Project-based learning: Panacea for change or old wine in new bottles?

D. Scholtz, M. Bester


One of the key characteristics of vocational higher education is the incorporation of work-integrated learning (WIL) where students draw on theoretical principles to deal with workplace dynamics and solve problems within workplace contexts. While workplace-based learning (WPBL) was the default modality for diploma qualifications at this institution, a curriculum revision process revealed a shift from workplace-based learning to project-based learning (PJBL). This study explored the reasons for the shift to PJBL as the preferred WIL modality in four diploma qualifications. Curriculum Officers were interviewed to establish the rationale for shifting to PJBL as well as how PJBL would be structured as pedagogy for learning in and outside the workplace. The interview data were subjected to content analysis to extract themes based on the core questions of the interview protocol. Curriculum documents were analysed to determine whether interview data were validated with documented evidence. The second generation of activity theory components provided a theoretical lens for data analysis and discussion.  The findings showed that the prevailing view was that PJBL would provide an improved and more effective learning experience, but attention to detail as to how PJBL would be operationalized were scant. Although PJBL holds the promise of positive change, the absence of project details might scupper any envisaged successes. Since this shift towards PJBL is groundbreaking given the legacy of WPBL in diploma qualifications at universities of technology, this study will provide insights into the merits of current and future WIL practices for diploma qualifications.


Project-based learning; workplace-based learning; experiential learning; vocational higher education

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