What is project-based learning?

Children are naturally curious from birth, and no amount of explaining things in theoreticals will eliminate their need to see, touch, and experience things for themselves. With this in mind, teaching methods like project-based learning are becoming more popular as a means of letting students have more control over their learning and gain a deeper understanding through hands-on learning experiences. Project-based learning (PBL) is a teaching approach in which students work on a project for extended periods—weeks, months, or even a semester at a time. The projects are geared toward helping students understand and come up with solutions for real-world problems.

How can project-based learning improve learning environments?

There are several ways in which project-based learning can improve learning in your classroom and provide students with a more fulfilled and thorough understanding of learning objectives. A few of the benefits of utilizing PBL in your classroom are: increased student participation, collaborative learning, a deeper understanding of content, support of differentiated instruction, self-regulation, and social awareness/social-emotional development.

Increased student participation

As a project-based teaching style, PBL requires active participation from all students and creates tangible means of assessing their participation. Because the goal of PBL is the journey, it provides unique freedom for students in determining what their individual journey looks like. Students can define their own topic, set of questions to answer, problems to solve, and goals to meet; they can choose to work alone, in pairs, or in groups; and they can determine what their desired completed project will look like. The level of choice PBL affords students makes them feel more in control of their learning, making the process more exciting for them.

Collaborative learning

Through working on projects with other students in pairs or small groups, students are able to experience a more collaborative learning environment. They learn to fulfill their role as one part of a collective, to work better as part of a team, and how individual contributions fit together as pieces of a whole. Collaboration through PBL also grants students opportunities to combine their knowledge and learn from one another, to review one another’s work, and to give constructive feedback to help one another grow.

Deeper understanding of content

Project-based learning engages students with a topic in an immersive way over an extended period of time. Students spend a longer period of time working on topics and with materials, allowing for a deeper, more thorough absorption of the subject matter and processes used in completing a project. 

Self-governance

Through PBL, students are able to gain and refine skills that allow them to self-govern. Whether working alone or with others, students practice skills, such as time management, problem solving, setting and meeting achievable goals, and emotional regulation. PBL empowers students with more freedom of choice and the ability to work at their own pace, prompting them to establish and maintain their own schedule(s) and rhythm to complete their projects by the due date. By taking initiative and being accountable to their own learning, the lessons and skills learned are better retained.

Social awareness and social-emotional development

Much of social-emotional learning takes place through project-based learning. By working alongside others in pairs or groups, students learn the value of teamwork and how to be a valuable, contributing member of a team. Communication and compromise are necessary life skills that students practice when collaborating on a PBL project, as well as division of labor. Students also gain empathy and social awareness by becoming more aware of others’ emotions, emotional needs, communication styles, and how individual emotions can impact team dynamics.

Process vs. Product

Though “project” is in the name, the overall focus of PBL is more on process than it is about the finished product or project. The most important part of PBL is the experience, the journey, and the knowledge students gain as they work on the project. Even projects that aren’t able to be successfully completed or that don’t work out as originally intended can provide students with a wealth of opportunities to gain new skills, knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work, and an understanding of what they are capable of. PBL provides students the opportunity for invaluable hands-on experience that no amount of theory can ever replace.