Education Opinion

Project Management for Education

By Tom Vander Ark — October 10, 2017 4 min read
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Bernie Trilling has been on a decade-long journey to bridge professional project management and project-based learning. His new book, Project Management for Education, makes the case that project-based learning (PBL) is the best way to build 21st-century skills and that project management is the most important career skill.

Project Management for Education, developed and published by the Project Management Institute Educational Foundation, makes this case:

  • Learning Projects are great vehicles for students to gain essential 21C Skills.
  • One of the biggest lifts for both teachers and students is managing all those pesky moving parts of rich, motivating learning projects - a real challenge for PBL.
  • Who knows the most about managing projects? Project Managers! And the world’s largest organization of PMs - the Project Management Institute.
  • Find out what makes projects sing, and adapt the business and engineering principles and practices for educators.

Pretty straightforward, right? Only the last bullet took longer than Bernie imagined because.

Business project management and project-based learning have had little overlap. Ask PBL teachers if they’ve ever had any training in project management - not many hands go up. And, not many project managers have had any K-12 teaching experience. (Having been a project manager in energy, construction and technology before becoming a school administrator, I’m thrilled Bernie and PMI made this connection!)

Published later this month, the book is two-sided. One side of the book is for educators, flip it over, and the other side is for project managers, with a “rainbow bridge” center section of illustrated case studies.

The guiding equation of Project Management for Education is:

PM + PBL = Deeper Learning for Career, Community and Life

In writing the educator part of this book, Bernie had a couple of important insights. The first is that there is a basic set of phases to managing any project and a number of variations built up from this basic Project Cycle (in red at the bottom of the chart) that can be applied to any project challenge. The following chart shows the similarities and differences in different types of projects:

Expression ProjectsReflect on a personal perspective you’d like to communicate to othersChoose a medium of expression; design, plan and create a rough prototypeTest the prototype on others, get feedback, and create or perform the workEvaluate your feelings & gauge others’ reactions to the work
Debate ProjectsChoose an issueResearch the issue
and form an evidence-based position
Present and logically argue its strengths and limitsAssess the persuasive impact on others
Scientific InquiryPose a QuestionResearch the Question
and Formulate a Hypothesis
Test the Hypothesis by ExperimentsAnalyze
and Present the Results
Engineering DesignIdentify the Problem
and Learn the Specifications
Brainstorm Solutions and Design ItBuild It, Test, Improve
and Redesign
Share It
Design ThinkingEmpathize
and Define
(Refine Prototype
and Re-Test until satisfied)
Project Based LearningLaunch the projectBuild skills to address the driving questionDevelop
and critique products
& answers
Present products
and answers
Project ManagementInitiatingPlanningExecuting &
Learning ProjectsDefinePlanDo

Second, more work needs to be to be done in adapting “exploratory” or “agile” project management methods for education. Here is a chart of how these two project types map against the basic Define, Plan, Do, Review process:

And, third, Bernie’s most important insight, is that this is not just about getting things done. The Define, Plan, Do, Review process is really a learning process.

“This project cycle just may be education’s most important missing link in nurturing self-propelled, self-reliant, lifelong learners,” said Trilling.

Project management includes core skills and processes for helping any learner learn-how-to-learn--the metacognition skills for a lifetime of learning.

On the subject of core skills, Trilling knows what he’s talking about. With Charles Fadel, he’s co-author of Four-Dimensional Education: The Competencies Learners Need to Succeed an important book and outcome framework.

Project Management for Education is an important book. It outlines a rigorous approach to project-based learning not only because it is engaging but because project management is a core career skill and (with reflection) the best approach to learning how to learn.

For more, see:

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The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.