What is project based learning


Defining what a project is

A project can be defined as:

  • a plan, scheme, proposal or design.
  • a research or study assignment.
  • an individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim.
  • a task requiring considerable or concerted effort

The term ‘project’ within higher education can mean very different things, across different disciplines but also within the same. The variants might include the following:

Who is involved in undertaking the project:

  • Individual
  • Group studying within the same module/unit/course
  • Group studying or working across different institutions/organisations

The duration of the project:

  • Short – completed within 1-3 weeks
  • Medium – completed within a semester
  • Extended – completed over two semesters

The assessed output:

  • Artifact
  • Instillation
  • Written report (and expected word count)
  • Presentation
  • Prototype
  • Piece of software or hardware


Undertaking a project

From conception to evaluation, projects are an iterative process where several phases are likely to take place and various changes may occur. Adjustments may be made based on feedback and reflection. Capturing this ongoing process and reflecting upon these experiences is most helpful when it becomes an embedded part of the overall project. Introducing ways to use digital and social media in project based learning to capture ongoing ideas, thoughts and reflections; or to engage in communication with a tutor or peers, can empower learners to take personal ownership of reflective practice in a way that suits them best.


Project Based Learning

Typically project based learning (PjBL) is where real problems and issues are investigated. The outcome of project based learning is an artifact, whereas problem based learning is a solution. In some cases PjBL is referred to as inquiry based learning or learning by doing. The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) describe PjBL as:

“A teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.” 

Note: the use of the acronym PjBL is used to make a distinction between problem based learning (often referred to as PBL).

The Project Based Learning Toolkit aims to introduce a learning support  system to guide and scaffold the project lifecycle. Providing choices empowers each learner to take control of their own learning; create their own self-organised system to capture knowledge and understanding; and a develop a reflective space they own personally and will value.

The examples shared in the Project Based Learning Toolkit are there as suggestions. It is not the intention that all should be used. The examples are there to introduce alternative ways to support your project. You may then select the tools that interest you, try them out, discard a few and try some more. This is about taking ownership of your own learning and this is not a linear process.


Image: Mather 2016


BIE. (nd) What is Project Based Learning?

Mather, B. M. (2016) Education may be linear [Image] CC BY ND