Teachers are typically familiar with project-based learning—it’s a popular classroom technique. But it’s less well-known among students, which is a shame. Because even if you’re studying on your own, there are ways to modify this approach to enhance your own understanding of subjects. It’s all about finding real-world connections, so let’s figure out how it works.
What is project-based learning?
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The answer to this question is complicated. All the teaching resources give long, complicated definitions, like so: “Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.”
That doesn’t really tell you what it is, so I will. Project-based learning, or PBL, is a student-centered approach that requires active investigation of real-world problems. It’s an example of “learning by doing,” but it’s not necessarily hands-on. You don’t have to create anything. Rather, you have to think about a real-world issue and how what you’re studying applies.
How can you incorporate project-based learning into your studies?
The easiest way to use PBL is by studying with a real-world problem in mind. For instance, if you’re studying the response to and fallout from the 2020 pandemic, you can focus on the real-world problems of economic downturn and vaccine hesitancy. How could the economic impact we experienced have been avoided—and how can it be avoided in the event of another pandemic? How can vaccine hesitancy be dealt with before the next big outbreak of a disease?
Writing these questions down and keeping them in mind as you study and look for solutions will help you stay engaged and focused. It’s similar to other reading techniques, like SQ3R and KWL, in that you’re looking for the answers to pre-defined questions as you go through your materials, but in this case, it’s more practical because there’s a realistic element you’re looking for. You want to see how what you’re learning connects to the real world.
Make sure your studying is organized around your driving question and issue and that the challenge is one that will require in-depth inquiry to tackle. When you’re done studying, after keeping the real-world problem in mind, write a summary of what you found that could help combat it with real-life application. This is usually done in classroom settings over a long period of time, but by modifying it in your own studies, you can more easily make connections with actual issues and implementations, helping you better understand and retain what you’re going over.