I did a PBL workshop with a local district last week and I have been thinking about the speed of the spread of PBL in schools. I think there is a strong grassroots movement toward student-centered learning, but everything from politicians and the powers that be is toward a controlled focus on student achievement (test prep).
I realized a big weaknesses of the PBL paradigm is that the curriculum is unstructured. Note I did not say that the process is unstructured, which is a misunderstanding that many have. But what students actually study or do is personalized to that group of students in that time and space. So groups like New Tech Network and Buck Institute do a great job selling training and tools for PBL, but you don’t see PBL textbooks or curriculum for sale because that is not how PBL works.
So PBL doesn’t really work for Pearson or other major education publications. They can’t sell thousands of PBL textbooks or “units.” It doesn’t package nicely as test prep. I am sure that New Tech and Buck generate money but nothing in the scale of the major publishers of textbooks or standardized tests. So the publishing giant’s paid lobbyists are not trying to get our politicians to move toward student-centered learning because it is not beneficial toward building their market.
On a personal note when I lead a workshop, my fee is much less than a keynote speaker. I am not getting “edu famous” and I don’t say that many catchy phrases that are tweetable. But unlike most keynotes that excite and encourage for an hour and wear off in a few days (how much can you remember from any keynote even your favorite one? If anything I bet is good stories that they told) when I finish a workshop I feel great knowing that I leave teachers with a framework and a set of tools to permanently shift their teaching from teacher to student centered learning. The intrinsic rewards of spreading PBL to shift pedagogy are very fulfilling.
If only PBL didn’t focus so much on local, authentic, student centered learning and could support an easy way to make lots of money off from students and school systems.