What is Project Based Learning? A Guide for Educators

A group of students with a teach working on a wind turbine project

Aptly named, project-based learning (PBL) fosters continuous learning opportunities for students during an assignment rather than solely at the conclusion of a classroom lesson.

Unlike traditional school curriculum, PBL incorporates real-world issues at an appropriate grade level to foster problem-solving skills over a longer period of time. As a result, students find themselves at the helm of research, implementation, and revision processes. This method is known to instill a higher level of ownership and drive for successful outcomes, not just a passing grade.

Educators seeking to advance their careers and newcomers to the profession have benefited from lessons in project-based learning through USD’s Professional and Continuing Education program. Courses include basics of PBL in the classroom, curriculum development and more.

Keep reading to familiarize yourself with the increasingly popular teaching strategy, specific project-based learning ideas, and answers to commonly asked questions.

What is Project Based Learning?

The intent of PBL is largely for students to build confidence in real-world skills and develop a heightened sense of investment in learning. Below is an extended list of benefits associated with a project-based learning curriculum:

Challenges of PBL

Researchers have found that PBL creates some challenges, mostly impacting teachers. They commonly include:

Step-by-Step Process For Implementing PBL

Adhere to these general steps for each project implemented in the classroom. Keeping the approach consistent will help students shift their thinking toward PBL.

  1. Launch: Introduce students to the issue or project at hand.
  2. Inquire: Ask students to consider the information and tools they will need to move forward.
  3. Develop: Choose a course of action and use resources to take initial steps.
  4. Critique: Discuss what is going well and what needs improvement.
  5. Revise: Consider failures and areas for improvement while continuing to work toward a solution.
  6. Present: Once happy with a result, present and defend discoveries.

Project Based Learning Ideas

Project-based learning empowers teachers to tap into their creativity while crafting a curriculum rooted in the methodology. These areas provide ample opportunities for:


As project-based learning gains popularity, there is a growing number of resources available to educators.


What qualities make a strong PBL teacher?

Instructors of PBL should be able to balance providing insight and ideas while allowing students to take control — that means allowing some mistakes along the way. Flexibility and passion are two other common characteristics of teachers in general, and especially those who implement PBL.

How does PBL differ from the hands-on activities I typically incorporate?

There are some notable differences between PBL versus projects. The biggest difference is the timing. While teachers typically assign projects after a lesson as a way to review the material, PBL integrates instruction throughout. PBL also often has real-world applications and relevance that can be shared beyond the classroom.

What are the effects of PBL on test scores?

There is ample conversation around how PBL impacts a variety of testing scores, from state comprehension exams to SATs and subject-specific advanced placement tests. Research shows some positive results, specifically that students experiencing PBL do as well or better than their peers in traditional classroom settings.

Considering a new educational opportunity to better yourself and your students? The industry is constantly changing, and that means opportunities for gaining new skills or sharpening existing ones. Discover the significance of advanced training with our free eBook, “5 Reasons Why Continuing Education Matters For Educators.”


The education industry is always changing and evolving, perhaps now more than ever. Learn how you can be prepared by downloading our eBook.