Blog Featured Blogs Project-based Learning In Tech: The Value of Hands-On Education In A Digital Age

Project-based Learning In Tech: The Value of Hands-On Education In A Digital Age

Table of Contents

What is project-based learning?

Why is project-based learning important?

What is Udacity’s approach to project-based learning?

How Students Create and Submit Udacity Projects

Project Walkthrough Videos by Udacity Mentors

In today’s tech job market, continually developing new skills is essential for getting hired and staying ahead of the curve. With an abundance of online courses, bootcamps, and degree programs available, deciding where and how to learn can feel overwhelming. At Udacity, we believe the most effective option prioritizes project-based learning (PBL). Unlike traditional educational models centered on passively absorbing lectures, project-based courses actively engage learners with practical, real-world challenges reflective of the modern workplace. By collaborating on coding projects, data analysis scenarios, and other hands-on activities, students gain invaluable experience applying skills to the types of complex problems they’ll tackle in their careers.

Across the Udacity catalog, we have over 370 projects (and counting) available that simulate the problems you’ll be tasked with solving in whichever field you choose to pursue. In this post, we’re going to share more about project-based learning, why it can be a true catalyst for your career, and why we’re ‘all in’ on projects in the content we offer. We’re also pleased to release 6 video walkthroughs wherein Udacity’s expert Mentors will show you how comprehensive our projects are.

What is project-based learning (PBL)?

PBL is an educational approach that involves learners designing, developing, and constructing hands-on solutions to a problem in order to gain a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. Unlike traditional learning, where memorization reigns supreme, PBL encourages students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills by creating tangible outcomes. Whether it’s designing an app, analyzing community data, or optimizing algorithms, PBL fosters not only content knowledge but also critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and effective communication. In essence, it equips learners with the practical skills needed to thrive beyond books, exams, and anything else they might stumble on across the web. 

Research has shown that active learning has distinct advantages over more passive forms of learning. One 2019 study from the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning involved 126 undergraduate students who were randomly assigned to either a project-based learning group or a traditional lecture-based group. The results showed that students in the project-based learning group significantly outperformed those in the lecture-based group on the final exam, with an average score of 84.6% compared to 74.2% for the lecture group. Furthermore, the study found that 91% of students in the project-based learning group reported feeling more engaged and motivated in the course, compared to only 58% of students in the lecture-based group.

There are a number of core principles of PBL, including: 

  • Authentic, real-world problems or challenges: One of the defining features of project-based learning is that it is centered around real-world, authentic problems or challenges. These problems are often ill-defined, complex, and multifaceted, reflecting the types of challenges students may encounter in their future academic or professional careers. 
  • Student-centered and inquiry-based learning: Project-based learning is a student-centered approach, where students take an active role in their learning process. They are encouraged to ask questions, explore their curiosities, and engage in self-directed inquiry to find solutions to the problem or challenge. 
  • Collaborative and cooperative learning: Effective project-based learning typically involves students working in small groups or teams, where they collaborate, share responsibilities, and learn from each other’s perspectives and experiences. 
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving: Project-based learning emphasizes the development of critical thinking, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills. Students are challenged to analyze information, synthesize data, evaluate alternatives, and develop creative solutions to address the problem or challenge. 
  • Multidisciplinary and integrated learning: Many project-based learning experiences integrate knowledge and skills from multiple subject areas or disciplines. 

Why is project-based learning important?

Let’s dive into a handful of benefits of project-based learning for current and aspiring tech workers.

Applied Problem-Solving Skills

PBL immerses you in real-world scenarios, throwing you into the heart of actual challenges and dilemmas faced by professionals. Instead of merely studying theory, you actively solve practical problems, making your learning process dynamic and engaging. As you work on tech projects, you develop hands-on problem-solving abilities that are immediately applicable. These skills will directly transfer to your current and future tech roles, where you’ll encounter complex challenges requiring innovative solutions. Whether debugging code, optimizing algorithms, or designing scalable systems, PBL equips you with the tools to tackle real-world issues, ensuring you’re not only theoretically prepared but practically proficient.

Collaboration and Communication

Tech projects rarely happen in isolation, underscoring the value of teamwork and the exchange of ideas. PBL encourages teamwork and collaboration – from tapping your Mentors in Udacity Knowledge to seeking guidance from peers in your field on Reddit, all of which help foster a community-centric learning experience. During projects, you’ll collaborate with other tech professionals, share ideas, and learn from diverse perspectives, enriching your understanding and approach to challenges. Effective communication – whether writing code comments, explaining complex algorithms, or presenting your work – is crucial in tech roles. PBL sharpens these essential skills, making you a more effective communicator and collaborator, attributes that are highly valued in any professional setting.

Portfolio Building

PBL provides learners with tangible results, not only through knowledge gained but in concrete evidence of their skills and creativity. You won’t just learn – you’ll have a portfolio showcasing your projects, turning abstract skills into visible achievements. No matter if it’s a GitHub repository, a personal website, or a mobile app, your portfolio demonstrates your skills to potential employers, serving as a testament to your abilities and dedication to your craft. A strong portfolio can open doors and set you apart in a competitive job market, acting as both a professional calling card and a compelling narrative of your learning journey and technical proficiency.

Adaptability and Lifelong Learning

PBL exposes you to various technologies, tools, and frameworks through deep, hands-on engagement. You learn to adapt and stay current when it comes to industry trends, navigating the rapid advancements and paradigm shifts in technology with agility. In tech, being a lifelong learner is essential, and PBL instills this mindset, embedding the principles of curiosity and adaptability into the habits you build as a professional. Whether it’s learning a new programming language, diving into cloud computing, or exploring AI, PBL prepares you for continuous growth, ensuring you remain relevant and ahead in a field that never stops innovating.

