The Battleground: Personal Learning Projects vs Project Based Learning


Students from Rhodes Park Secondary School, Za...

Students from Rhodes Park Secondary School, Zambia taking part in a Global Teenager Project Learning Circle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At first glance “Project Based Learning” and “Personal Learning Projects” look like the same thing.  Learners investigating meaningful questions or problems with limited resources.  Only after you examine what individual students do in each type of project do you begin to see the experiences as extremely different.
Here are a few quick definitions:
Project Based Learning engages learners in meaningful, authentic learning experiences while working to solve a challenge facing the class or group of students.  After creating clarifying questions, students conduct investigative research to learn more about the question and ways to approach arriving at a solution. Once they arrive at a solution they share it with relevant audiences.
Personal Learning Projects are learning efforts initiated by students to answer questions or solve problems they face by seeking meaningful solutions.  Self-directed learning and its underlying premise counts on learners to self-select activities and outcomes. Project Based Learning and Personal Learning Projects on a collision course.

Who is in charge is the key question.

Project Based Learning tends to be driven by the teacher / facilitators in formal learning institutions striving to get out into the real world with authentic learning situations.  Notice the institution or it’s staff are the ones driving project management issues. Time frame, depth of investigation and resource allocation are all elements of project based learning left primarily for instructional leaders.
 While embracing the fuzzy nature of projects at the beginning, Personal Learning Projects are more deeply driven and directed by the learner. The learner determines the scope of the project.  They drive the time line and the depth of the study. Desired results are also dictated by the independent learner not the formal institution or mentor / advisor / facilitator/teacher. 
Accordingly, Personal Learning Projects can sit within the formal learning institutions but Project Based Learning, as discussed on edutopia or other educational institutional enterprise, do not lend themselves to Personal Learning Projects. Self-directed vs Institution directed learning issues are to blame here.

Project Based Learning Transitions to Personal Learning Projects

Project based learning and Personal Learning Projects share several  key elements.

Project Based Learning  Personal Learning Projects 
Question or Problem Fuzzy Mess or Exacting Problem
Clarification / Classification Gap / Problem analysis Determine Factors Required for Relevant Outcomes
Conduct investigations Carry out learning activities
Analyze Data Data Analysis
Process into Presentations Presentation Preparations / Implementation Activities
Share what you learned Share with peers / customers /vendors / others


Overcoming Challenges of Personal Learning Projects with Project Based Learning

Success in both types of projects are dependent on steady progression toward desired results attainment.  It is the overcoming of challenges which rewards participants in both types of projects.  Self-directed learners engaged in Personal Learning Projects can learn first hand the “how do I direct a project” through the experience.  Learners in the Project Based Learning are sheltered to a degree from the harsh realities of the fuzzy nature of projects.  Especially on the fly adjusting to external pressure and determining when the project will be over and when “enough” delivers on successful results.

Implications of Project Based Learning on Refactoring your Personalized Education Plan

English: A Service Learning Project at Batam o...

English: A Service Learning Project at Batam organised by MaxPac Travel for Catholic Junior College students (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Project Based Learning models and the movement to more authentic activities and assessments provide  exciting changes to student centric learning.  Observation of and participation in the decision making process is a strong element in most nationally supported Project Based Learning initiatives. 
Personal Learning Projects on the other hand, take the authentic, real world nature of learning to the individual and allow them the full experience of making all decisions.  They get to decide what they learn and how they will manage the project and associated resources.  In this process the Personal Learning Project adds a significant layer of project management learning. 
In both project driven experiences the mentors / facilitators need to take full advantage of the authentic motivational richness of the project learning model.  Capitalizing on the strengths of each type of project learning makes students stronger and better prepared to initiate their own projects and the exercise of their own  voice.
So when will you dare to direct your own learning with a Personal Learning Project? We do it everyday over at
We Can help!  Within theClick and Retire Stratagem we have a learning environment set to assist self-directed learners in their own  Personal Learning Projects.

Teach Jim Strengthen The Feeble Knees
Speak with you soon.