Some online programs use projects to offer students continuos feedback and help them master specific skills.
Online students who are looking to develop specific skills, or competencies, project-based learning might be the good way to go.
Experts say programs and courses vary on how and to what extent they incorporate project-based learning and assessment into curriculums. However, this form of education involves constant feedback from an instructor and may allow for many attempts if a student initially falls short of meeting certain criteria.
John Orlando, associate director of faculty support at Northcentral University, a for-profit, regionally accredited online university, says project-based learning “begins on the student end,” it means students can discover the information they need to complete the project as their work progresses.
Experts say future online learners should understand the basics of project-based learning before determining if it’s a good fit for them and the topic they wish to study. This form of learning, some experts say, has seen growth in K-12 education and has started spreading to higher education, including online – though it’s not yet widely used.
Orlando says “It’s slowly growing, but hopefully slowly but surely, I think it requires a fundamentally different mindset from professors.”
Project-based learning is the core of students’ educations at the online College for America at Southern New Hampshire University,. The institution offers online associate and bachelor’s degree programs.
Cathrael Kazin, chief academic officer of College for America says students can start College for America on the first of any month, and they complete scenario-based projects, receiving feedback as needed to improve, Reviewers ultimately determine whether students’ work meets rubric requirements and illustrates mastery of predefined competencies.
Kazin also says “We think that projects are a more authentic and more useful way to see whether people have the competencies they need, and also to help them develop competencies they may not have yet,”.
Another example is Udacity, which offers affordable online programming and technology courses. The company enables learners to earn what are called “nanodegrees,” where students develop several projects over about 6 to 12 months with the guidance of instructors on video, and can receive regular feedback from live coaches, says Stuart Frye, Udacity’s vice president of content. They ultimately turn in a stand-alone final product for evaluation.
These projects range from building a portfolio of their work from scratch to creat an Android app, depending on the nanodegree program.
Frye says to add that these projects can later be used in portfolios when applying to jobs. “Project-based learning provides an excellent opportunity to have that hands-on, learn-by-doing approach within the context of the subject areas we focus on,”
With project-based learning, experts say, students’ knowledge grows simultaneously to their products. Kerry Rice, a professor of educational technology at Boise State University, teaches a master’s-level online class on advanced online teaching methods that uses a project-based philosophy.
“I am constantly providing feedback as they’re progressing through development,” she says of the student projects. “It’s very instructor-intensive in that respect, and very personal to each student.”
Experts say this consistent feedback is also advantageous to students. This was true for Brenda Anderson, who got an associate’s degree from College for America and now she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree.
Among several other projects she has competed, Anderson recently finished in an 11-page marketing plan for a laundromat cafe, and which she completed it in a week. She says she had to cover all her backgrounds, from deciding what her demographic was to developing an overall strategy.
Anderson says of receiving feedback “By the time you master a project, you have a perfect document,” Anderson also ẹnoy to work at her own pace, though whether this is the case varies among programs. Additional, she had to collaborate with other students to work on projects in group online – something that Orlando, of Northcentral University, views as a valuable workplace skill in the 21st century.
But project-based learning won’t work well for every field or competency. For instance, it may require a baseline knowledge in some particular areas, Orlando says.”Once you take all those basic skills that you have learned but then you’re ready to apply them, then project-based learning certainly presents a really nice venue for that,”. Kazin, of College for America says project-based learning in an online class works best for those students looking to develop competencies,.”I would be honest with the student about how much they really want to learn and whether they care about developing, really developing competencies, or whether they just want to pass a course,” she says.