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The Difference Between Projects And Project-Based Learning

by TeachThought Staff

Projects in the classroom are as old as the classroom itself.

‘Projects’ can represent a range of tasks that can be done at home or in the classroom, by parents or groups of students, quickly or over time. While project-based learning (PBL) also features projects, in PBL the focus is more on the process of learning and learner-peer-content interaction that the end-product itself.

While some examples of project-based learning might be helpful, it’s also useful to understand the big picture: While PBL is a different approach to learning, it’s not hugely different from traditional learning from a broad enough perspective. The learning process is simply personalized in a progressive PBL environment by students asking important questions, and making changes to products and ideas based on individual and collective response to those questions. In PBL, the projects only serve as an infrastructure to allow users to play, experiment, use simulations, address authentic issues, and work with relevant peers and community members in pursuit of knowledge.

By design, PBL is learner-centered. Students don’t simply choose between two highly academic projects to complete by a given date, but instead use the teacher’s experience to design and iterate products and projects–products and projects that often address issues or challenges that are important to them.

The chart by Amy Mayer at the bottom of this post is helpful to clarify that important difference between projects and project-based learning. Ultimately, the biggest difference is the process itself.


The audiences for projects are generally in the school

Are more about the end-product and less about the learning and process

The project is pre-planned and clear

The project is based on directions and criteria

The project can be done at home without teacher guidance or collaboration

The project can be outlined in details on one piece (or even two pieces) of paper by the teacher

In a project, the ‘teacher work’ mainly occurs after the project is complete

Are less open-ended and more uniform

Projects are ‘turned in’ rather than ‘puhlished,’ presented, or otherwise managed on an ongoing basis (like a business, for example)

Project-Based Learning

In PBL, the audience is generally outside the school

PBL includes ‘need to knows’ and progress checkpoints

Input from peers, teachers, community members, experts, and others can help guide and improve the project

The ‘teacher work’ is done mainly before and during the process itself

PBL Is often based on a driving question and ongoing inquiry, discovery, and iteration

PBL depends on background knowledge, learner choice, technology tools, support from others, and dozens of other factors that result in a process of learning that produces very different results and ‘projects’

What’s the Difference Between ‘Doing Projects’ and Project Based Learning? Image attribution flickr user josekevo; The Difference Between Projects And Project-Based Learning; © Amy Mayer, @friEdTechnology, The Original WOW! Academy, www.friEdTechnology.com