Project-Based Learning

By Aerick Sanders

Hello everyone, my name is Aerick and I am going to be discussing project-based learning which I will also refer to as PBL.

Now project based learning seems self-explanatory but this technique is more complex than what it may seem. PBL is a teaching model that organizes lesson and learning around projects. It incorporates complex questions and problems that make students think critically. PBL is used to help students find the answers on their own and incorporate the classroom lessons into their project.

PBL was first implemented by William Heard Kilpatrick. In 1908 he began his doctoral studies at Colombia University where he studied under John Dewey. In 1918, he released an article discussing project based learning. His article was called “The Project Method”. His idea of this type of teaching method arose from Dewey’s earlier work “Interest and Effort” that discussed the idea of engaging students in purposeful activities.

Kilpatrick used the idea of individual learning and developed PBL. He felt as though projects would be a good way for students to be able to challenge themselves individually and help the child develop as a whole. PBL is a way for students to learn at their own level but it also allows them to challenge themselves through analytical and critical thinking.

In 2000, John W. Thomas, Ph. D wrote a review on the research related to project-based learning. In his review, he discusses several key factors to PBL such as the research and practices of PBL, the effectiveness, the role of the student and the challenges that come with PBL. Project based learning has a uniqueness to it and several characteristics that separated this method from others. There are five criteria that should be reached to effectively use PBL.

Those five criteria include: centrality, a challenging or driving question, constructive investigations, autonomy and realism. Centrality refers to the project being the central to curriculum and main teaching strategy. The students would use the project to help them understand the curriculum through the challenges they may come across working on the project.

Next is the driving question. PBL is designed to aid students in developing critical thinking skills. This is done by focusing a project on a problem that drives the student to encounter the central concepts and principles of a discipline. It aids the student to make a connection from inside the classroom and use it in their daily life. In a way, these challenging questions make students develop an intellectual purpose. This criterion goes back to Kilpatrick’s original purpose of child-centered teaching.

Constructive investigation is another criterion that Thomas discusses in his research review. This is the idea that the goal of PBL is to have a goal-directed process that makes the student transform and construct knowledge. If the project’s central activities do not challenge the student or have any type of difficulty to it then the student will be unable to expand their knowledge. They can easily use prior knowledge and will not grasp the curriculum.

PBL is essentially a student-driven way of teaching. They require the effort of the student in order for PBL to be effective. The projects should be realistic and not school-like. This will encourage the student to care about the lesson and they will be able to use what they learn outside the classroom. Because isn’t that the whole reason we teach? PBL projects involve more student autonomy, unsupervised work time and more responsibility of the student.

Since more responsibility is put on the student, the characteristics of each individual student has a impact on the effectiveness of project based learning. These characteristics can include gender, age, demographic characteristics, ability, and motivational variables. Some research conducted by Rosenfield in 1998 proved that some students that do not do well in traditional classrooms tend to do well in PBL activities. And vice versa. Those who do well in traditional classroom setting tend to not be successful in PBL activities.

Since I’ve kind of touched on the importance of the students role in PBL, lets discuss the instructors role. Projects require that teachers get to know the interests of their students. They must pay attention to what interests their learner’s and base the project on that topic. This will help motivate the project and keep students focused on the purpose. The teachers role is to help facilitate and lead the students in the direction that you want the project to go.

PBL requires the kind of leadership skills that allow teachers to help a group of learners to move in the right direction, pointing out potential pitfalls or making suggestions without getting defensive when students decide they like their own ideas better. The teacher should possess a tolerance for helping students negotiate conflicts and enough self confidence to not give up if the project refuses to pull through and come together like originally planned.

Not all project will be successful. Which is a disadvantage of this style of teaching. However, I do believe because of the inexperience with many teaching techniques, any style may prove to be unsuccessful the first time around. It’s a learning experience for both the students and the instructor as well. The inexperience of the teacher can affect the success of the project along with resistance from students. Some students don’t like project work and will close themselves off.

Some strategies to keep the student from closing off can include making project participation voluntary. You can give students the option to work together in groups or allow them to work on their own if they prefer to. You can also set aside a couple hours a week to allow project work if the class will allow that kind of time. In cases where both students and teachers are new to this style of learning, group discussions and group decision making will help ease the transition.

Teachers should also provide a method of coaching that allows students to retain control over their project work. Student will make the decision on which path they want to take with the project. If needed, the instructor should reinterpret the students’ move and together they can find mutual insights if the instructor feels the students path will have several complications along the way.

One of the weaknesses of PBL is that there is often a poor fit between the activities that form the daily tasks of the project and the underlying subject matter concepts that gave rise to the project. Projects can get off track with students and teachers pursuing questions that are peripheral to the subject matter of interest. A solution to that problem according to Blumenfeld in 1991 and Barron 1998 is to find ways for projects to center on learning appropriate goals.

After successfully completing projects, teachers say that the student enthusiasm was increased after the project compared to their enthusiasm before. Since PBL focuses on topics important to the students, their motivation is higher and they become more curious and inquiry more about the topic. The students tend to dig deeper into the topic and spend more time on a task than they do when a teacher assigns group work and a shared group ethic is created.

Some students when asked what the project work has meant to them, they mentioned that they gained a greater awareness of their ability to conduct such research, their ability to map out a project, the ups and downs they faced during the project, and the pride they had in gaining important knowledge and insights. Some students had enthusiasm in mastering new technologies that they used during the project.

In conclusion, project based learning in comparison to other instructional methods, has value for enhancing the quality of students learning in subject matter areas. PBL allows students freedom to explore topics that are important to them and it can also help the students develop self motivation and improve their skills within and without the classroom. Thank you for listening and I hope you learning a little bit about project based learning.


Project-Based Learning. Retrieved from

Barrows, H. S. (1986). A taxonomy of problem‐based learning methods. Medical education, 20(6), 481-486.

Barrows, H. S. (2000). Problem-based learning applied to medical education. Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

Barrows, H. (2002). Is it truly possible to have such a thing as dPBL?. Distance Education, 23(1), 119-122.

Project-Based Learning