3 Types Of Project-Based Learning Show Its Range As A Learning Model

by TeachThought Staff

Project-Based Learning is an increasingly popular trend in the 21st century.

The best evidence for this popularity might be the nuance it’s taken on. Project-Based Learning has gone from academic study that yields end-of-unit projects, to highly complex methods of creating and publishing student thinking. It is more closely associated with 21st century learning skills than perhaps any other form of learning, and new technology in the classroom is improving its potential exponentially.

The Definition Of Project-Based Learning

Broadly speaking, Project-Based Learning is simply a method of structuring curriculum around projects. These projects highlight the process of learning itself by offering authentic, inquiry-based activities for learners to access content, share ideas, and revisit their own thinking.

There is a difference between projects and project-based learning, primarily that Project-Based Learning is about the process, and projects are about the product that comes at the end. Project-Based Learning often requires students not simply to collect resources, organize work, and manage long-term activities, but also to collaborate, design, revise, and share their ideas and experiences with authentic audiences and supportive peer groups.

This can come in many shapes and sizes, and three appear below.

3 Types Of Project-Based Learning

1. Challenge-Based Learning/Problem-Based Learning

Challenge-Based Learning is “an engaging multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that encourages students to leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems through efforts in their homes, schools and communities.”

It is fundamentally a re-branded version of Problem-Based Learning in that both have finding solutions to problems over a period of time as their structure.

2. Place-Based Education

Place-Based Education “immerses students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences; uses these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum, and emphasizes learning through participation in service projects for the local school and/or community.”

Technically one could learn through a Place-Based Education and not do projects at all, but the idea of performing authentic work in intimate communities certainly lends itself neatly to Project-Based Learning.

3. Activity-Based Learning

Activity-Based Learning takes a kind of constructivist approach, the idea being students constructing their own meaning through hands-on activities, often with manipulatives and opportunities to experiment.

Other Learning Theories Embedded In Project-Based Learning

No matter the type of Project-Based Learning, you’ll likely notice the constant presence of constructionism, the theory that learners continuously create their own meaning. But constructionism is not unique to Project-Based Learning.

Constructivism, however, is something a bit closer. Seymour Papert, a student of Piaget who developed the theory explains the difference.

“Constructionism–the N word as opposed to the V word–shares constructivism’s connotation of learning as “building knowledge structures” irrespective of the circumstances of the learning. It then adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it’s a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe.”

An important shift then is the movement from the private to the public, a key piece of Project-Based Learning.

Situated Learning, a learning theory posited by Jean Lave, proposes that “learning is unintentional and situated within authentic activity, context, and culture.” It is a kind of merging of behaviorist and cognitive theories of learning, and also is inherent in many forms of Project-Based Learning, and itself is related to connectivism and communal constructivism.

Game-Based Learning can also be used within Project-Based Learning, but like constructionism is not entirely unique to Project-Based Learning.


Learning through projects doesn’t sound especially revolutionary, and in fact it’s not. Other trends in education far surpass the pomp and circumstance of Project-Based Learning, but that’s missing the point: Project-Based Learning is a flexible method of anchoring curriculum around authentic projects that can then support so many other promising trends in learning, from Game-Based Learning and Blended Learning, to gamification and the Flipped Classroom.

You don’t have to pick and choose tools–fundamental best practices in cognitive learning theories are naturally embedded in the process, and the latest digital tools and technology are always a natural fit. As technology in the classroom and at home improves, what Project-Based Learning looks like will continue to evolve.

And that’s perhaps the best news of all.

Image attribution gammarayproductions and vancouverfilmschool