Project-Based Learning

Paul Main

How can project-based learning be used to engage students in authentic learning experiences?

What is project-based learning?

Project-Based Learning, (PBL) is an approach to teaching, which involves student engagement through personally meaningful and real-world projects.

A more formal definition of Project-Based learning is:

It is a teaching method, in which students learn skills and knowledge and work for an extended period to investigating and responding to an engaging, authentic, and complex question, challenge, or problem.

Previously, PBL was used to teach medical students and was part of some business curricula. But, now it is used in many disciplines and to teach students at different educational levels.

In Project-Based Learning, instructors are responsible to engage students in application of knowledge and active learning. Students spend an extended time (ranging from a week to a semester) solving real-world problems or creating a public product for a real audience.

As a result, students develop deep content knowledge as well as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication skills. Project Based Learning offers contagious, innovative energy for students and teachers.

Project-based Learning in Context

Project Based Learning (PBL) is an instructional method used to teach students concepts and skills. PBL is a student-centered approach to teaching that focuses on problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills. In a traditional classroom environment, there is a greater emphasis on teachers presenting information and expecting students to memorize facts and then communicate their understanding through summative assessments.

However, in a PBL class, students learn material by working together to solve problems. Students are given assignments that force them to think critically and collaborate with others. They are expected to come to class prepared with questions and answers, rather than simply listening to lectures. Project Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method that allows students to learn concepts and skills by working together on real world projects. PBL encourages collaboration and teamwork while allowing students to gain valuable experience outside of the classroom. Students are given a project that requires research, planning, execution, and evaluation.

This type of learning takes place over several weeks or months and culminates in a final presentation. During this time, students work closely with teachers and peers to develop solutions to problems and create products that demonstrate their knowledge. There are many benefits to PBL, including increased motivation and engagement, improved critical thinking skills, and greater creativity. Because students are required to complete a project, they are forced to put forth effort and focus on the task at hand. As a result, they become more invested in the outcome of the project and less likely to procrastinate.

PBL also provides opportunities for students to collaborate with each other. When students work together, they build relationships and trust among themselves and with their teacher. These connections allow students to share ideas and resources, giving them the opportunity to learn from each other. Because PBL is project focused, students have to plan and execute tasks independently. This gives them responsibility and ownership over their own education. They must manage their time effectively and prioritize assignments appropriately.

In addition, PBL promotes student autonomy and self-direction. Instead of being told what to do, students are encouraged to explore topics and solve problems on their own. They are responsible for finding answers and developing solutions to complex issues. Lastly, PBL helps students understand the value of feedback and reflection. Teachers provide immediate feedback during class discussions and give individualized feedback after every assignment. Students then reflect on their progress and evaluate their performance. Through this process, they learn to analyze their strengths and weaknesses and adjust their approach accordingly.

While PBL is beneficial for students, it can also benefit teachers. For example, teachers can spend more time focusing on instruction rather than administration. Additionally, teachers can monitor student progress more easily since they receive instant feedback. Finally, PBL can help teachers prepare for future lessons by providing them with insight into student thought processes. This type of education has been proven to improve academic performance and decrease dropout rates.

It might also beneficial for students who struggle with ADHD, dyslexia, and autism spectrum disorders.

Graphic Organisers are useful for facilitating project-based learning
Graphic Organisers are useful for facilitating project-based learning

What are the characteristics of Project-Based Learning?

Although Project-Based Learning is sometimes used synonymously with “experiential learning,” and project parameters may vary from school to school, the basic characteristics of project-based learning are clear, constant, and share the instrumentalism of John Dewey. Following are the 7 characteristics of Project- Based or Experiential Learning Model.

