Useful links: Project-based learning

I’ve been reading a bit about project-based learning (PjBL) recently. I had to write a critique of an approach used in my context as part of the PGCEi. Our Secondary course now follows a PjBL approach*, so I thought it was worth trying to understand the approach in more detail and evaluating whether it’s effective. Here’s some useful reading on PjBL in general.

Larmer et al (2015) seems to be a go-to resource for PjBL, and set out some clear design principles for the approach:

Check out their ‘Gold-standard PBL’ white paper for an overview.

Thomas (2000), shares a great overview on the difference between ‘doing a project’ and ‘project-based learning’. They stress that in PjBL…

  • projects are central to the curriculum rather than peripheral
  • driving questions or problems guide the learning
  • projects are student-driven and realistic (authentic)
  • projects involved constructive, sustained investigation

Nik Peachey’s ‘Focus on Project-based learning’ overview for OUP is a nice intro, listing some of the benefits/challenges related to this approach. In particular, Nik mentions how skills coverage may be an issue with this approach in an ELT context. In my context I find our in-house PjBL highly prescriptive and aimed more at skills coverage.

Krause and Boss (2013) include an ideas bank for projects, some of which I feel actually contradict the design principles which Boss helped outline. I’m a fan of the book in general, but the project examples let it down a bit.

Kirschner et al (2006), strongly critique inquiry-based approaches (which I say include PjBL) for providing minimal guidance to learners, causing issues with cognitive load among other things. They refer more to approaches like discovery learning, problem-based learning, etc, but I’d say PjBL falls into the approaches they’re referring to… Essential reading IMHO.

Hmelo-Silver et al (2007) respond to Kirschner et al (2006) by basically hinting that they don’t seem to have much of a clue about how PjBL works in practice. Also essential reading, but not open access ☹

Off the back of those two, I’d say Aditomo et al (2011) is worth a read. They try to outline a distinction between certain inquiry-based approaches, like problem-based and project-based learning. It’s a bit contradictory, especially the bit about whether the approaches are process or product-oriented. Delve in, worth a read.

John Spencer’s P(j)BL toolkit offers broader view of the approach and seems to contradict some of the design principles I’d previously encountered. Spencer talks about how project-based learning could be driven by interest, empathy, problem, product… Don’t read this last, as you might go from framing PjBL pretty well to then thinking ‘well it sounds like it can be anything to be honest’. Well, that was me for a bit.

Note: Spencer provides some excellent resources in general. Onthesamepageelt shared another of his YouTube channels recently called videowritingprompts, deffo worth a look.

Littlewood’s (2013) comments on CLT might be worth reviewing (IMO) if you are thinking of following a PjBL approach. He mentions that rather than adopt a new approach, it is better to adapt the approach to suit your current method and context.

If you are tasked with writing an essay on PjBL then deffo look at Bell (2010). It is buzzword-central, giving you all your quotes about ‘21st Century Skills’, 4Cs and all that.

Kavlu (2017) is a good springboard for reading on PjBL in EFL. Worth a glance and open access.

Sirisrimangkorn (2018), Kettanuna (2015) Tongsakul et al (2011), and Simpson (2011), who all explore PjBL used in Thailand at various schools/higher ed institutions. Useful links for my former colleagues interested in exploring the topic, not all EFL though. Oh, Poonpon (2017) is another.

Happy reading!

*Turns out it’s not really PjBL at all so I don’t know why they called it that.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Categories: General, teacher development

Tags: , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. This was fantastic and timely, thank you!


  2. Hi Pete, can you please do a module 2 assignment guidance on PjBL. Will be much appreciated. Thank you.



  1. PGCEi Module 2: Understanding Learning and Teaching in International Contexts | ELT Planning

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