Project-based learning is a student-centred methodology that engages students in developing critical thinking through undertaking authentic, meaningful projects.

Project-based learning (also known as PBL) is a teaching strategy that focuses on real-world problems and challenges using problem-solving, decision-making and investigative skills. It is increasingly being used across disciplines because of its capacity to engage students in developing self-directed learning skills. Projects range in scale and type. It can be focused on academic, personal or industry problems and involve external stakeholders such as clients or partners (Thomas, 2000).

Characteristics of effective project-based learning typically include:

  • The presence of a driving question or central concept.
  • The presence of a task, a process, a product and a reflection.
  • Students learning through investigation of defined goals supporting knowledge building.
  • Student-centred projects with teacher facilitation, guidance and/or mentorship.
  • Projects that have significance to the student.

(Source: adapted from Sam Houston State University)

    On this page:

      Designing project-based learning

      Start with the outcomes you want for your students when planning project-based learning. Consider the work you want students to do, the challenges you want them to overcome and then the support you need to put in place to enable this to happen. Use the models on this page to check and refine your plans.

      These models developed by the PBLWorks have been valuable in designing engaging, project-based learning:

      1. Seven essential project design elements provide a framework for developing high-quality projects for your course, and
      2. Seven project-based teaching practices help course coordinators, schools and organisations improve, calibrate, and assess their practice.

      Project-based learning Standards

      Source: PBLWorks

      Top of page

      Facilitating project-based learning

      This guide from Edutopia (2007) “How Does Project Learning Work?”, outlines key elements for understanding the process of planning and undertaking project-based learning:

      1. Start with the essential question: Use a real-world topic and devise a question that poses a real-life situation or problem that students can tackle.
      2. Design a plan for the project: Engage students in decision making so that they have a sense of ownership from the outset; select activities that support the question and utilise the curriculum; recognise what materials and resources are available to support students.
      3. Create a schedule: Design a timeline for project components. This will have some flexibility but is important to keep students on track.
      4. Monitor the students and the progress of the project: Facilitate the process of the project, encourage collaboration and keep the project on track while maintaining students’ sense of ownership and authenticity. Use rubrics to help guide the project.
      5. Assess the outcome: Assessment can provide diagnostic feedback for educators and students and evaluate the progress of the project. Wherever possible, allow students the opportunity to conduct self-assessment.
      6. Evaluate the experience: Educators and students will benefit from reflecting upon the experience both during and after the project through journaling, group reflection and discussion.

      The Edutopia site also has links to further PBL resources such as:

      • how to start projects
      • writing effective driving questions
      • scheduling
      • assessment rubric and graphic organisers
      • workshop activities, and
      • project templates.
      Top of page

      Technology considerations

      To facilitate project-based learning online or in a hybrid learning environment, consider the following tips:

      1. Be mindful of student equity around technology devices, applications and subscriptions
      2. Use videoconferencing platforms for meaningful synchronous collaboration (e.g. Zoom)
      3. Support effective group work with project management tools (e.g. Microsoft Teams)
      4. Provide ongoing feedback and promote reflection.

      Centrally-supported tools:

      Guide students to AskUs for support with central tools.

      Other tools:

      View centrally-supported active learning tools

      Top of page

      Case studies

      Case study 1 – Authentic assessment in medicine and public health

      Associate Professor Linda Selvey

      There were three components to this group work assessment. (1) group written submission, to include a seminar abstract, (2) a statement of contributions to the group task and (3) 10-15 academic references.

      Read more

      Case study 2 – Brand strategy audit

      Associate Professor Frank Alpert

      The assessment task used the customer-based brand equity model. Student teams measured and analysed the customer-based brand equity of their chosen brand. Then, they conducted a focused group to identify consumers’ key beliefs and feelings about the brand.

      Read more

      View more case studies (UQ Assessment Ideas Factory)

      Top of page

      References and further reading

      Boss, S. and Krauss, J. (2007), Reinventing project-based learning: your field guide to real-world projects in the digital age (1st ed.). Washington, DC: International Society for Technology and Education (ISTE).

      Crosthwaite, C., Cameron, I., Lant, P., & Litster, J. (2006). Balancing curriculum processes and content in a project centred curriculum: In pursuit of graduate attributes. Education for Chemical Engineers, 1(1), 39-48.

      Garrison, S. (1999) Dual perspectives on the effectiveness of project-based learning in an online environment. Paper presented at the Teaching in the Community Colleges.

      Project-based learning: am I doing it right?

      Project-based learning in Higher Education (Sam Houston State University)

      Przybysz-Zaremba, M., Rimkūnienė, D., Vasilienė-Vasiliauskienė, V., & Butvilas, T. (2015). Project-based learning: the complexity and challenges in higher education institutions. Journal of Educational Review, 8(2), 211-215.

      Seven essentials for project-based learning (ASCD)

      Thomas (2000) A review of research on project-based learning

      What is project-based learning (PBL)? (Buck Institute for Education)

      Top of page

      Community of Practice

      If you want to know more about how you could implement active learning in your courses, consider joining the Blended and Active Learning Innovation Community of Practice (BALI CoP).

      Need help?

      ITaLI offers personalised support services across various areas including project-based learning activities.