Project-based Learning

Project-based learning (PBL or PjBL) challenges students to investigate a realistic problem in a collaborative environment. The research topic remains a central focus throughout all learning activities. Educational assignments culminate in a final project that addresses the selected question or problem. This instructional approach emphasizes active learning, multimedia technology and critical thinking skills.

1. Overview
2. Case Study
3. Analysis
4. Conclusion
5. Bibliography
6. External links


The theoretical foundations of project-based learning can be found in Constructivism. There are many aspects to constructivist theory, but in essence constructivists believe that learners construct knowledge in order to understand their experiences. Constructivism provides a framework for understanding project-based learning and related instructional approaches, such as problem-based learning and experiential learning. Driscoll states that the constructivist conditions for learning include: learning embedded in a complex, realistic environment; social negotiation of meaning; multiple perspectives; ownership in learning; and self-awareness of the learning process (Driscoll, p. 394).

In the project-based learning environment, students work on a complex project that is relevant to their daily lives. Students may select the topic of their project with guidance from the instructor. This instructional method often increases learner motivation and knowledge retention, because students feel engaged with their research. Many projects involve collaborative work, in which students teach each other and share multiple perspectives. New developments in technology facilitate PjBL. For example, the Internet and e-mail allow students to easily access research and interact with subject matter experts from around the world.

Projects may be integrated across subject areas (i.e. math, science, language arts, etc.), although the planning and implementation require a substantial time commitment. The PjBL instructor facilitates the learning process, by structuring the project criteria and guiding students through tasks leading up to project completion. The students’ efforts typically culminate in a project or research report that is presented to the classroom or community. provides an excellent video synopsis of project-based learning:

Case Study

The Knight Digital Media Center Multimedia Storytelling Workshop offers an illustration of project-based learning in action. This weeklong workshop teaches reporters the skills they need to survive the journalism industry’s transition to online news distribution. The workshop curriculum centers on project-based learning, in the form of multimedia storytelling projects. Prior to the workshop, the stories are vetted to ensure multimedia potential (photo, video, audio, text), accessible interview subjects and locations, and manageable project scope. Participants are assigned to groups with varying skill levels, so that team members can share knowledge with each other.

During the first two days of the training, students learn best practices for multimedia storytelling and practice using multimedia equipment and software. Students then pursue their field project, and compile the various media into a Flash shell. Knight Digital Media Center (KDMC) staff support the workshop fellows throughout this process, resolving technical problems and offering constructive feedback on works in progress. On the final day, groups present their projects to the U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism community. The media files are later archived on the KDMC website:



Project-based learning is important to pedagogical theory because it centers on the learner, rather than the teacher. PjBL also advocates the perspective that students can undertake serious projects and contribute meaningfully to their community.

Proponents of project-based learning contend that project-based learning increases student engagement, collaboration skills and knowledge retention. Researchers at The Center for Learning in Technology found that project-based learning curriculum resulted in greater achievements by students who had been labeled low achievers (, PBL Research Summary…).

While there are many benefits to project-based learning, rote memorization can be effective for some tasks (i.e. simple math). Direct instruction is a more efficient approach for topics that only need to be addressed superficially (PjBL Handbook, p. 7). Planning and implementing a project-based learning curriculum requires a significant time investment. Instructors need to provide appropriate scaffolding, as students may not know how to learn information independently. Some educators and school administrators face concerns over balancing project-based learning and standardized testing requirements (see editorial cartoon below). However, research suggests that students from project-based schools perform better on standardized tests.



In many ways, project-based learning resembles a professional assignment. Students co-operate with others to present a finished product on deadline. For this reason, it is ideally suited for vocational instruction. In a typical newsroom, journalists must complete a polished product on a tight schedule. This environment discourages the delays and inevitable mistakes involved with experimentation. The KDMC workshop projects allow participants to develop their skills in a supportive environment. However, the process is not always perfect. As the deadline approaches, group members often resort to their areas of expertise. Some groups have great ambitions but limited technical abilities.

As the Knight Digital Media Center Program Specialist, I coordinate logistics for the multimedia storytelling workshops. My goal in creating this Wiki page was to explore project-based learning, and perhaps increase the effectiveness of the KDMC workshop projects. This research has piqued my interest in standards-focused projects. I hope to explore recent developments in this field and work with our instructional designers to adapt our programs accordingly.


Buck Institute for Education (2007), BIE Project Based Learning Handbook (p. 3-10)

Driscoll, Marcy P. (2005), Psychology of Learning for Instruction, Third Edition. Pearson Education, Inc., Boston, MA. (2001), “PBL Research Summary: Studies Validate Project-Based Learning”. The George Lucas Education Foundation., "Project Based Learning: An Overview" (Video)

Grant, Michael M. (2002), Meridian: A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal Volume 5, Issue 1. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.

King, Jerry, "Gun Control, Anybody?" (Image), "Project-based Teaching Strategy" (Image)

External Links

Houghton Mifflin’s Project-based Learning Space:

Meridian – A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal:

PBL – Project Based Learning:

Project Based Learning – The Online Resource for PBL:

The George Lucas Educational Foundation: