Blog Learning and Motivation Learn by Doing: Why Project-Based Learning is so Effective

Learn by Doing: Why Project-Based Learning is so Effective

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We’ve all witnessed the frustrating catch 22 of needing experience to land a job and needing a job to get experience. This classic struggle illustrates just how much value the job market places on experience, and rightfully so. Here at Udacity, our goal is to ensure that students are set up for success and possess the tools to not just land a job, but thrive in it! 

One of the best ways to get the most out of your education and to gain the experience that companies actually want is through project-based learning. Project-based learning is a teaching approach where students actively explore real-world problems and challenges. Instead of just sitting in lectures, studying, and taking tests, students apply the material they’re learning to solve problems. It’s learning by doing.

The power of real-world projects

At Udacity, real-world projects are the foundation of our learning program. We work with industry experts and some of the top companies in the world like Google, Amazon, and IBM to design projects that students will actually face on the job. This hands-on experience allows students to be prepared for challenges that they’ll face in their career while also giving them the practical skills to apply what they’re learning in a real-world setting. Completing a successful project provides tangible proof that the student fully grasps the design considerations and can develop a solution to real-world problems. It also gives them an opportunity to get their hands dirty and explore various sub-topics––often times they uncover new interests and passions or realize that they really enjoy a certain specialization. 

Why is project-based learning so effective?

It’s simple: it’s a way to actively apply what you’ve learned and broaden the scope of your knowledge. When students have the opportunity to solve challenging problems, using critical thinking and the material they’re learning as a guide, they’re able to take their learning to the next level. The real-world application shows true mastery of material since it goes far beyond just basic recall. Students design whole solutions based on their analysis of the business problem and needs. The traditional classroom-based model comprised of lectures, reading, and test-taking typically results in the memorization of facts that students usually don’t fully absorb. With project-based learning, the pitfalls of the classroom-based model are eradicated. Instead, students hone skills that extend beyond the page and get feedback on their application and execution.

Schools around the world are integrating project-based learning into their curricula. Project-based learning (PBL) engages the student in active learning over long periods of time,  building deeper connections across concepts that students apply in authentic scenarios. PBL also encourages students to use metacognitive skills to develop plans to create, monitor, and execute their designs. In a 2013 survey, various employers reported that too many job applicants seemed proficient on paper but lacked the decision-making, communication, and problem-solving skills required to succeed on the job. At Udacity, we’ve set out to change that. We are not in the business of making students look proficient on paper; we are on a mission to democratize education and ensure that students have the skills, abilities, and confidence to succeed in their careers.

The focus on problem-solving and critical thinking is what makes project-based learning so effective and what makes Udacity graduates so successful. As one of our students, Allan Reyes said, “You’re not taught what to do; you’re taught how to think.” With unlimited project submissions, students can continue receiving feedback from experienced reviewers until they master the material. We know first-hand that this model works. That’s because companies consistently tell us that they value the practical experience that comes from project-based learning, and it usually contributes to Udacity students getting job offers upon graduation.  

Udacity projects offer strong assessment benchmarks, requiring students to demonstrate deep knowledge on various topics, including their choice of design. This sets students up for success in real-life jobs where they need to apply these very skills in a business setting. A graduate of Udacity’s Data Analyst Nanodegree program said, “I worked really hard to complete the Data Analyst Nanodegree program. I have passed each of my projects and all of them helped me gain valuable skills such as perspective-taking, analytical thinking, decision making, presentation expertise, and analysis skills.” 

Interested in learning more about Udacity programs? Check out our Nanodegree programs to gain in-demand skills and build incredible projects to land your dream job. 

Start Learning

 Karunasekera, S., & Bedse, K. (2007, July). Preparing software engineering graduates for an industry career. In 20th Conference on Software Engineering Education & Training (CSEET’07) (pp. 97-106). IEEE; Thompson, J. B., & Edwards, H. M. (2009, July). Preparing graduate students for industry and life long learning: A project based approach. In IFIP World Conference on Computers in Education (pp. 292-301). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg; Song, H., Si, G., Yang, L., Liang, H., & Zhang, L. (2011, November). Using project-based learning and collaborative learning in software engineering talent cultivation. In 2011IEEE 10th International Conference on Trust, Security and Privacy in Computing and Communications (pp. 1288-1293). IEEE.
Phyllis C. Blumenfeld, Elliot Soloway, Ronald W. Marx, Joseph S. Krajcik, Mark Guzdial & Annemarie Palincsar (1991) Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting the Learning, Educational Psychologist, 26:3-4, 369-398, DOI: 10.1080/00461520.1991.9653139

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