What is Project-Based Learning?

Janelle Cox
Janelle Cox
M.S. in Education
“Project-based learning” is written on a chalkboard.

Whether you’re new to teaching or a seasoned veteran, there’s a pretty good chance that you have heard of “Project-Based Learning” (PBL). Much like STEM education is an integral part of our student’s future, project-based Learning builds on students’ competencies for them to be successful in the 21st century. Today, education is built upon the notion that for our youth to be able to live in this digital age and compete with other industrialized nations, we must give them the right tools to have a bright future. Project-based learning is a teaching method that can do just that.

What is Project-Based Learning?

Project-based learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by investigating and responding to complex questions and real-world problems. With PBL, students build 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and using technology, all of which will help them in the workplace and their lives.

PBL is a student-centered, teacher-facilitated learning method where students work on a project over an extended period, typically several weeks to several months. It often involves interdisciplinary learning, as students explore multiple subjects in the context of the project. Projects can range from creating a product, conducting a science experiment, a business plan, or a piece of artwork, to investigating a social issue about something like poverty, environmental conservation, or human rights.

What is the Difference between PBL and A Regular Project?

Project-based learning (PBL) and regular projects share some similarities, but there are also some fundamental differences as well. A regular project is typically a task assigned to students that involves completing a set of specific steps to reach a predetermined outcome. The teacher usually provides detailed instructions and guidelines, and students are expected to follow these guidelines to complete the project.

On the other hand, PBL involves students actively engaging in a complex and authentic real-world problem or challenge. Typically, students are given the freedom to choose their own approach and must work collaboratively in groups to research, design, and develop a solution to the problem. It also often involves interdisciplinary learning, where students apply knowledge and skills from different subject areas to complete the project.

One of the key differences between regular projects and PBL is the level of control students have over the learning process. In regular projects, students are typically provided with specific guidelines to follow, while in PBL, students are encouraged to take ownership of the learning process, work collaboratively with their peers, take risks, and make decisions that align with their own interests and strengths.

Another difference between regular projects and PBL is that regular projects focus on developing specific skills, whereas PBL allows students to develop skills, such as problem-solving, and critical thinking, and the way they communicate in the real world.

Benefits of Project-Based Learning

There are many benefits to incorporating PBL in your classroom as demonstrated by a growing body of research on the topic. These include:

Fosters Student Engagement

Project-based learning fosters student engagement. A 2020 study published in Sage Journals found that the PBL technique improves student engagement by enabling knowledge and information through collaborative learning. Since students are more actively involved in the learning process, they are more invested in the project and how it’s relevant to their lives.

Leads to Higher Motivation

Using the PBL technique in the classroom can lead to higher levels of motivation. A 2018 study titled, Effects of Project-based Learning on Students’ Motivation and Self-efficacy, found that project-based learning had a positive influence on students’ motivation and was also able to enhance students’ cooperation as well.

Can Help to develop a Deeper Understanding of Material

Project-based learning helps students develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Through collaborative projects and hands-on learning, students can apply what they’ve learned in a more meaningful way. This can lead to a more profound understanding of the material than they would get from a textbook or lecture.

Develops Essential Skills

PBL helps students develop fundamental skills that are essential in school and later in the workplace such as creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, as well as problem-solving skills. Through project-based learning, students can develop these highly valued skills in an authentic way that they can carry with them in the future.

Improves Academic Achievement

Studies have shown that project-based learning can improve students’ academic achievement. Project-based learning provides a more engaging and meaningful learning experience that can improve academic achievement by enhancing students’ critical thinking skills, promoting real-world relevance, encouraging collaborative learning, as well as fostering creativity and innovation.

Project-based learning has been found to be effective in promoting student engagement, motivation, and achievement, as well as preparing students for the challenges of the 21st century. By using this technique in the classroom, you can provide opportunities for students to take ownership of their own learning, and to make connections between what they are learning in school and the world outside of the classroom.

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