Project-Based Learning (PBL)

What is project-based learning?

Project-based learning (PBL) is an instructional approach used to promote active and deep learning by encouraging students to collaborate and investigate a real-world issue. Markham, Larmer, and Ravitz (2003) defined project-based learning as “a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed projects and tasks.”

Why use project-based learning in higher education?

  • Students are prepared and challenged to direct their learning, solve problems of academic significance, and move beyond controlled information containment.
  • Students explore, develop, and integrate ideas.
  • Students’ knowledge construction at advanced levels take new meaning.
  • Students view professors as facilitators of knowledge and motivators of action.
  • Students develop higher-level thinking skills.
  • Students prepare for real-world problems.
  • Students experience responsibility for academics.
  • Students experience lifelong learning.
  • Students are validated through their decisions and actions.
  • Students develop curiosity.

What are criteria for project design elements according to the Buck Institute for Education?

  • Key knowledge, understanding, and success skills
  • Challenging problem or question
  • Sustained inquiry
  • Authenticity
  • Student voice and choice
  • Reflection
  • Critique and revision
  • Public product

References and Sources

Buck Institute for Education (2015). Gold standard PBL: Essential project design elements. Retrieved from

Helle, L., Tynjälä, P., & Olkinuora, E. (2006). Project-based learning in post-secondary education: Theory, practice and rubber sling shots. Higher Education, 51(2), 287-314. doi:10.1007/s10734-004-6386-5

Markham, T., Larmer, J., & Ravitz, J. (2003). Project based learning handbook: A guide to standards-focused project based learning (2nd ed.). Novato, CA: Buck Institute for Education.

Schell, J. (2017). Project-based learning. Retrieved from

CTE Workshop

PPT Presentation

Essential Project Design Elements Checklist