About Project-Based Learning

What is Project-Based Learning

Project-Based Learning (PBL) is what George Kuh (2008) calls a high-impact educational practice. Project-Based Learning improves student engagement by connecting the knowledge and skills they learn in class to real-world scenarios that are relevant to them. In Project-Based Learning, instructors provide a background to tangible problems that need a solution, then guide students through the skills and steps they need to develop a solution or produce a response. Projects can vary in size and could be confined to a course unit or could form the basis of an entire class. Students can present their solutions in class or can add a service learning or community engagement component to present their results to community partners. 

Why Use Project-Based Learning

Like other high-impact practices, Project-Based Learning requires students to be active co-creators of knowledge. Projects challenge students to employ higher-order thinking and learning as they apply, analyze, design, and create. By working to address authentic, real-world problems--especially in collaborative project groups--students gain hands-on experience that builds their career and leadership skills. Projects also boost student motivation because the relevance of what they are learning in class is immediately obvious, and the work they produce is meaningful. 

An additional benefit is that students who work on smaller projects throughout their college career will be well-prepared for the complex, multi-stage projects they encounter in research methods and senior seminar capstone courses. 

Course Design Considerations

Project-Based Learning can be adapted to many different course designs. Projects can serve as the anchor for major course concepts in courses from face-to-face to hybrid to fully online. 

  • Start Small. A unit-based project that asks students to propose a solution using real-world data or case studies is a great place to start. 
  • Plan not only the project question and the expectations for the project output, but also the project process itself. When you engage in project-based learning, some instruction will need to be dedicated to teaching students how to work through the complex problems of your discipline. What are the stages of project design and how does your discipline carry out these steps. 
  • Don't take collaboration for granted. If students are developing their projects in groups, spend some time teaching about collaboration and setting up group roles and guidance in navigating group dynamics. Without instruction, issues will inevitably arise. By structuring the collaboration and helping students to reflect upon their group roles, you prepare them to succeed and to be able to cite their work in your course when they apply for new jobs that require teamwork and leadership.