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Research on effectiveness of PBL

Thursday 30 August 2018, by JMC

Project Based Learning has been shown to yield a number of benefits for learners, ranging from deeper learning of academic content to stronger motivation to learn. The evidence includes:

Academic achievement

Mastery of significant academic content remains a key goal, and is also the foundation of any well-designed project. Comparisons of learning outcomes in PBL versus more industrial, textbook-and-lecture driven instruction show that:

- Overall, learners in project-based classrooms exhibited greater gains in content knowledge than their traditionally taught peers (Baumgartner & Zabin, 2008; Duncan & Tseng, 2010; Geier, et al., 2008; Gultekin, 2005; Kaldi, Fillipatou & Govaris, 2011; Mergendoller & Maxwell, 2006; Mioduser & Betzer, 2007; Tal, Krajcik & Blumenfeld, 2006).

- Learners using PBL retain content longer and have a deeper understanding of what they are learning. (Penuel & Means, 2000; Stepien, Gallagher & Workman, 1993)

- In specific content areas, PBL has been shown to be more effective than industrial methods for teaching maths, economics, language, science, and other disciplines. (Beckett & Miller, 2006; Boaler, 2002; Geier et al., 2008; Mergendoller,Maxwell, & Bellisimo, 2006)

- On high-stakes tests, PBL learners perform as well or better than industrially taught learners. (Kaldi, Filippatou, & Govaris, C., 2011)

Millennial competencies

PBL helps learners to master the key competencies identified as essential for success in the 21st century. Research has shown:

- Learners demonstrate better problem-solving skills in PBL than in more industrial classes and are able to apply what they learn to real-life situations.

- When teachers are trained in PBL methods, they devote more class time to teaching 21st century skills; their learners perform at least as well on standardized tests as those engaged in industrial instruction. (Hixson, Ravitz, & Whisman, 2012)

- PBL learners also show improved critical thinking. (Beckett & Miller, 2006; Horan, Lavaroni, & Beldon, 1996; Mergendoller et al, 2006; Tretten & Zachariou, 1997)

- Through PBL experiences, learners improve their ability to work collaboratively and resolve conflicts. (Beckett & Miller; ChanLin, 2008; )

- Opportunities for collaborative learning provide benefits to learners across grade levels, academic subjects, and achievement levels. (Kaldi, Filippatou, & Govaris, C., 2011; Slavin, 1996)


- PBL shows promise as a strategy for closing the achievement gap by engaging lower-achieving learners. (Boaler, 2002; Penuel & Means, 2000)

- PBL can work in different types of schools, serving diverse learners. (Hixson, Ravitz, & Whisman, 2012)

- PBL also can provide an effective model for whole-school reform. (Newmann & Wehlage, 1995; Ravitz, 2008)


- In PBL classrooms, learners demonstrate improved attitudes toward learning. They exhibit more engagement, are more self-reliant, and have better attendance than in more industrial settings. (Kaldi, Filippatou, & Govaris, C., 2011; Thomas, 2000; Walker & Leary, 2009)

Teacher satisfaction

- Teachers may need time and professional development to become familiar with PBL methods, but those who make this shift in classroom practice report increased job satisfaction. (Hixson, Ravitz, & Whisman, 2012; Strobel & van Barneveld, 2009)


Baumgartner, E. & Zabin, C. (2008). A case study of project-based instruction in the ninth grade: a semester-long study of intertidal biodiversity. Environmental Education Research, 14(2), pp. 97-114.

Beckett, G. & Miller, P. (Eds.) (2006). Project Based Second and Foreign Language Education: Past, Present, and Future. IAP: Greenwich, CT.

Boaler, J. (2002). Learning from teaching: Exploring the relationship between reform curriculum and equity. Journal for research in mathematics education, 33(4), pp. 239-258.

ChanLin, L. (2008). Technology integration applied to project‐based learning in science. Innovations in education and teaching international, 45(1), pp. 55-65.

Duncan, R. & Tseng, K. (2010). Designing Project-based instruction to foster generative and mechanistic understandings in genetics. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(8), pp. 922-939.

Geier, R., Blumenfeld, P., Marx, R., Krajcik, J., Fishman, B., Soloway, E., et al. (2008). Standardized test outcomes for students engaged in inquiry-based science curricula in the context of urban reform. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(8), pp. 922-939.

Gultekin, M. (2005). The effect of project based learning on learning outcomes in the 5th grade social studies course in primary education. Educational Sciences, Theory and Practice, 5(November), pp. 548-557.

Hixson, N., Ravitz, J., & Whisman, A. (2012). Extended Professional Development in Project-Based Learning: Impacts on 21st Century Skills Teaching and Student Achievement. West Virginia Department of Education. Retrieved from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED565466 on 29/07/2018.

Horan, C., Lavaroni, C., & Beldon, P. (1996). Observation of the Tinker Tech Program Students for Critical Thinking and Social Participation Behaviors. Novato, CA: Buck Institute for Education.

Kaldi, S., Filippatou, D. & Govaris, C. (2011). Project-based learning in primary schools: effects on pupils’ learning and attitudes. Education 3-13, 39(1), pp. 35-47.

Mergendoller, J., Maxwell, N. & Bellisimo, Y. (2006). The effectiveness of problem-based instruction: A comparative study of instructional methods and student characteristics. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 1(2), pp.49-69.

Mioduser, D. & Betzer, N. (2007). The contribution of Project-based-learning to high-achievers’ acquisition of technological knowledge and skills. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 18(1), pp. 59-77.

Newmann, F. & Wehlage, G. (1995). Successful school restructuring: A report to the public and educators. Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools, Madison, WI. Retrieved from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED387925 on 29/07/2018.

Penuel, W. & Means, B. (2000). Designing a performance assessment to measure students’ communication skills in multi-media-supported, project-based learning. In Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans.

Ravitz, J. (2008). Project Based Learning as a Catalyst in Reforming High Schools. Buck Institute for Education.

Slavin, R. (1996). Research on cooperative learning and achievement: What we know, what we need to know. Contemporary educational psychology, 21(1), pp. 43-69.

Stepien, W., Gallagher, S. & Workman, D. (1993). Problem-based learning for traditional and interdisciplinary classrooms. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 16(4), pp. 338-357.

Strobel, J. & Van Barneveld, A. (2009). When is PBL more effective? A meta-synthesis of meta-analyses comparing PBL to conventional classrooms. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 3(1), pp. 44-58.

Tal. T., Krajcik, J. & Blumenfeld, P. (2006). Urban schoolsʼ teachers enacting project-based science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 43(7), pp. 722-745.

Thomas, J. (2000). A review of research on project-based learning. Retrieved from https://documents.sd61.bc.ca/ANED/educationalResources/StudentSuccess/A_Review_of_Research_on_Project_Based_Learning.pdf

Tretten, R. & Zachariou, P. (1997). Learning about project-based learning: Assessment of project-based learning in Tinkertech schools. San Rafael, CA: The Autodesk Foundation, 37.

Walker, A., & Leary, H. (2009). A problem based learning meta analysis: Differences across problem types, implementation types, disciplines, and assessment levels. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 3(1), pp. 6-28