Project-based learning is considered an alternative to paper-based, rote memorization, teacher-led classrooms. Proponents of project-based learning cite numerous benefits to the implementation of these strategies in the classroom including a greater depth of understanding of concepts, broader knowledge base, improved communication and interpersonal/social skills, enhanced leadership skills, increased creativity, and improved writing skills.
John Dewey initially promoted the idea of "learning by doing." In My Pedagogical Creed (1897) Dewey enumerated his beliefs regarding education: "The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these.......I believe, therefore, in the so-called expressive or constructive activities as the centre of correlation." (Dewey, 1897) Educational research has advanced this idea of teaching and learning into a methodology known as "project-based learning." Blumenfeld & Krajcik (2006) cite studies by Marx et al, 2004, Rivet & Krajcki, 2004 and William & Linn, 2003 and state that "research has demonstrated that student in project-based learning classrooms get higher scores than students in traditional classroom."
Markham (2011) describes project-based learning (PBL) as: " PBL integrates knowing and doing. Students learn knowledge and elements of the core curriculum, but also apply what they know to solve authentic problems and produce results that matter. PBL students take advantage of digital tools to produce high quality, collaborative products. PBL refocuses education on the student, not the curriculum--a shift mandated by the global world, which rewards intangible assets such as drive, passion, creativity, empathy, and resiliency. These cannot be taught out of a textbook, but must be activated through experience." 
Project-based learning has been associated with the "situated learning" perspective of James G. Greeno (2006) and on the constructivist theories of Jean Piaget. A more precise description of the processes of PBL given by Blumenfeld et al says that, "Project-based learning is a comprehensive perspective focused on teaching by engaging students in investigation. Within this framework, students pursue solutions to nontrivial problems by asking and refining questions, debating ideas, making predictions, designing plans and/or experiments, collecting and analyzing data, drawing conclusions, communicating their ideas and findings to others, asking new questions, and creating artifacts." (Blumenfeld, et al , 1991) The basis of PBL lies in the authenticity or real-life application of the research. Students working as a team are given a "driving question" to respond to or answer, then directed to create an artifact (or artifacts) to present their gained knowledge. Artifacts may include a variety of media such as writings, art, drawings, three-dimensional representations, videos, photography, or technology-based presentations.
Project-based learning is not without its' opponents though; in Peer Evaluation in Blended Team Project-Based Learning: What Do Students Find Important? Hye-Jung & Cheolil (2012) describe social loafing as a negative aspect of collaborative learning. Social loafing may include insufficient performances by some team members as well as a lowering of expected standards of performance by the group as a whole to maintain congeniality amongst members. These authors said that because teachers tend to grade the finished product only, the social dynamics of the assignment may escape the teacher's notice. 
- 1 Structure
- 2 Elements
- 3 Examples
- 4 Roles
- 5 Outcomes
- 6 Criticism
- 7 See also
- 8 External links
- 9 References
Project-based learning emphasizes learning activities that are long-term, interdisciplinary and student-centered. Unlike traditional, teacher-led classroom activities, students often must organize their own work and manage their own time in a project-based class. Project-based instruction differs from traditional inquiry by its emphasis on students' collaborative or individual artifact construction to represent what is being learned.
The core idea of project-based learning is that real-world problems capture students' interest and provoke serious thinking as the students acquire and apply new knowledge in a problem-solving context. The teacher plays the role of facilitator, working with students to frame worthwhile questions, structuring meaningful tasks, coaching both knowledge development and social skills, and carefully assessing what students have learned from the experience. Typical projects present a problem to solve (What is the best way to reduce the pollution in the schoolyard pond?) or a phenomenon to investigate (What causes rain?).
Comprehensive Project-based Learning:
- is organized around an open-ended driving question or challenge.
- creates a need to know essential content and skills.
- requires inquiry to learn and/or create something new.
- requires critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication, often known as "21st Century Skills."
- allows some degree of student voice and choice.
- incorporates feedback and revision.
- results in a publicly presented product or performance. 
Although projects are the primary vehicle for instruction in project-based learning, there are no commonly shared criteria for what constitutes an acceptable project. Projects vary greatly in the depth of the questions explored, the clarity of the learning goals, the content and structure of the activity, and guidance from the teacher. The role of projects in the overall curriculum is also open to interpretation. Projects can guide the entire curriculum (more common in charter or other alternative schools) or simply comprise of a few hands-on activities. They might be multidisciplinary (more likely in elementary schools) or single-subject (commonly science and math). Some projects involve the whole class, while others are done in small groups or individually.
When PBL is used with 21st-century tools/skills , students are expected to use technology in meaningful ways to help them investigate, collaborate, analyze, synthesize and present their learning. Where technology is infused throughout the project, a more appropriate term for the pedagogy can be referred to as iPBL (copyright 2006, ITJAB), to reflect the emphasis on technological skills as well as academic content.
