What is Project Based Learning?
By Maggie O’Brien
Project Based Learning (PBL) is an instructional methodology that encourages students to learn and apply knowledge and skills through an engaging experience. PBL presents opportunities for deeper learning in-context and for the development of important skills tied to college and career readiness.
Characteristics of Project Based Learning
Here are three characteristics of meaningful project based learning activities that lead to deeper student understanding:
PBL focuses on engaging students with real-world problems. This is an interdisciplinary approach because real-world challenges are rarely solved using information or skills from a single subject area. Projects require students to engage in inquiry, solution building, and product construction to help address the real-world issue or challenge presented. As students do the work, they often use content knowledge and skills from multiple academic domains to successfully complete the project.
Project based learning requires the application of knowledge and skills, not just recall or recognition. Unlike rote learning that assesses a single fact, PBL is more complex and can be used to assess how students apply a variety of academic content in new contexts. As students engage in the work of a project they follow a process that begins with inquiry. Inquiry leads to deeper learning, not just related to academic content, but also related to the use of content in real world applications. Inquiry processes can help lead to the development of solutions that address the problem/challenge of the project and the creation of products to communicate solutions to an audience based upon the application of content and skills.
In PBL, the role of the teacher shifts from content-deliverer to facilitator/ project manager. Students work more independently through the PBL process, with the teacher providing support only when needed. Students are encouraged to make their own decisions about how best to do their work and demonstrate their understanding. The PBL process fosters student independence, ownership of his/her work, and the development of 21st century/workplace skills.
Why Project Based Learning?
Research on PBL supports an increase in student engagement and achievement and helps students develop the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in their future careers.
Here are 3 reasons to incorporate PBL into your curriculum:
- PBL is a multidisciplinary pedagogical approach that provides meaningful learning opportunities. While project based learning can certainly be content-specific, it also provides a vehicle for integrating multiple subjects. PBL encourages students to make meaningful connections across content areas, rather than thinking about each subject area in isolation.
- PBL helps build 21st-century skills students need to succeed. Students must be prepared to meet the demands of a global society. Project based learning supports 21stcentury student learning outcomes. Students learning in a PBL setting are often more engaged in the learning process and develop a deeper understanding of the content and skills required for college, work, and life beyond school. PBL helps build 21st-century skills students need to succeed and develops students’ capacity for critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, also known as the Four Cs of 21st-century learning. PBL integrates the “Four C’s” into classroom teaching and learning across a variety of grade levels and disciplines.
- PBL provides opportunities to engage students in real-world learning. PBL is a great opportunity to engage students in authentic projects and/or performance tasks tied to real-world careers and experiences. Real-world tasks give students a deeper understanding of concepts through relevant and authentic learning experiences.
For information on getting started with PBL, check out these articles written by educators who are passionate about engaging their students in PBL or download our FREE guide to project based learning:
- Getting Started with Project-Based Learning
- Tips to Help You Plan Project-Based Lessons
- 3 Ways to Prepare Educators to Teach PBL