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Project-based Learning is a research-based, educational model that provides effective student-centered, self-directed learning (Uden & Beaumont, 2006).

The Project-based Learning model is designed to encourage the student to explore and direct their learning in real-world situations while the teacher acts as a facilitator of information and an enabler of opportunities (Savin-Baden & Major, 2004).

Elements of Effective PBL

PBL activities look differently than the traditional classroom projects. Consider the following elements of well-constructed PBL to determine if a project qualifies at a well-constructed PBL activity (adapted from Hickey, 2014):
  • Takes longer to complete
  • Examines and connects concepts across curriculum
  • Increases the importance and relevance of subject matter
  • Encourages multiple methods of obtaining an answer with a variety of answers
  • Establishes a long-term understanding of the content

Learning in Context

PBL employs a situated learning model to engage the self-directed learner.

Situated Learning is a learning framework by which all learning occurs within the social and environmental context in which that knowledge will be applied (Marra, Jonassen, Palmer, & Luft, 2014).

PBL accomplishes this important learning model by allowing the student to explore a topic because of an intrinsic need to know more information. The knowledge is developed within that immediate context which stimulates long-term understanding.

Watch to video for an overview of what Project-based Learning does for the self-directed learner.

Benefits of Using PBL

PBL encourages and strengthens critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills through inquiry-based interactions with teachers and peers.

PBL activities are designed to promote student creativity through the exploration and use of multiple tools and technology to complete the task. Situated learning and task relevance provide natural differentiation of content (Hickey, 2014).

PBL vs. Traditional Learning

Traditional learning values content delivery, where students are meant to learn content and repeat that information in a quantitative manner.

Problem-based learning values the process of acquiring knowledge, where the student identifies what they need to know and how they solve problems in a real-world situation.

Traditional Learning vs. PBL

Teacher Resources

For extensive, up-to-date information about getting started with PBL, visit the resource page at the Buck Institute of Education.

Related Pages:

PBL and the Teacher-facilitator
PBL and the Self-directed Learner
PBL and Technology Integration


Hickey, R. (2014). Project-based learning: Where to start? Techniques: Connecting Education & Careers, 89(2), 8-9. Retrieved from

Marra, R. M., Jonassen, D. H., Palmer, B., & Luft, S. (2014). Why problem-based learning works: Theoretical foundations. Journal On Excellence In College Teaching, 25(3/4), 221-238. Retrieved from

Project Based Learning: Explained. (2010, December 9). Retrieved from

Savin-Baden, M., & Major, C. H., & Society for Research into Higher, E. (2004). Foundations of Problem-based Learning. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Education

Uden, L., & Beaumont, C. (2006). Technology and problem-based learning. Hershey, PA: Information Science Pub.