An example of applied PBL is Muscatine High School, located in Muscatine, Iowa. The school started the G2 (Global Generation Exponential Learning) which consists of middle and high school “Schools within Schools” that deliver the four core subject areas. At the high school level, activities may include making water purification systems, investigating service learning, or creating new bus routes. At the middle school level, activities may include researching trash statistics, documenting local history through interviews, or writing essays about a community scavenger hunt. Classes are designed to help diverse students become college and career ready after high school.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has provided funding to start holistic PBL schools across the United States. These organizations include:
- EdVisions Schools 
- Envision Schools 
- North Bay Academy of Communication and Design 
- Big Picture Schools 
- New Tech Network 
Another example is Manor New Technology High School, a public high school that is part of the New Tech Network of school. Manor New Technology High School is a 100 percent project-based instruction school. Students average 60 projects a year across subjects. Since opening in fall 2007, the school has outperformed the state of Texas and Manor Independent School District in the percentage of students passing state standards in three of the four subjects tested: science, social studies, and reading/English language arts.
PBL relies on learning groups. Student groups determine their projects, in so doing, they engage student voice by encouraging students to take full responsibility for their learning. This is what makes PBL constructivist. Students work together to accomplish specific goals.
When students use technology as a tool to communicate with others, they take on an active role vs. a passive role of transmitting the information by a teacher, a book, or broadcast. The student is constantly making choices on how to obtain, display, or manipulate information. Technology makes it possible for students to think actively about the choices they make and execute. Every student has the opportunity to get involved either individually or as a group.
Instructor role in Project Based Learning is that of a facilitator. They do not relinquish control of the classroom or student learning but rather develop an atmosphere of shared responsibility. The Instructor must structure the proposed question/issue so as to direct the student's learning toward content-based materials. The instructor must regulate student success with intermittent, transitional goals to ensure student projects remain focused and students have a deep understanding of the concepts being investigated. It is important for teachers not to provide the students any answers because it defeats the learning and investigating process. Once the project is finished, the instructor provides the students with feedback that will help them strengthen their skills for their next project
Student role is to ask questions, build knowledge, and determine a real-world solution to the issue/question presented. Students must collaborate expanding their active listening skills and requiring them to engage in intelligent focused communication. Therefore, allowing them to think rationally on how to solve problems. PBL forces students to take ownership of their success.
More important than learning science, students need to learn to work in a community, thereby taking on social responsibilities. The most significant contributions of PBL have been in schools languishing in poverty stricken areas; when students take responsibility, or ownership, for their learning, their self-esteem soars. It also helps to create better work habits and attitudes toward learning. In standardized tests, languishing schools have been able to raise their testing grades a full level by implementing PBL. Although students do work in groups, they also become more independent because they are receiving little instruction from the teacher. With Project-Based Learning students also learn skills that are essential in higher education. The students learn more than just finding answers, PBL allows them to expand their minds and think beyond what they normally would. Students have to find answers to questions and combine them using critically thinking skills to come up with answers.
PBL is significant to the study of (mis-)conceptions; local concepts and childhood intuitions that are hard to replace with conventional classroom lessons. In PBL, project science is the community culture; the student groups themselves resolve their understandings of phenomena with their own knowledge building. Technology allows them to search in more useful ways, along with getting more rapid results.
Opponents of Project Based Learning warn against negative outcomes primarily in projects that become unfocused and tangential arguing that underdeveloped lessons can result in the wasting of precious class time. No one teaching method has been proven more effective than another. Opponents suggest that narratives and presentation of anecdotal evidence included in lecture-style instruction can convey the same knowledge in less class time. Given that disadvantaged students generally have fewer opportunities to learn academic content outside of school, wasted class time due to an unfocused lesson presents a particular problem. Instructors can be deluded into thinking that as long as a student is engaged and doing, they are learning. Ultimately it is cognitive activity that determines the success of a lesson. If the project does not remain on task and content driven the student will not be successful in learning the material. The lesson will be ineffective. A source of difficulty for teachers includes, "Keeping these complex projects on track while attending to students' individual learning needs requires artful teaching, as well as industrial-strength project management."Like any approach, Project Based Learning is only beneficial when applied successfully.
Problem-based learning is a similar pedagogic approach, however, problem-based approaches structure students' activities more by asking them to solve specific (open-ended) problems rather than relying on students to come up with their own problems in the course of completing a project.
A meta-analysis conducted by Purdue University found that when implemented well, PBL can increase long-term retention of material and replicable skill, as well as improve teachers' and students' attitudes towards learning.
One concern is that PBL may be inappropriate in mathematics, the reason being that mathematics is primarily skill-based at the elementary level. Transforming the curriculum into an over-reaching project or series of projects does not allow for the necessary practice at particular mathematical skills. For instance, factoring quadratic equations in elementary algebra is something that requires extensive practice.
On the other hand, a teacher could integrate a PBL approach into the standard curriculum, helping the students see some broader contexts where abstract quadratic equations may apply. For example, Newton's law implies that tossed objects follow a parabolic path, and the roots of the corresponding equation correspond to the starting and ending locations of the object.
Another criticism of PBL is that measures that are stated as reasons for its success are not measurable using standard measurement tools, and rely on subjective rubrics for assessing results.
In PBL there is also a certain tendency for the creation of the final product of the project to become the driving force in classroom activities. When this happens, the project can lose its content focus and be ineffective in helping students learn certain concepts and skills. For example, academic projects that culminate in an artistic display or exhibit may place more emphasis on the artistic processes involved in creating the display than on the academic content that the project is meant to help students learn.