What is Udacity’s approach to project-based learning?

When Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun launched Udacity in June of 2011, his goal was to improve accessibility to the best education the world has to offer. “When I was teaching at Stanford, I realized we were being extremely restrictive…only reaching thousands of students when we could (and should!) be reaching millions,” says Thrun. There are three elements to exceptional education: amazing instructors, quality curriculum, and real-world practicality. A dedication to offering high-quality, practical projects to our learners has been essential to us serving over 17 million professionals across 195 countries since we began – and one of the reasons that our students keep coming back. 

What is a Udacity project?

Projects are a huge part of the Udacity experience and have been since the launch of our very first Nanodegree program. A Udacity project is a hands-on exercise created by our Technical Content Developer team and course instructors to help put your newfound knowledge to work. Each project submitted is then graded by a Udacity Mentor who is trained in the respective field. That means Udacity students are able to iterate on feedback given by real-life Mentors versus having to learn the material all on their own. Udacity projects are available in all of our paid courses and Nanodegree programs, and students are required to successfully pass each project in order to graduate from a given course.

How are projects designed by Udacity?

“Projects provide Udacity learners with the rare opportunity to showcase new skills, sharpen existing ones, and prove they’re ready for that promotion or career change – all asynchronously and on their schedule,” says Udacity COO, Victoria Papalian, when asked about the value of projects. “From a logistical standpoint, it’s hard work for our team, but one we’re proud to deliver to our students and a responsibility we don’t take lightly.” During the creation of a Udacity program, our Technical Content Development team works closely with Udacity’s expert instructors to ensure each project follows our pedagogical approach:

  • Allow learners to demonstrate mastery of the relevant, real-world skills they are learning in the course.
  • Give learners an opportunity to learn by doing and improve their critical thinking and troubleshooting skills.
  • Result in a portfolio-ready artifact that the learner can share with friends, family, work colleagues, and potential employers.
  • Ensure the project is representative of a scenario that’s typical of the role the program is associated with.

Project creation involves an intensive 3-phase build process, including developing the project scoring rubric, creating student starter code or templates, and submitting the project for review prior to publishing. 

Looking for concrete examples? Here are a handful of our most popular projects over the past calendar year. 

How Students Create and Submit Udacity Projects

As a student progresses through a Udacity program, they’ll be prompted to apply what they learn at the end of certain Lessons with projects. Before turning in your project, you should thoroughly read the project instructions, project rubric, and submission requirements to ensure you’re aware of all best practices and recommendations. For technical projects, you can use the Udacity Workspace to make your submission. Udacity Workspaces are interactive code editing and testing environments that students use directly in their browsers with no setup required. Other types of projects might call for learners to turn in a slide deck, a spreadsheet, a Google Doc, a polished presentation video, or some combination.  

Ensuring that our students not only learn new skills but retain and demonstrate proficiency in them is critical to the positive career outcomes Udacity has been able to consistently drive for learners. By participating in projects, you’ll not only be actively learning, but you’ll also illustrate to recruiters, current employers, and prospective employers that you know the skills listed on your resume. Many of our students even showcase their Udacity projects on their GitHub portfolios, their LinkedIn profiles, and their personal websites. 

What Udacity students think about our projects.

Project Spotlights by Real Udacity Mentors

Still wondering exactly what it takes to build a Udacity project? We’ve partnered with a few of our Mentors, the experts who support students and review projects day-in-and-day-out, to share a series of ‘project walkthroughs’. In each video, you’ll learn a bit about the program, where the project fits in, how the project aligns with the learning outcomes of the program, along with how projects are laid out, submitted, and graded by Mentors. 

In this video, Udacity Mentor Nancy Al Aswad explains what’s inside our full Generative AI Nanodegree program, and walks you through one of the hands-on projects students submit during their enrollment. During the project, you’ll learn how to edit photos with inpainting using the power of Generative AI.

In this video, Udacity Mentor Ani B. explains how to build a digital portfolio that will get you hired as a freelancer, tech contractor, consultant, or creative professional. At the end of the program, you’ll walk away with a job-ready portfolio to take your career to the next level. This project is part of our Digital Freelancer Nanodegree program.

In this video, Udacity Mentor Rodolfo Yoshii explains the importance of learning SQL, what’s covered in the SQL Nanodegree program, and dives deep into one of his favorite real-world projects where students will use SQL to investigate the impact of deforestation.

This project is from our Generative AI Nanodegree program. In the video, Udacity Mentor Parth Agrawal explains what’s covered in the Nanodegree program, and walks you through one of the program’s hands-on projects. By the end of the project, you’ll learn how to generate new human faces using GANs (generative adversarial networks).

This project is part of our Self Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree program. In the video, Udacity Mentor Neha Verma explains what’s covered inside the program, and walks you through how aspiring autonomous vehicle engineers can detect objects in busy urban environments.

This project is part of our Business Analytics Nanodegree program. In the video, Udacity Mentor Rodolfo Yoshii explains what’s covered inside the program, and walks you through a project students participate in during their enrollment. By the end of the project, you’ll know how to query databases and will be able to help businesses optimize their practices using the power of data.

Real-world Projects, Real Results

If you’re an aspiring or current tech professional hungry for more than high-level instruction, then Udacity is the online learning platform you’ve been looking for. The embodiment of Udacity’s commitment to hands-on learning is our projects and the Mentors who grade them. Best of all, with a single Udacity subscription, you’ll unlock our entire catalog, so you’ll be able to jump from program to program and project to project. Explore all the programs and the projects in them inside our catalog.

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