Why Project-Based Learning Is So Important

May 18, 2018


Get ready for the hardest thing about project-based learning: explaining it.

Think of a traditional classroom: teacher at the front, students listening and taking notes. 

What’s project-based learning? Learning that the students do, not sit and absorb. Learning through problem-solving. The learning is in the journey of solving a real-world problem.

It’s not just solving the problem any old way though. It’s about developing a research-based solution through a collaborative process.


In short, it’s working together to solve a big problem, and getting assessed on the process. It’s not an afterthought.


Project-based learning, or PBL for short, involves role-playing, real-world scenarios, writing, reading, assessments, audiences, real-world expertise, research skills, comprehension skills, presentation skills, and collaboration skills. 


It calls on students to define, solve, and present a problem through various media.

It requires authentic thought, reflection, and questioning—and the results are incredible.

Let’s take a closer look at why and how PBL is so important.


It works


Higher education institutions use PBL because it works. According to Scott Wurdinger, a professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato students who have the opportunity to use PBL improve in the following areas in just one semester: time management, responsibility, problem-solving, self-direction, collaboration, communication, creativity, and work ethic.

He argues that PBL creates authentic, real-world experiences for students that they don’t experience in traditional, lecture-based courses.


It improves student engagement

If you’ve ever sat in a lecture hall and asked yourself, “when am I ever going to use this?” you’re not alone.


It’s hard to see relevance from your seat.


PBL requires that students design a project that answers a question. Even when students know that the question is hypothetical, they have to engage with the material to learn. They can’t just sit back and let the teacher talk. They have to sit up, stand up, and get to work.


It’s interdisciplinary


Real-world problems with real-world solutions don’t have an answer from one subject or discipline. Projects usually require reading, writing, math, history, and science skills. Depending on the course, the project may focus more on one than another.


What’s the key to success? Teachers supporting students through the process with a clear structure and expectations for how students should move through the process.

Not only is it interdisciplinary academically, it’s interdisciplinary socially, too. Students learn how to advocate for themselves, when to speak up, how to present when to ask the right question.

It’s invaluable in the 21st century. See below.


You learn 21st-century skills


Twenty-first-century skills include critical thinking, real-world problem solving, using technology for learning, collaboration, and communication.


In PBL, students use technology and collaborate with each other to solve problems. This collaboration requires clear, direct communication and the ability to think while doing—and sometimes change course.


How else do students learn key communication skills? They talk to each other, read body language, delegate tasks, ask questions, and work together to achieve a common goal— many components of a successful 21st-century citizen.


You’ll use it in your job

You don’t receive information passively at work. You usually work in a group to solve a problem and complete some tasks independently. Bingo! That’s where PBL experience prepares students to function in the 21st-century work environment.


PBL allows students to experience the complexity of working in a job while still a student.

What does that make it? Good practice for the future.


According to the jobs website, Monster.com, the top seven skills that employers want are problem-solving, data analytics, social media literacy, creativity, resiliency, business sense, and a willingness to learn.


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