  • It stimulates intrinsic curiosity, and raises questions while allowing students to seek answers;
  • It is inquiry-based, and mainly focuses on an open-ended and essential question, problem, or challenge, for the learner to solve/ research and respond to;
  • It brings what students are supposed to academically understand, and can do into the equation;
  • It involves a deeper understanding of 21st-century skills. creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills, among others;
  • It converts learners' choice into the process;
  • It asks students to present their methods, research process, problems, and outcomes, just as real-world projects or scientific research must stand before constructive criticism and peer review;
  • It offers opportunities for feedback and redoing the project and plan, just as in real-world applications.

Many people think that project-based learning and problem-based learning are the same concepts. But, these are two different concepts. In project-based learning, students produce an artifact that represents their mastery of content; whereas, in problem-based learning, students provide an answer/solution to an authentic and clearly defined problem.

Project-based learning management
Project-based learning management using the block-building kits

What are the essential elements of Project-Based Learning?

According to the Buck Institute for Education, in PBL, learners explore and respond to a complex, engaging and authentic, problem or challenge, with a lot of attention. After distilled academic experience and 15 years of literature review, the BIE or Buck Institute for Education mentioned 7 essential elements for Project-Based Learning based on the project design. These elements presented by Buck Institute for Education are referred to as Gold Standard Project-Based Learning. These include:

  • A challenging question or problem;
  • Authenticity;
  • Sustained inquiry;
  • Reflection;
  • Student choice and voice;
  • Public product;
  • Revision and Critique.

When all these Buck Institute for Education elements are combined properly, they lead to students' deeper learning, better understanding, key knowledge, and skills to achieve success.

Although project-based learning may appear as some isolated or specific teaching practice, all the above elements constitute great learning experiences.

What are the advantages of Project-Based Learning?

Problem-based learning, the teaching method, in which groups of students use carefully designed, open-ended problems to work through content and find an answer, has a lot of benefits for students, teachers and many others. Mainly including:

  • Project-based learning enables students to build connections across content areas and prepares students to face real-world challenges.
  • Instead of summative regurgitation and short-term memorization, PBL allows learners to demonstrate deeper engagement, which mostly results in long-term retention of the target academic content.
  • Project-based work also improves learner attitudes toward learning, primarily due to its ability to enhance student engagement.
  • The structure of PBL is enough to create intrinsic motivation in the students. The students remain focused on a central problem or question and the desired outcome. Due to this, they end up wanting to know the solution or answer as much or even more than the instructor wants to know.
  • According to a Michigan State University collaborative study, PBL is directly related to student achievement, especially in schools situated in underprivileged communities.
  • In his TEDTalk, Daniel Pink mentioned that three things i.e. purpose, mastery, and autonomy bring intrinsic motivation in individuals and project-based learning allows effective learning in students leading to development of grit and rigor.
  • Due to its focus on 21st century skills, the Project-Based Learning model also improves students’ knowledge about technology through authentic experiences.
  • Project-based learning is an effective learning approach that allows learners to develop problem-solving skills.
  • It is a dynamic classroom approach, that improves students' teamwork and communication skills.
  • Collaborative project-based learning also supports the implementation of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs at the level of primary and secondary schools.

Other benefits associated with this type of approach:

  • Increased Student Engagement

Students are engaged in the subject matter. They are actively participating in the learning process.

  • Improved Academic Performance

Studies show that students who participate in PBL perform better academically.

• Decreased Dropout Rates

Dropout rates are decreasing due to increased engagement among students.

Elements of Project-Based Learning
Elements of Project-Based Learning

What type of projects work well with this type of approach?

There are several types of projects that can be done in a PBL class. Here are three examples:

• Problem Solving Projects

These projects involve students working together to find solutions to real world problems. These projects usually include brainstorming, group discussion, and writing.

• Research Projects

Research projects allow students to explore topics that interest them. Students conduct research online, read books, watch videos, and talk to experts.

• Service Learning Projects

Service learning projects encourage students to give something back to society. Students may volunteer at a food pantry, tutor children, or provide tutoring services.


What are the challenges of implementing Project-Based Learning?

