Project Based Learning for Employee Training

Tutors who have done well in courses that have high drop, fail, and withdrawal rates at Fresno State are hired to help their peers through the courses they succeeded in. Once they are hired they need to learn how they actually learn, they need to learn about inequities and people who attend Fresno State, they need emotional intelligence, and they need to learn how to create engaging learning experiences. The challenge faced with training peer tutors in the past was engagement and immersion into training domains. Brief activities and games were distractions from the actual theme. Gary (2015) suggests that short-term skills focused activities do an inadequate job of putting skills in context.

The solution was Project Based Learning (PBL). PBL has challenged tutors to provide a successful learning environment. Tutors are given objectives to explore, solve, and express concepts from training. In a PBL approach, tutors are encouraged to become independent workers, critical thinkers, and lifelong learners (George Lucas Educational Foundation, 2007). For example, 89 percent of tutors felt they gained information that will help them better approach tutoring sessions. 100 percent felt they would be more helpful to students and felt more self-confident in their tutoring abilities. 77 percent felt training would increase their critical thinking skills in tutoring sessions. The PBL approach resulted in tutors scoring a mean score of 90 percent on a timed comprehensive training exam after a month into tutoring. Tutors gained skills to impact students they helped. Tutors really impacted under-represented students in particular.

Using the direct assessment method of observation notes team leads noticed the students’ surprise when completing an infographic for the Who is Fresno State project. The project required them to review literature and reports on the Office of Institutional Effectiveness’s website. Tutors were surprised about the graduation rates and they were concerned about the inequities of attainment for students of color. The infographic of one team shared their concern about the pressure of four-year graduation on Fresno State’s population as a Hispanic Serving Institution. One team stated we need to encourage students to stay in college every minute in response to the 78 percent retention of first time freshman at the time. Another project team highlighted that over half of all non-white freshman were first generation college students. The tutors brought this context about the institution’s demography and challenges with them into the tutoring environment.

In the Most Effective Ways to Learn project tutors read and synthesized literature on effective learning techniques, created a survey to assess how students at Fresno State study, they sent it to students via social media and presented the results in public chalk drawings incorporating advice for students. They used various technology to understand whether students at Fresno State were implementing the most effective learning techniques and found many were not. One team highlighted that when they surveyed thirty-five students only eight percent of students reviewed material more than once leading up to a test or quiz. Most only reviewed material right before a test or quiz which ran counter to literature. This provided an insight to tutors that they could not simply assume just because a student completed an assignment that they would be prepared for the exam.

Fresno State tutors have done amazing work with the course achievement of under-represented students. Among advantaged students tutors have taken final course pass rates from 77 percent pass rates for students not attending tutoring at all to 93 percent pass rates for students who meet with a tutor at least once per week. The real impact though is that tutors take under-represented students from a 71 percent pass rate to an 87 percent pass rate. When comparing advantaged student pass rates at 77 percent with under-represented students who meet with tutors at least once a week at an 87 percent pass rate you can see that tutoring helps eliminate the achievement gap. Tutors because of PBL are aware of what is at stake, they are aware of what effective learning looks like, and they have a mindset that makes them want to solve challenges of graduation and retention.

This project was featured at the President’s showcase and presented at the Association of College Tutoring and Learning Assistance (ACTLA) conference.

President’s Showcase:

ACTLA conference:


Gary, K. (2015). Project-based learning. Computer48(9), 98-100.

George Lucas Educational Foundation. (October 19, 2007). Why is Project-Based Learning Important. Edutopia. Retrieved from: