project-based learning

20 Different Kinds Of PBL Show Its Flexibility As A Learning Model

by TeachThought Staff

This post has been updated and republished from a 2013 post

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 an 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

What is 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, so technically there isn’t a certain ‘number’ of types of PBL. However, let’s take a quick look at a few possible examples–mainly to clarify the ability of Project-Based Learning to accommodate other models and approaches inside and outside of the classroom.

Types Of Project-Based Learning

1. The Definition Of Challenge-Based Learning

One type of Project-Based Learning is Challenge-Based Learning–the learning driven by the identification and mitigation of authentic challenges and problems native to students and their communities. In that way, it is a multidisciplinary approach to learning.

It’s essentially a type of Problem-Based Learning rebranded by Apple in the early 2000s in that both have to find solutions to problems over a period of time as their structure.

2. The Definition Of Place-Based Education

Place-Based Education is an approach to learning that embeds students in their ‘place’–that is, the geographical and sociocultural spaces. Promiseofplace.org says this includes the “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. The Definition Of 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. ABL can also be tied to other models, including Competency-Based Learning and Maker Learning.

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 sandcastle 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 an 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.

Other Types Of Project-Based Learning

There are other types of learning that could qualify as a ‘type’ of PBL if the learning is driven through the ideation and execution of a project–usually through inquiry, design, collaboration, and iteration over time. It might even be considered misleading, confusing, or even ‘inaccurate’ to consider something like ‘Academic PBL’ or ‘Teacher-Centered PBL’ but the point is to clarify and emphasize the key elements of PBL, and then consider some different approaches–some likely a better fit than others for your classroom.

A few examples:

Inquiry-Based PBL: PBL where the emphasis is on inquiry

Genius Hour-Based PBL: a PBL experience driven by a student’s specific interests, passions, and gifts

Gamified PBL: PBL that has elements of gamification–levels, points, badges, challenges, etc.

Scenario-Based PBL: PBL designed around specific scenarios–historical, creative, environmental, etc.

Teacher-Driven PBL: PBL controlled more by the teacher than the student

Student-Centered PBL: PBL with elements and processes that are designed with the student’s ‘needs’ over other factors like available technology, time, etc.

Authentic PBL: PBL based on concepts authentic to the student

Tangible PBL: hands-on PBL with physical artifacts

Digital PBL: PBL that is mostly/entirely digital

Academic PBL: PBL where the emphasis is on the mastery of academic standards

Open-Ended PBL: PBL where a project may not solve a specific problem and may not be completed within the given timeframe of the classroom schedule and may have a purpose vaguer than that of other forms of project-based learning

Guided PBL: PBL characterized by the support of students by teachers, families, experts, or others

Self-Directed PBL: The opposite of Guided PBL

Collaborative PBL: PBL where the emphasis is on collaboration: student-to-student, student-to-expert, etc.

Single-Disciplinary PBL: PBL where the majority of the work is done within a single content area

Multidisciplinary PBL: PBL intentionally designed to incorporate multiple disciplines and content areas

Maker Learning PBL: PBL that emphasizes ‘tinkering,’ making, experimentation, and resourcefulness to ‘make’ ‘things’

How Project-Based Learning Is Changing

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.

With improved ‘PBL literacy,’ better access for teachers to professional development for project-based learning, and improving technology, PBL will likely continue to become more personalized with more opportunities for collaboration outside of the classroom. It will also be more natural for teachers and students to curate artifacts from the learning process, as well as documenting academic progress through the ‘doing’ of the projects.

Image attribution gammarayproductions and vancouverfilmschool