  • For some teachers, Project-Based Learning is difficult as compared to traditional education. It takes time to accept a change and a change always comes with apprehension and doubts.
  • Students' previous experience with learning activities does not prepare them well for PBL.
  • Project-Based Learning is more time-consuming and students are not able to study other subjects.
  • The project-based learning classroom is messier, and due to this, it may cause some anxiety.
  • Sometimes group members' issues harm the effectiveness of PBL.
  • PBL leads to less content and academic knowledge in student learning.
  • Teachers need more time, more resources, and more effort to create suitable real-world problem scenarios.
  • Issues relating to group dynamics may need faculty intervention.
  • The educational institution may need a modification in its academic philosophy for the teachers.
  • The school may need flexible classroom space, more number of teachers, or may need to provide support and professional development opportunities for teachers.

Despite the above challenges of PBL, the demands of the 21st century make one thing apparent i.e. the traditional pedagogical approach to learning is not sufficient to prepare children to face the challenges of the 21st century. It is not necessary to seek answers from books only. To implement PBL, schools may seek suggestions and opinions from students, parents, or teachers.

Also, the project can be made more manageable by performing in parts, with repeated checkpoints, rather than launching a massive project in a single attempt. It is suggested to take authentic assessments under the supervision of professionals, rather than a traditional summative In modern times it is essential to use project-based learning, because it is largely believed that we are living in a project-based world, where success depends upon the successful completion of a series of projects. At first, PBL may appear challenging but it can ultimately make the learning process much more interesting and engaging for students!

What wider education outcomes are associated with project-based learning?

Educational outcomes aren't just limited to academic attainment. Wider student progress is an integral part of any education system. Inquiry-based projects can often be used to replicate how working environments beyond school operate. Some of the benefits include:

• Children are active participants in their education process. They are involved in the decision-making process.

• Students are encouraged to ask questions and seek clarification.

• Participants are required to share their thinking with one another.

• Students are expected to demonstrate an understanding of the underlying concept.

• Students are asked to explain their reasoning.

Students are allowed to fail without feeling embarrassed.

• Teachers are able to assess student progress and adjust instruction accordingly.

• Students are provided opportunities to practice critical thinking skills.

• Classes are challenged to apply what they've learned.

• Children are motivated to succeed and are rewarded for success.

• Students are evaluated based on their individual strengths and weaknesses.

• Pupils can be assessed using rubrics that are designed by the school.

• Students are able to transfer knowledge gained in one area into another.

• Students are responsible for their own learning and are empowered to make decisions.


How do I implement PBL in my classroom?

To run a successful group project in your classroom, it's important to think about the demands of skills needed to successfully facilitate an enquiry project. Here are some quick pointers to help you think about setting up your own project-based learning environment:

• Create a culture of inquiry.

• Encourage students to question everything.

• Provide ample resources for students to use.

• Give students ownership over their learning.

• Make sure students understand the purpose of the assignment.

• Use technology tools such as Google Docs, PowerPoint, and Prezi to aid with collaboration

• Involve parents and community members.

• Hold regular meetings with students to discuss their progress.

Evaluate students regularly.

• Adjust your expectations.

• Teach content first.


Children collaborating on a project-based task
Children collaborating on a project-based task

Reflective Questions to think about when planning project-based work

Project-based learning lends itself to particular types of knowledge. It might well be that traditional teaching approaches are best suited to particular bodies of knowledge. If your school is planning to incorporate this type of pedagogy into the curriculum, then these reflective questions might help you think about a purposeful implementation.

• What types of projects does PBL look like?

• How can we create opportunities for students to collaborate and share knowledge?

• How can teachers provide feedback and guidance during student projects?

• How can students demonstrate their skills and knowledge?

• How do we assess students’ progress?

• How can technology play a role in supporting PBL?

• How can schools integrate PBL into existing curricula?

• How can PBL be used to develop 21st century skills?

• How can educators engage parents and community members?

• How can the school environment support PBL?

• What resources are available to support PBL?