Why is project-based learning important?
Research shows that project-based learning (PBL) is beneficial for all students. By actively engaging students in their learning and putting them in charge, PBL encourages students to address challenging problems or questions through a reflective process developing and devising solutions for an authentic audience. This requires a focus on skill development promoting agency and self-directed learning that can help students identify career paths that interest them. PBL is important because it prepares students for the real world and the challenges that they will face later in life.
Skills for life
Project-based learning teaches students skills that they will need later in life such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. Students in PBL environments are prepared for the ever-changing workplace because they know how to manage uncertainty, take responsibility for their learning, and solve complex problems. PBL in classrooms will help students develop the skills that employers are looking for.
Relevance to learning
Unlike more traditional lecture-based courses, project-based learning is best when based on real-world scenarios. This makes experiences more authentic and relevant to learning because it mirrors the way that we think when approaching real-world problems. Through its interdisciplinary nature, PBL provides students with a more authentic experience that will help them navigate their way through the challenges that they will face as adults.
Authentic assessment and evaluation
Project-based learning allows teachers to assess students on multiple fronts. A project-based learning environment provides teachers with a wide range of opportunities to observe students’ progress and measure their performance on mutually agreed-upon learning criteria. Because different students demonstrate their understanding better in certain formats, multiple assessments give a better indication of how students are applying what they learn. Teachers are able to evaluate students and provide feedback demonstrating a learning process that includes failure – but it doesn’t have to feel like a failure.
Students in project-based learning environments acquire skills that will be useful to them outside the classroom and throughout their lives. By learning how to engage in research and direct their own inquiries, students are given choice and voice and are often better equipped to be lifelong learners. This serves them well later in life because it helps them to continue to develop and grow in their abilities to understand the world and process new information. It promotes an attitude that is open to learning new things and adjusting to changes that will occur in the future. Project-based learning sees learning as a journey that begins in the classroom but continues throughout one’s life.
Supported by research
Studies have shown that PBL increases retention and improves students’ attitudes toward learning. Here are just a few examples of the studies that demonstrate the benefits of project-based learning.
- According to an MDRC/Lucas Education Research literature review, the design principles used in PBL help students achieve deeper learning, critical thinking skills, and enhanced social skills.
- A study done by researchers from Santa Clara University and the University of Maryland found that eighth-grade students engaged in PBL in a history class showed significant improvement in both content knowledge and historical thinking skills compared to students engaged in traditional instruction.
- A study of students in Tennessee found that students who had experience in project work performed better in math, word problems, planning capabilities, and attitudes towards math.
The best argument for the importance of PBL is that it opens students up to learning and teaches them skills that will help them navigate their way through a complicated world. As these studies and many others have shown, PBL benefits students by providing opportunities for deep learning and skill development by addressing authentic and relevant challenges. Compared to traditional instruction, PBL is an important way to make sure that students have the best chance for success in school and for developing a love of learning that will last a lifetime.
Condliffe, B., Visher, M.G., Bangser, M.R., Drohojowska, S., & Saco, L. “Project-Based Learning: A Literature Review.” MDRC.https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/ler/MDRC+PBL+Literature+Review.pdf
Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. The Jasper series as an example of anchored instruction: Theory, program description and assessment data. Educational Psychologist, 1992, 27 (3): 291-315. Project Based Learning. NewTechNetwork. August 10, 2016. https://newtechnetwork.org/resources/project-based-learning/
Hernandez-Ramos, P., & De La Paz, S. “Learning history in middle school by designing multimedia in a project-based learning experience.” Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 2009, 42(2), 151-173. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ868627
Vega, Vanessa. “Project-Based Learning Research: Annotated Bibliography.” Edutopia, December 3, 2012, Updated December 1, 2015. https://www.edutopia.org/pbl-research-annotated-bibliography
Walker, Alyssa. “Why Project-Based Learning is So Important.” Keystone Bachelorstudies. March 31, 2018. https://www.bachelorstudies.com/article/why-project-based-learning-is-so-important/