Project Based Learning Hack

David Palank

As project based learning lessons are becoming more and more popular in the education world, many teachers are running into issues concerning: incomplete projects, missed deadlines, and overall lack of fulfilling experience. “Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge.” [1]

Get a Free Project Based Learning Tool Kit Sent to Your Email

PBL utilizes theses concepts to engage in real world applications of learning:
  • Significant Content.
  • 21st century Skills
  • In-Depth Inquiry.
  • Driving Questions
  • Voice and Choice
  • Critique and Revision
  • Public Audience

However, we are all susceptible to the planning fallacy.  The planning fallacy ( first discovered by Nobel Prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman) is our natural tendency to severely underestimate how long something will take to complete.  People working in groups are even worse at this estimation. [2]

(Watch Kahneman on Premortems here or Guy Kawasaki here!)

Researchers at Wharton and Cornell University in 1989 found that prospective hindsight increases the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes by 30%.

One solution is to engage in prospective hindsight, which is the act of imagining that the event has already occurred. In fact research conducted by researchers at Wharton and Cornell University in 1989 “found that prospective hindsight increases the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes by 30%.”[3]

The easiest way to engage in prospective hindsight is to employ the “Premortem” technique created by Gary Klein. This is a very simple exercise that is the hypothetical opposite of a postmortem, where healthcare professionals learn what caused a patient’s death. A premortem takes place before embarking on projects. Here’s how you can conduct in your class.

  1. Brief the class on the outline of the project
  2. Then inform everyone that their projects have failed spectacularly.
  3. Have students write down every reason they can think of for the failure. It should be in the form of a narrative.
  4. Next the teacher asks each class member to read one reason from his or her list and everyone states a different reason until all have been recorded.
  5. All of these possible reasons are distributed to all and members brainstorm how to prevent these issues.

The exercise also alerts the team to pick up early signs of trouble once the project gets under way. A premortem does the following:

1. Helps People Overcome Blindspots

2. Helps bridge short-term and long-term thinking

3. Looking back dampens excessive optimism

4. Challenges the illusion of consensus

A pre-mortem may be the best way to ensure that there is no need for a postmortem for your PBL lesson.

Get Exclusive Content Here:



[2]Wiseman, R. (2011). 59 seconds: Change your life in under a minute (p. 236). New York: Anchor Books.

[3] Klein, G. (2007, September 1). Performing a Project Premortem. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from

Photo Credits

Categories: Tags: , , , , , ,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s