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What is PBL?

Monday 27 August 2018, by JMC


Although Project-based learning (PBL) may sound modern, it is one of the oldest forms of learning, with its roots not only in many traditional tribal and non-European societies, but also classical teaching methods developed by the Greeks, such as the Socratic method. It therefore far pre-dates today’s conventional ‘industrial’ schooling, so named because it was introduced during the Industrial revolution in Europe in order to produce workers and managers.

What is PBL?

Project Based Learning is an active, inquiry-based teaching method in which learners gain knowledge and skills by working on a project for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.

Heart dissection 9-10yr olds

In PBL the education is focused on the learner, not the curriculum. It emphasizes learner participation in the learning process to construct their knowledge in an active learning environment. This reflects the demands of a globalized world, which favours and needs socio-affective skills such as drive, passion, creativity, empathy, and resiliency. These cannot be taught out of a textbook, but must be activated through experience. PBL can offer that kind of necessary experience to learners.

PBL contrasts with paper-based, rote memorization, or teacher-led instruction that presents established facts or portrays a smooth path to knowledge. Instead it poses questions, problems or scenarios. Because PBL is based on real-life issues, questions are open-ended, and answers are complex and multi-sided.

Project-based learning focuses on developing the critical thinking and problem solving skills of learners. Its inquiry-based method of learning, to solve the problems given as projects to the learners, is a style of active learning.

In short, PBL integrates knowing and doing, when learners apply what they know to solve authentic problems with intentions to produce results that matter.

7 key elements of PBL

PBL is characterised by the following 7 key elements. For more information, click here.

1) Driving Question
Every project begins with a question that drives subsequent learning. This question is thought-provoking, challenging, authentic and above all open-ended.

2) Deep learning
A high quality project requires learners to think critically about a complex problem over the course of weeks or months. To complete a project, learners need to learn important academic content, concepts, and skills. They are also challenged to produce the highest-quality work possible and guided and supported as they try to do so.

3) Learner-focussed
PBL is predominantly learner-centred, not curriculum-centred, with the intention of helping learners to become self-directed and to apply sound higher-order thinking skills. Teachers mainly act as resources, facilitators and guides, although they will also directly instruct where necessary.

4) Authentic
PBL is based on the real-world, using the tools, techniques, and technology found there. It connects to the interests and concerns of learners and as a result, it is motivating and engaging.

5) Collaborative
An essential element of PBL is its collaborative nature, because in a globalized world, learners need to be able to work with others.

6) Reflection, critical revision and assessment
PBL leaves time for learners to give and receive feedback on their work in order to help them to understand how to improve. Learners also reflect on their own learning, a process referred to as metacognition, or ‘learning to learn’. Research has shown that good metacognition has a very high impact on learner progress.

7) Public Outcome
PBL has a public outcome such as a display, performance, publication or community event. Sharing their work with the community beyond the school encourages learners to deliver their best work, as well as helping to improve their social and emotional skills.


The principal goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done – men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical, can reason and do not accept everything that is offered to them. Jean Piaget

Industrial learning through classroom-based education is being challenged by the ever-increasing complexity in our lives and societies. PBL is a pedagogical model of learning that responds to the needs of 21st century learners by preparing them to solve real-world problems. Its approach helps to equip children with the skills and mindset that they will need to navigate and thrive in a fast-changing globalised world, as well as develop their full potential as human being.

Because it is learner-focused and based on real-world challenges, it is motivating for both learners and teachers and allows for creativity and risk-taking whilst remaining rigorous and capable of integrating with existing curricula and assessment regimes.