the practical applications of the topics they cover. PBL is cross-curricular: a single project can include many subject areas, skill sets, and technologies (much like real life). For example, in a project on organic farming, students might learn about the different ways of farming cotton, investigate the prices of each type of cotton in a number of countries, source suppliers to manufacture this cotton into t-shirts, design artwork for the t-shirts, and finally develop a business plan to market and sell the t-shirts. In this one project, they’d be learning about biology, economics, geography, graphic design, and writing. This new approach to teaching has got students more engaged because they can learn at their own pace and express themselves through the work they’re doing.

Listening to a panel of PBL bloggers talk about their process at ISTE, it occurred to me that this approach to learning could be easily applied to the corporate training world. The projects have already been devised – they’re the tasks that we’re currently doing. All it takes to adopt PBL at work is a change of perspective. Rather than looking for projects to promote established learning goals, trainers can look for learning opportunities in existing projects. By earmarking specific projects as PBL at work, learners would be given more time to complete the task, exploring different approaches in order to determine the way that works best for them. Learners would work collaboratively to solve problems, learn from each other, and document outcomes.

It sounds simple, but it’s so fundamentally different from most corporations’ approach to learning. Talent development is often time taken out of the office, talking about made up problems and hypothetical situations. But what if we set aside time in the office to approach our tasks in a different way, valuing critical thinking and deeper learning over quick turnaround and high output? Not every project can be approached this way, but certainly a few learning opportunities can be identified every quarter, with a Friday every other week set aside for self-improvement and learning pursuits.

In the education sector, teachers are continuously re-evaluating the most appropriate tools to take on a specific task. I would encourage corporations to also adopt this challenge for your Friday PBL days. Designing a PowerPoint presentation? Try Prezi. Editing a photo in Paint? Try Pixlr. Whatever tool you’re using, there are other options out there that you haven’t even considered.

PBL works because it’s learner-focused and intrinsically motivated, so challenge yourself and your staff to take some time out to pursue your own interests. It will probably save you time and training dollars in the long run.


Author: Kate Salmon

Communications specialist and general word nerd from Toronto, Ontario. Upon learning that I could still get a degree in rhetoric in the 21st century, I went to the University of Waterloo to do precisely that. Now I'm continuing my learning journey at Learnography, a non-profit education consulting organization that really practices its principles of continuous development. With a great team of former educators who are dedicated to creating transformative learning experiences, we are changing the face of corporate training.

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