A small difference that will drastically change the way you learn

This blog post explains Thinkful’s shift in teaching philosophy. We’re reviewing our curricula to transition from project-based learning towards project-driven learning. Here’s why. 

Projects beat lectures. Always. Educators have caught onto this, and even the most traditional educational institutions have gotten excited about project-based curricula. There’s a lot to like—it encourages practice, emulates real work environments, and increases knowledge retention. At Thinkful, we’ve always used project-based learning and students have loved it. Recently, we stepped back to examine our course development process and sought to improve the way we incorporate projects. After running a few experiments we stumbled on something more than we bargained for—a new curriculum structure we’re calling project-driven learning.

Old approach:

We used to teach concept after concept, ending the unit with a project encouraging students to apply everything they’d learned.

Although this approach was better than lecturing with no application, it wasn’t perfect.

By the time students got to the actual project they’d often forgotten what was taught in the first lesson. Students also finished content without understanding why they learned what they learned. Context was missing. 

New approach:

To actively engage students from the start, we now lead with the project. All concepts are taught within the context of that project and students learn as they build. Learning occurs when students can make connections between real experiences (projects) and concepts. Our new approach creates this ideal learning environment. Project-driven learning also resulted in a few unexpected benefits that we’re excited about: 1) it allows students of different skill levels to engage with our course material, 2) it encourages a proper workflow, more effectively teaching concepts like version control and debugging, and 3) students gain the confidence to ask the right questions on Google and Stack Overflow when they get stuck.

What’s next: 

While we’re thrilled about this new approach, this is just the beginning. As we continue to gather feedback from over 2,500 students, we’ll keep improving our curriculum and teaching pedagogy. We want students to be able to use what they’ve learned to reach their goals. One thing is clear: students don’t want to learn how to build an airplane. They want to fly. Come fly with us


Thinkful’s Curriculum Team :)

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