Ewan Mc Intosh thinks Design Thinking is better than PBL as a learning process.
A PBL project tends to explore a relatively narrow subject area, with a narrow essential question
In Design Thinking, the students, not the teacher, write the essential question(s)... the teacher avoids asking a question at all, and comes up with what we call a Generat Ive topic (from David Perkins' work), a curiosity-mongering statement that opens up an area of study... A large part of our work with educators is working on how to develop higher order questioning skills (Thinking Tools) in students. So many Design Thinking projects we observe elsewhere at the moment are based around relatively lower order questions, or on just school/community improvement.
The ideas of what students will produce in PBL are often set by the teacher.
- Design Thinking provides a set of vocabulary that increasingly makes sense to employers in the creative, financial and governmental and innovation sectors.
He also thinks Understanding By Design is backwards: UbD almost tries to give students the impression they have choice, responsibility for their learning, real things to create in order to learn, but in fact, it fails to respect the choices learners make, as tangents are a) less likely to appear (the immersion phease of research at the beginning is narrower by design) and b) less likely to be given time and resource by the teacher when they do appear (such tangents are off the goal that the teacher has already set in mind).
I feel that UbD and many project-based learning approaches do nothing but disempower the learner, or at least not empower them any more than traditional coursework and chalk-and-talk. It's maybe less the approach that is wrong (since depth and higher order thinking is a staple of most guides to project-based learning) but the practice that ends up occurring as people find themselves pushed back into the status quo of assessment accountability and content coverage fear from their superiors. As a result, many design thinking projects we see are too narrowly designed around school or community improvement, something Reggio Emilia and Montessori School-s have been doing (better?) for scores of years.
Mar'2014 update: Gary Stager also questions Understanding By Design, where an adult determines what a children should know or do and then gives the illusion of freedom while kids strive to match the curriculum author’s expectation.