When we think about learning, our minds eye often wonders over to a classroom style, theory based experience, where at best the student has had an option to choose a class relating to a field that they are interested in. But at worst, most students become squeamish when they think about this generic kind of learning style, which feels ineffective and unpleasant.
The whole point of learning is that you learn what is there right in front of you. Why teach something irrelevant to someone? I mean, theoretical studies are great, but if there's no context to put it in, it's just intellectual entertainment.
When we are speaking about learning, or the effectiveness of it, no-one needs unnecessary friction, be it on a personal experiential level of the student, or as the learning environment of the classroom as a whole.
Learning new things is challenging enough, and without a practical point of reference, I would suggest that we don't actually retain much of the learnt information. Our brain labels out of context information as irrelevant for now, and stores it to the back of our minds, from where it may or may not surface when we actually do need that piece of information.
This kind of learning is slow and impractical.
Phenomenon Based Learning is something entirely different. Instead of being constricted in one subject per class/ session, PBL takes on a real-life phenomenon as a whole, brings it to the classroom and looks at it from a myriad of points of view, allowing the resolution to be found through any cognitive functions or even through interdisciplinary knowledge.
The students/mentees can come to the conclusions using their strengths, rather than be taught: "This is how you SHOULD learn" or "This is the right way for you to think and process".
The goal of PBL is not a specific end result, though resolutions to issues, as well as considerable amount of clarity ARE often found through the process. The goal is deep learning and understanding of the situation in hand.
This is just as well: the modern plague of getting high on information is not what will allow the world to transform for the levels of sustainability needed for the future of the planet. It is this approach to learning, that will save the planet. After all, instead of just spewing information at our students and mentees, we are now teaching them to think and understand for themselves.
Note from the editor: Finnish educational system, which is one of the most effective and leading edge educational systems in the world, is now embracing PBL as a standard for their learning approach.