PBL vs Lecturing

Project Based Learning (PBL) vs Text Book Based Lecturing

Text books are organized from simple to complex, i.e. starting from simple concepts, the text moves to increasingly more complex concepts. The premise is that the foundation consisting of the first principles must be laid first before comprehension can occur for more difficult ideas. This is how a subject’s concepts are viewed by the expert of that field. But, this progression from simple to complex, was not visible to the expert when he started his journey. This is only the understanding that an expert gets when one has reached that vantage point.

In a lecturing approach the teacher stands in front of the class room and all the children face towards the white/black board behind the teacher. The delivery of the concepts and the examples depends upon the teacher. The teacher determines the line of reasoning. If for some reason students are not enthralled by the line of reasoning, lecturing style or for any reason, following the lecture becomes tedious for the students. On one extreme, they create problems to change the boring environment and on the other extreme they start day-dreaming and become mentally absent. It then becomes the duty of the teacher to engage the audience through jokes, interesting examples, anecdotes or Q&A. If all this does not work, then the students’ behavior is labeled as undisciplined and many of the techniques for behavior modifications are used ranging from rewards to punishments and humiliations. Maintaining the discipline in the class and class control becomes the major qualification for the teacher, and not his ability to enage the students. In a class of 30 students, it is very difficult for a teacher to tailor the lecture in a way so as to satisfy the requirements of every student. Hence, one-size-fits-all approach is used and the burden of understanding is thrust on the students and their inability to learn is dealt with as a discipline problem or worse as a learning disability or ADHD.

On the other hand, PBL approach focuses on the top-down approach. A project typically is a higher level view of a real-life or a life-like situation or phenomenon. It is complex in nature and needs to be decomposed to simpler and simpler concepts till the foundations reveal themeselves. By definition, a project being life-like has sense to it and more importantly makes sense to the students. As such it is more interesting. The line of enquiry from top (more complex) to down (more simpler) are many. If multiple projects are assigned to a class, then each group of students has four to five students. There are enough lines of enquiry to support the learning style of each group member. Because students select their own line of enquiry and pursue it, the process is more dynamic and may even hold surprises for the students as well as the teachers, there is an exhilarating feeling of adventure and discovery that fills us with adrenaline and sharpen our senses. This process where a student exercises his own mind in pursuring different lines of enquiry is more interesting and engaging and self satisfying. Teacher instead of holding the central position in the class becomes a guide or a facilitator. Students as well as the teacher become partners in this journey of exploration, which increases the motivation and inculcates a quest for learning. Instead of a feeling of being herded in a boring direction and made to sit in senseless excercises, which actually necessitate the institution of rewards and punishments, the students embark on journey of excitement and discovery. Teacher as a facilitator needs to just ensure that students are getting a full and rewarding learning experience.