This article delves into the realm of project-led learning as a transformative approach within the student-centered, active learning paradigm. Departing from conventional end-of-term assessments, project-led education (PLE) engages students in more contextualized, autonomous, and interdisciplinary processes, fostering deeper and more effective learning.
The focus of this article is on PLE, a model that integrates larger modules, where projects serve as mediums for achieving defined learning goals and competencies. The article explores the process, characteristics, and outcomes of project-led learning, using the practices at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences as a case study.
In contrast to traditional education methods, project-led education (PLE) represents a paradigm shift towards comprehensive, team-based student activities that address real-world challenges. PLE replaces traditional subjects and teaching methods, embracing a learner-centered, active learning approach.
Project-led education (PLE) is an approach to project-based education that includes the whole curriculum (Helle, Tynjälä & Olkinuora 2006). This approach is not supplementary but replaces traditional subjects and teaching methods. Project-led education is part of the learner-centred active learning approach to education. It is a team-based student activity related to learning and to solving large-scale open-ended projects (Fernandes et al. 2014). A team of students tackles the project, provides a solution, and delivers by an agreed delivery time (a deadline) a ‘team product’, such as a prototype and a team report. Students show what they have learnt by discussing with staff the ‘team product’ and reflecting on how they have achieved it.
PLE involves several key characteristics, including authentic task engagement, interdisciplinary teamwork, and the integration of technology for innovation and collaboration (Boss & Krauss 2014; Helle et al. 2006). Students collaborate to solve problems, resulting in tangible end products such as theses, reports, and presentations (Helle et al. 2006). Notably, teaching staff adopt an advisory role, allowing students to take the lead in project initiation, conduct, and conclusion. The process is marked by a considerable time commitment, typically spanning a significant portion of the academic semester.
There are various types of project-based learning practices depending on the predefined role of the project in learning. Project-based learning can be aimed at the application of earlier acquired knowledge and techniques (usually limited to one subject) or, it can include interdisciplinary projects that are related to existing professional issues. This latter type is a combination of traditional courses and project work.
A third model, the model that is the focus of this article, is project-led learning – the project orientation that embraces larger modules rather than subjects and courses. The projects in this case are mediums through which the learning goals and competencies defined in the larger modules are aimed to be achieved. Other methods, including traditional teaching, are only supplementary. This is Project-led Learning (PLE).
Case: Haaga-Helia Porvoo Campus
The focus of this article is the project-led learning practices at Haaga-Helia, specifically within the Business Administration (BBA) program at the Porvoo Campus. Prior to the latest pedagogical updates, the campus officially identified its approach as inquiry learning, placing students in control of their learning journey. The context explored in this article encompasses practices until 2021, showcasing project-led learning as a central element of the curriculum. Projects in this context are authentic, which means that there is an authentic task that aims to solve a real problem or satisfy a real need of an existing organisation.
Students after completing the first transitional semester where they got introduced to the various practices of the Campus and especially project-led learning, start working in project teams in collaboration with industry partners. These projects aim at providing unique, authentic and employment-oriented learning environments and practices. They offer networking opportunities for students within the communities of practice as well as practical and theoretical assistance to partners with their various challenges. These projects ideally have a win-win approach in sharing the responsibilities.
Projects are acquired through various methods, with tutor teachers playing a pivotal role in networking and initiation. The article details an effective method employed in the International Sales and Marketing Program, involving a pitching day where potential partners express their challenges and expectations. This collaborative approach fosters a win-win dynamic between students and project partners.
Teams are formed based on personal interests and guided by tutors, emphasizing diversity for a well-rounded approach. Team building is a crucial aspect, fostering trust and interdependence among team members. The teams then organize themselves, contacting commissioners to define project outcomes and initiate the planning process.
Given the autonomy of self-managed teams, internal resources are primarily relied upon for leadership. Project partners and teachers assume coaching roles, with project partners providing contextual guidance and teachers intervening strategically during different phases of teamwork (Marks, Mathieu & Zaccar 2001). This article underscores the importance of timely coaching support to enhance students’ shared leadership capacity as they tackle advanced semester projects. For example, support and additional training in such areas as “team building”, “planning and structuring”, and “providing and receiving feedback” may help students achieve better performances and enhance their shared leadership capacity (DeRue & Wellman 2009). Teachers play a vital facilitator role also at the closure phase in identifying the learning outcomes.
This article provides a comprehensive overview of project-led education at Haaga-Helia, emphasizing its transformative impact on student learning. By replacing traditional teaching methods with interdisciplinary, real-world projects, PLE at Haaga-Helia exemplifies an innovative approach that prepares students for the complexities of the professional world. The case study presented serves as a valuable resource for educators seeking to implement similar project-led learning practices in higher education.
Boss, S., & Krauss, J. 2014. Reinventing project-based learning: Your field guide to real-world projects in the digital age. International Society for Technology in Education.
DeRue, D. S., & Wellman, N. 2009. Developing leaders via experience: the role of developmental challenge, learning orientation, and feedback availability. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(4), 859.
Fernandes, S., Mesquita, D., Flores, M. A., & Lima, R. M. 2014. Engaging students in learning: findings from a study of project-led education. European Journal of Engineering Education, 39(1), 55–67.
Helle, L., Tynjälä, P., & Olkinuora, E. 2006. Project-based learning in post-secondary education–theory, practice and rubber sling shots. Higher Education, 51(2), 287–314.
Marks, M. A., Mathieu, J. E., & Zaccaro, S. J. 2001. A temporally based framework and taxonomy of team processes. Academy of Management Review, 26(3), 356–376.
Editing: Marianne Wegmüller