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Project-based learning is an extended piece of work in which the learner is involved in in-depth research and/or development leading to detailed understanding of the topic and ability to apply learning. 

Project-based learning develops students’ sense of responsibility for their own learning. It allows students to investigate and develop knowledge of subjects in their particular interest and to practise and revisit skills and knowledge taught as part of the curriculum as a means of assessing what has already been taught. 

It can be: 

  • applied to almost any subject area. 
  • individual or group learning. 
  • practical or research-based. 
  • of various lengths – from a week or two to a term or semester. 
  • a designated problem, enquiry development of new ideas. 
  • an in-depth piece of work such as an article or working system, e.g. computer programme. 
  • multistaged so soft skills such as project management, critical thinking and communication can also be developed. 
  • student-led, i.e. student chooses own project or selects from a number offered. 
  • a forerunner to more extended research such as dissertation or thesis. 

Project Based Learning can be split into 4 key processes: 

  1. Defining the problem and the constraints. 
  2. Generating ideas to solve the problem. 
  3. Designing a solution to the problem. 
  4. Review of the solution. 

Best Practice Tips

Defining the problem 

  • Decide whether the problem will be structured or unstructured. Structured problems are closed questions where learners are pushed towards a desired solution. Unstructured problems are open ended, and students are required to create their own structure so that they can approach the problem. The unstructured approach helps to develop the student’s problem-solving skills more than the structured approach. 
  • Provide students with a clear understanding of the objectives of the research: what is the desired outcome? Real-life projects have more meaning that simulated ones.  

Generating ideas 

  • Encourage clear investigation into the background of the project or problem such as a literature review or examination of existing systems. 
  • Foster development (of systems) or analysis of collected data or literature read. 

Review of the solution  

  • Emphasise the need for clear evidence of outcomes and conclusions. 
  • Encourage students to keep a diary of reflection as the project goes on documenting findings, changes, additions or redefinition of the project.  
  • Encourage students to critique each other’s contribution to the project (in a supportive way). 

Organisational tips    

  • Develop a plan with students, clearly laying out the stages of the project, allocating tasks if the project is to be developed by a group rather than an individual. 
  • Set planned milestones such as supervisor meetings or group meetings, if the project is being done by multiple people. 
  • Consider guiding students through stages when first working on project-based learning (using scaffolding techniques). Later projects can be run more autonomously by students themselves. 
  • Give students access to collaborative (digital) tools when working on group projects. 
  • Give students a platform to tell others about the project, e.g. final presentation to other students in the class, or other groups.

Resources and Examples

A general introduction.

Computer programming projects using scratch and PBL.

Engineering PBL examples.

Language learning PBL example.

Business Studies PBL example.

Further Reading

Kokotsaki, D., Menzies, V. and Wiggins, A. (2016) ‘Project-based learning : a review of the literature.’, Improving schools., 19 (3). pp. 267-277.