Inside the Classroom

What’s Up With…Project-Based Learning?

Project-based learning (PBL) gives students experience with applying a balanced, diverse approach to solving real-world problems. There is no shortage of information about and tips for implementing PBL online, but what is it, exactly? As with any teaching method, PBL can be used effectively or ineffectively, and knowing the different components of PBL, as well as how to get started with it can help make sure your students learn as much from their experience with it as possible.

What is Project-Based Learning?

Project-based learning is an instructional method that allows students to learn, experiment, and apply knowledge gained from real-world challenges or complex problems. Project-based learning is an effective learning method that can be easily adapted for all K–12 students with projects aligned to subject matter and skill level.

Main Components of Project-Based Learning

The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) developed a research-based gold standard to help teachers and schools. The Gold-Standard PBL has three parts:

  • Student Learning Goals: At the center of PBL is ensuring that students are learning standards-aligned content to help prepare them for successful academic and life experiences.
  • Essential Project Design: Project components should maximize learning and engagement.
  • Project-Based Teaching Practices: Many of the standard teaching practices remain, but are altered to fit PBL environments and initiatives.

What Goes in to a Successful PBL Project?

Gold Standard PBL projects focus on learning goals and include the following fundamental project design components:

  • A Challenging Problem or Question: Students should be solving a meaningful problem at the appropriate level of challenge.
  • Sustained Inquiry: Students engage in an extended research process and apply information.
  • Authenticity: The project framework features real-world context.
  • Student Voice and Choice: Students make decisions for the projects including how they work and what they create.
  • Reflection: Students and teachers reflect on the effectiveness of their project activities and the quality of the student work, and address challenges and how to work through them.
  • Critique and Revision: Students give, receive, and use feedback to improve their project and process.
  • Public Product: Students present their projects publicly.

What Do Students Gain from PBL?

PBL helps students connect what they’re learning to real life, and prepares them for real-world challenges. Additionally, students benefit from PBL by:

  • Performing real research and presentations, both of which help them retain what they’re learning.
  • Stronger interpersonal skills by working together and gaining exposure to a variety of personality types and working styles.
  • Increased communication skills.
  • Enhanced technology skills.
  • Exposure to future career choices, and developing a new skill or trade.

Taking the First Step with Project-Based Learning

The best advice for educators who are new to PBL is to start small. Select a few targeted goals each year, and focus on doing these well, and concentrate on growth. Need something more concrete to get started? Getting Smart recently introduced a framework for high quality project based learning (HQPBL) that outlines what the student experience should look like and gives educators a definitive point of origin and foundation for student instruction. The HQPBL framework is designed to help teachers support students with guiding questions, and fulfill the Gold Standard project design elements.

As you and your students become more comfortable with PBL, think about incorporating components of other learning models into it, like social and emotional learning and competency-based learning. PBL primes students with the interdisciplinary knowledge needed to connect what they’re learning to the real world and strive for meaningful outcomes in their learning journeys.


Brandvold, E. (2018, March 4). Structuring the chaos: Making PBL feel safe for new teachers. Buck Institute for Education (BIE). Retrieved from

Heick, T. (2018, August 2). A project-based learning spectrum: 25 questions to guide your PBL planning. TeachThought. Retrieved from

Larmer, J., & Mergendoller, J. R. (2015, April 21). Gold standard PBL: Essential project design elements. Buck Institute for Education. Retrieved from

Larmer, J., & Mergendoller, J. R. (2015, April 21). Gold standard PBL: Project based teaching practices. Buck Institute for Education. Retrieved from

Ryerse, M., & Liebtag, E. (2018, August 29). Project-based learning and the performing arts: A match made in heaven. Getting Smart. Retrieved from

TeachThought Staff. (2018, August 2). The difference between projects and project-based learning. TeachThought. Retrieved from

Truss, J.(2018, September 17). 5 things that make project-based learning culturally responsive. Getting Smart. Retrieved from

Vander Ark, T. (2018, March 7). Introducing a framework for high quality project based learning. Getting Smart. Retrieved from

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Where Learning Clicks

Since 1998, Edgenuity has been creating products and services that help all students achieve their full potential. As an extension of our efforts, we also produce Where Learning Clicks to share meaningful and timely ideas about trends, developments, and changes in education, as well as how to further incorporate technology into today’s classrooms.