Project-based learning is education through action. Instead of only reading about a topic in a textbook or hearing about theories discussed in a classroom, project-based learning (often known as PBL) has students actively engage with a project to learn the concepts and real-world applications of information.
Project-based learning is part of a wider education philosophy known as deeper learning. It is used with older students and younger students, spanning the K-12 education system. Sometimes the projects are something small and can be handled in one lesson in class, other times the projects can be large and take long periods of time. The projects have the students take an idea from start to finish to learn real-world applications.
Many people unfamiliar with PBL may have an easier time understanding it if they think about after-school activities. When students join the debate club, they are taking part in project-based learning. They learn how to debate and through every debate they participate in, they come into obstacles and things they don’t know how to do, and in order to accomplish their project, they figure out how to accomplish these tasks and overcome them. This deeper engagement in the activity invests them in their own self-directed education, with the help of a teacher there to lead them further into the project.
One advantage of having students learn through real-world applications is it helps them see the possibilities. When you have a student work through a math project that they then consult an engineer on, they see how they could someday become an engineer. This helps them understand the importance of their own education. They naturally understand that there are reasons they should pay attention, engage, and work through the things they are learning. Even without wanting to become an engineer, they are more interested in how something works when they need to understand it to complete the project, as opposed to one written assignment. The focus becomes completing the project, and learning what you need to do to accomplish that, instead of achieving a specific grade on an assignment.
Currently, project-based learning isn’t widely used. There are schools structured around PBL, but most public schools haven’t adopted the practice. This is changing though as the benefits are further researched and teachers are discovering new ways to align PBL with their current curriculum.