Projects Change Goals and Roles

By Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman


Project-based learning

Hiring companies tell us they want to hire designers who have worked through the entire lifecycle of a project. They want to hire folks who have experience developing, designing, building, and deploying projects. This desire—this need—has us asking questions like:

“What if education focused on experiential learning?”

“What if students learned by working on projects from concept to completion?”

We’ve come to realize that project-based learning causes both the goals of education and the roles within education to change.

Goal Change

The goal of education changes from teaching to learning. When students engage in experiential learning—learning by doing, through making, by collaborating on specific projects with constraints—they foster a passion for learning. They move from wanting to earn a good grade on material they memorized to wanting to truly understand information and construct new meanings with the knowledge they have encountered.

When students work with real clients on real projects, they also shift their focus from good grades to creating appropriate deliverables that meet client needs. Students want to impress the client so they work more diligently than when they are just managing their grades for themselves.

This goal to create passionate learners can also be seen with the shift from teacher-directed activities to student-directed activities. Teachers do not just assign work, instead, teachers work with students to determine project constraints and tasks.

Role Change

Teachers move from being a “teacher” to being a “facilitator”—a facilitator of learning. They are no longer the all-knowing instructor, instead, they are a resource. As a facilitator, they are able to move away from the art of teaching to the art of connecting. Facilitators are able to focus on being what each individual student needs him or her to be. They serve roles such as counselor/education optimizer, communicator, project leader, and learning coach.

When education is project-based, the roles of students change as well. Students move from individuals to collaborators. They move from seeing their role as independent to seeing their role as interdependent. Collaboration reduces, even eliminates, individual competitiveness among students. Students turn their focus from individual outcomes to working towards the best outcomes for the group and the project. Project-based learning also challenges to stop receiving information passively and instead be constructors of knowledge. They gain the opportunity to see the parts within the whole. Students understand that they are as responsible for their learning as their “teachers.”


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