What are the shortcomings of project based learning?

I was searching around on Quora as I do for interesting ideas and conversations. One concept I never searched was PBL. So I did and I came across this thread: What are the shortcomings of project based learning?

As our school has moved to this model I gave this question some great thought because I think it is a good question to reflect upon and work to overcome those shortcomings the best we can.

One of the contributors to this question suggested the following four shortcomings

  • Teachers have to be taught to use the method.
  • Time and resource scarcity.  Project based learning requires more classroom time to present (often).
  • Challenge and/or difficulty of assessment.  What skills to assess?  How to assess them?  How to be fair and just on more subjective projects?
  • Its possible to water down PBL to be just “fun” without learning

These four items are spot on. I wanted to expand my thought on this topic a bit. In the Quora discussion I shared the following:

 I agree with a lot of what is shared here. As our middle school has transformed our teaching the PBL model we are working very hard to help shift the thought in learning for students, parents, and the community. PBL looks much different than how we all learned. However, the best learning memories are from programs after school that had elements of PBL so the question becomes why is it so hard to deliver in the classroom? It takes time to develop the culture and the mindset to make it happen. Many students have been trained for that one right answer and to follow a formula for success. PBL is open ended and the journey to an answer is where the learning takes place.

Over the course of this year we have to take time to celebrate all progress no matter how small it might seem. It does take time, effort, and special attention to help teachers move to this system if they are not used to it. The hardest part is helping them realize that their prior ways are not wrong, but can be tweaked to develop deeper learning opportunities.

PBL does take a lot of time. The projects are time consuming to launch, implement, and wrap up. Creating and developing that authentic audience is essential. However, I don’t believe that you have to have every student present to the class. That gets old real quick for everyone. Give them a real audience like the community during an exhibition night, invite professionals, have them present to a panel, etc. Move away from just the class.

The hardest element is assessment because the learning is invisible. What I mean by that is the learning takes place during the journey. A student could end up with an ugly looking project, but that does not mean he/she did not gain extensive knowledge about the topic and themselves. We have to be careful when assessing to make sure we are looking at everything to ensure the grade does reflect the learning.

Finally, I think you avoid the projects just being fun when you do project tunings and do the project yourself before you launch the project. We have students on our project tuning groups to give teachers feedback before they launch the project. It is important to critique and offer feedback prior to the project so that you make sure a crappy project does not happen.

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