Beyond Project-Based Learning

I have been working on Projects-Based Learning, and recorded my experiences and reflections on this blog as I went along.

Through this engagement, I have learnt the following things:

1. Content is over-rated. Because it costs money and effort to create, content owners believe Content equals Learning. Yes, the learners use content to learn, but they do not learn from content. It is the baseline, not an end in itself.

2. Teachers make a lot of difference, but not through 'teaching'. The relationships that underpin teaching, rather than the process of teaching, as in delivering lectures, is fundamental to learning. A good teacher knows the learners - not just their 'strengths and weakness', but their fears, aspirations, what inspires and intimidates them, what they love and loath. The act of 'teaching' is more about inspiring, empowering and connecting, than delivering, disciplining and evaluating.

3. Because the way we have come to see learning, as a process, we under-rate the impact of its environment, both the physical setting and the emotional context. The way the classrooms are built - rigid or flexible, room or an open space, dark and damp or well-lit, artificial or natural - impacts the engagement, as does whether the teachers themselves feel safe, connected and inspired to think. One can not run a regimented workplace and expect creativity, discipline the teachers but expect them to inspire, put them on zero hour contracts and expect them to engage.

4. Education, as far as it has become a business, has become a quest for efficiency, rather than effectiveness. The challenge that many self-declared Education Innovators are focusing on is how to make education more efficient. The consensus seems to be that measuring increases efficiency - a standard refrain of the businesses - but measuring also dis-empowers, puts a bureaucrat in charge, and disembodies, by putting a few faceless people - management, regulators, funding bodies - in power. Overt attempts to measure and control, in learning as in any other human activity, imposes a process but steals the purpose, and create a false rigour in place of relationships. 

5. Nothing engages more, and makes one more curious and eager to learn, than their own lives. If real life is the context, learners want to learn more. If we are solving real problems that they may face day to day, they want to be part of it. However, what we call Experiential Learning is a poor solution for learning from life, as the defined 'experiences' are often superficial and limited. This is because by defining an 'experience' to learn from, we are essentially delimiting the exposure and claiming that learning can, and should, happen within that limited context: This is precisely the opposite of learning from experience, which is about being open to learning at every living moment. Experiential Learning often does exactly the opposite it claims - it decouples, rather than joining, learning and life.

6. The current buzz around Education Technology concerns itself too much with efficiency and measurement, and too little with learning. While businesses today are trying to go beyond industrial-era processes and trying to reinvent themselves as campuses, educational institutions are too often being reinvented as a process-driven industry, redefined by clever pieces of technologies that seek to replace the human content and connection and replace it with e-textbooks and e-moderators. Apart from the inherent fallibility of technology - those who has seen Chaplin's Modern Times would perhaps recall the 'Lunch Machine' - the whole model is essentially counter-productive.

7. All learning is perhaps is essentially a local and a human activity, based on relationships, driven by curiosity and engagement. The current quest of global learning empires, by global finance capital in search of an increasingly illusory profit, try to subvert this by imposing regimes of measurement and control and by replacing its local essence with an ephemeral, global, consumer aspiration, creating superficial models of learning, more corrosive than liberating.

My quest, hereafter, is to seek a new model, that builds around the spirit of enquiry and that of being local, connected and responsible. This is not a world without technologies, but rather of the tools and processes that do not put the cart before the horse, but rather enable these core aspirations that must be central to meaningful learning. It is not 'projects' but life that I see as the wellspring of meaning, and where being human rather than being a worker remains the objective of all learning.


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