Product-Based Education (“PBE”) aims to offer an alternative to existing academic capstones, going beyond research-based theses and outcome-based projects. The goal of PBE is to offer students an opportunity to be engaged in the product development lifecycle and to gain valuable technical, social, and business skills needed to thrive in the modern knowledge economy, and allowing them to enter the workforce with the necessary experience to succeed in their careers and beyond.
PBE is all about process and execution. Students learning under the Product Based Education model will not only gain the competency to innovate using technology, but will also become practical business leaders. After all, turning an idea into reality requires successful business and technical execution of the idea.
PBE is ideal for students who are self-directed, highly motivated and eager to push the threshold of what is possible in their studies. It requires a willingness to be adaptive and to do what is necessary to “get the job done.” Students with disabilities and non-traditional learners can benefit from PBE as it provides an opportunity to leverage a diverse set of skills, abilities, and learning styles. Students can safely test new modes of working and study through PBE, because of the flexibility provided by the program.
Optimally, students leading a PBE capstone will spend 1.5-2 semesters working on a product, in order to gain experience and familiarity with several stages of product development. At the end of a PBE session, students are encouraged to stay involved in the product. Students who only wish to be involved in one component or stage of product development are encouraged to join as interns to the product team.
The internship component of PBE allows student leaders to gain experience in mentoring, coordinating, and leading peer efforts, with the guidance of a faculty advisor, similar to leadership roles in industry. For the interns, the opportunity provides valuable non-academic work experience (while still being a student at the university); the internship program is most similar to a co-op that lasts a few months.
PBE is modeled loosely after the structure of high tech startups. Teams of roughly 2-4 people, with one or two clearly delineated leaders and/or visionaries, work together to ideate, build, release, sell and grow a new product. Ideally, products created through PBE involve significant technical, engineering, or design skill, in order to accurately reflect the complex and dynamic nature of product development in industry. Focus should be placed on building a business venture that is competitive in a market beyond the institution where the product originated.
Students are not only required to develop business and technical strategies, but to also carry them forward. One of the key aspects of PBE is execution; for example, after creating a marketing strategy, students learning under PBE then must implement that strategy. They may spend time recruiting customers individually, creating advertising campaigns (and actually advertising), collecting data about customer interactions and developing insights on that data.
Adaptiveness is fundamental to success with PBE. New business ventures rarely get everything right from the beginning and most undergo some form of pivot (or many pivots) during their early stages. Students under the PBE model will need to iteratively develop their business ventures, by engaging with prospective customers and investors, learning from those interactions and improving (or changing) their direction.