Project Based Learning : A must for 21st century Education

Studies have proven that when implemented well, project-based learning (PBL) can increase retention of content and improve students’ attitudes toward learning, among other benefits.

What Is Project-Based Learning?

PBL hails from a tradition of pedagogy which asserts that students learn best by experiencing and solving real-world problems. According to researchers (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008Thomas, 2000), PBL essentially involves the following:

Teachers can create real-world problem-solving situations by designing questions and tasks that correspond to two different frameworks of inquiry-based teaching: problem-based learning, which tackles a problem but doesn’t necessarily include a student project, and project-based learning, which involves a complex task and some form of student presentation, and/or students creating an actual product or artifact.

These inquiry-based teaching methods engage students in creating, questioning, and revising knowledge, while developing their skills in critical thinking, collaboration, communication, reasoning, synthesis, and resilience (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008). Although these methods of inquiry-based teaching differ slightly, for simplicity they’re combined in these pages and referred to as project-based learning or PBL.

Learning Outcomes
Studies comparing learning outcomes for students taught via project-based learning versus traditional instruction show that when implemented well, PBL increases long-term retention of content, helps students perform as well as or better than traditional learners in high-stakes tests, improves problem-solving and collaboration skills, and improves students’ attitudes toward learning (Strobel & van Barneveld, 2009Walker & Leary, 2009). PBL can also provide an effective model for whole-school reform (National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform, 2004Newmann & Wehlage, 1995).

Keys to Project-Based Learning Success
Researchers have identified several components that are critical to successful PBL (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008; Ertmer & Simons, 2005Mergendoller & Thomas, 2005Hung, 2008). While project-based learning has been criticized in the past for not being rigorous enough, the following features will greatly improve the chances of a project’s success.

  1. A realistic problem or project that aligns with students’ skills and interests, and requires learning clearly defined content and skills.
  2. Structured group work with groups of three to four students, with diverse skill levels and interdependent roles; team rewards; and individual accountability, based on student growth.
  3. Multi-faceted assessment, with multiple opportunities for students to receive feedback and revise their work (e.g., benchmarks, reflective activities); multiple learning outcomes (e.g., problem-solving, content, collaboration); and presentations that encourage participation and signal social value (e.g. exhibitions, portfolios, performances, reports).
  4. Participation in a professional learning network, including collaborating and reflecting upon PBL experiences in the classroom with colleagues, and courses in inquiry-based teaching methods.

Carefully Calibrated Project Design

In general, PBL projects begin by presenting a driving question, one that focuses on intended learning objectives, aligns with students’ skills, and appeals to students’ interests. PBL can range from being highly structured — to guide students toward the most efficient, optimal solution — to having multiple or even no clear solutions (for example, a study of climate change).

If you are new to PBL, it’s best to start with smaller projects that are already part of the curriculum .Teachers can avoid both common mistakes by following a seven-step procedure that sets up the problem for students

  1. Define the Content.What do you want students to learn by the end of the assignment? Expectations should correspond with students’ current research and reasoning skills.
  2. Identify the Context.Brainstorm a list of real-life activities in which learners could apply the intended content. Be aware of any time or location constraints in these situations.
  3. List Possible Problems.Create a list of problems or projects that could occur in each context from Step Two. Select the problem or project that best presents the content objectives and that will be appealing and relevant to learners.
  4. Describe Potential Solutions.Fully describe the most viable solution to the problem or project, as well as possible alternative solutions. Identify the known and unknown variables. Note the most realistic path of reasoning and the knowledge (concepts, principles, procedures, and facts) that would result from the most viable solution. Next, identify alternative paths of reasoning and knowledge that would evolve from alternative solutions to the problem. Based on these possible solutions, what researching and reasoning skills will learners need for solving the problem or creating the project? What is the best framework for building students’ knowledge? (That is, how do concepts required for solving the problem relate to each other?)
  5. Calibrate Your Project.Using the solutions from Step Four, check to make sure that the knowledge and skills generated by the most viable solution match the intended knowledge and skills from Step One. For instance, you might create a chart comparing the intended knowledge and skills with those necessary to solve the problem. To better match intended content with students’ level, add or remove problem conditions. To make a problem easier, focus learners’ attention on the target knowledge. To make a problem harder, focus learners’ attention on peripheral knowledge. To make the problem more realistic, add time, budget, or location constraints that might occur in an authentic professional situation.
  6. Describe the Task.To create a description of the task, remove information from the most viable problem solution from Step Four. If researching or reasoning a critical piece of information is beyond students’ problem-solving skills, this information should be presented to the learners rather than have them struggle to learn it.
  7. Reflect on the Learning.Reflect students’ learning by including multiple opportunities to check their progress in the initial assignment and adjust instruction accordingly (for example, let them know they need to keep a journal and report to their supervisor on a weekly basis). The final assessment should also be clearly described in the assignment (for example, a final report, presentation, or follow-up question or problem) and should allow learners to reflect upon their overall learning and problem-solving process.

Structured Student Collaboration
Compared to traditional instructional methods, students engaged in small-group learning achieve higher grades, retain information longer, and have reduced dropout rates, improved communication and collaboration skills, and a better understanding of professional environments. Collaborative learning promotes time on task as well as friendships across diverse groups, such as race, ethnicity, gender, or school cliques. Collaborative learning benefits students across grade levels, academic subjects, gender, ethnicity, and achievement level To increase the success of group work, team rewards or goals should depend on growth in each individual student’s skills and knowledge, with measures that account for such growth. Researchers recommend three- to four-person teams for most collaborative learning assignments .Lower ability students tend to work best in mixed groups, medium ability students in homogeneous groups, and for higher-ability students, group ability levels make no difference.

Two ingredients are critical for successful collaborative learning (Slavin, 1991):

Assessments That Support Students’ Success
For final assessment criteria, it is recommended these six items:

  1. necessary knowledge acquisition (for example, “need to knows,” or content objectives)
  2. depth of study
  3. effectiveness and efficiency of research methods
  4. logical and effective reasoning
  5. conceptual integration of knowledge
  6. effective problem-solving strategies

Barron and Darling-Hammond (2008) recommend assessing these six items:

  1. use of evidence
  2. accuracy of information
  3. evaluation of competing views
  4. development of a clear argument
  5. attention to writing conventions
  6. collaboration

So in conclusion what can we say that it is the process of learning , delearning and relearning permanently .


  1. Barron and Darling-Hammond (2008)
  2. National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform, 2004Newmann & Wehlage, 1995
  3. (Slavin, 1991)
  4. Ertmer & Simons, 2005
  5. Mergendoller & Thomas, 2005Hung, 2008

Narayan Prasad Sapkota
Master Trainer, Quest Nepal



Leave a Reply