What is project-based learning?

Explore the history behind project-based learning and see for yourself how the concept works.​

What is project-based learning?

Whether it is an entrepreneur completing a business proposal, a social institution increasing community awareness, or an artist debuting a collection of paintings, people across the world are achieving remarkable accomplishments one project at a time. Innovative educators everywhere are enriching the student experience by promoting independent learning and exploration through project-based learning.

So, what is project-based learning? Our definition of project-based learning is a meaning-oriented and student-centered instructional approach that allows students to discover content, engage in higher-level thinking, make personal connections, construct their own meaning, and reflect on what they have learned. The Buck Institute for Education describes this effective instructional approach as ‘an extended process of inquiry’ and put together a short video to showcase the essential components:

Project-Based Learning: Explained

The Buck Institute for Education commissioned the cutting-edge advertising agency, Common Craft, to create a short animated video that explains in clear language the essential elements of Project Based Learning (PBL). This simple video makes the essential elements of PBL come alive and brings to light the 21st Century skills and competencies (collaboration, communication, critical thinking) that will enable K-12 students to be college and work-ready as well as effective members of their communities.

Source: Buck Institute for Education

When grasping the project-based approach, it is often best to hear directly from the students how this form of student-centered learning has benefited and motivated them to excel. Take this group of Edvisions students, for example, who thoroughly answer the question, "What is project-based learning?"

Project-Based Learning: Mummified Chicken, Mutant Frogs, and Rockets to the Moon

As part of their Design Essentials video series, EdVisions provides the public with a student-generated video explaining and defining the project-based learning model.

Source: EdVisions Schools

Let's think about constructing a building for a minute. The first step is to lay the foundation, the quality of which will define how large the building can be. Stronger, more complex foundations allow for bigger, taller, wider buildings. The same is true with a learner's educational foundation. The more complex of a foundation a learner has, the more they are able to absorb. A key part of any project-based learning definition is the notion of scaffolding learning techniques. These techniques - such as activating prior knowledge, offering motivational context, modeling, or using graphic organizers - allow teachers to take students beyond what they already know. Learners with a strong base of skills and knowledge will process this new information even faster.

Understanding the project-based learning continuum will help you successfully implement individualized learning. The project-based learning continuum encompasses the shift from isolation to connection, from teacher-designed projects to teacher-designed infrastructure that allows student-designed projects.  Project Foundry® is the tool used by innovative PBL schools from Hawaii to Maine, and everywhere in between, to uniquely manage the spectrum of learning experiences that are a result of progressing along the project-based learning continuum from teacher-directed instruction to a student-centered model of learning:

Innovative educators across the country recognize the value of student-centered project-based learning to prepare students for the 21st century economy. These educators have created stimulating, real-world learning environments that invoke an eagerness to learn. Students participating in project-based learning programs are participating in the future; are your students in this fortunate group?