Project Based Learning (PBL)

Understanding the Difference


Project Based Learning

Limited opportunities for choices. Most of the project choices are made by the students.
The outcome of the project is closed. Every project has the same goal. Differences in project outcomes will be minimal. The outcome of the project is open. Students’ choices will determine unique goals and result in different and often delightful projects.
Requires instructor’s attention after projects are complete in assessing, reading, attending seminars, & grading. Requires instructor’s guidance & team collaboration throughout the project lifetime as well as preparation work before the project.
Project problem is trivially reduced and may not simulate real situations that are faced in the real world. Project problem is or closely resembles work done in the real world.
Are often based on teacher perceptions that may or may not be explicitly shared with the students. Are often graded against a defined, explicit rubric made or modified specifically for the project.

Is my project ready for PBL?


The project itself serves as the vehicle for learning.


The project topics, tasks, student roles, outside project collaborators, and final artifact stem from real-life challenges (vs. academic or scenario challenges).

Voice and Choice

The project is student-driven vs. teacher-directed. Students are given less supervision, greater responsibility, and freedom to develop a solution.

Interest and Value

The project activities are relevant, varied, fun, challenging, and provide opportunities to develop skills useful in the real world.

Classroom Environment

The classroom environment promotes inquiry and mastery (vs. performance). Students perceive making mistakes as central to the project’s success.

Constructive Investigation

The main activities of the project enable students to construct new understandings and new skills.

Creation of Artifact

The students construct a physical artifact to demonstrate, share, and critique their new knowledge in a concrete way.

Driving Question

The project presents an open-ended, engaging question or problem that drives students toward constructive investigation.


Students are given frequent feedback and encouragement from instructor and mentors.

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Interested in getting more involved or submitting more resources? Contact us!

Carrie (CJ) McClelland 

 Petroleum & Engineering Design Society (EDS)

Mark Seger 


Marcelo Simoes 

 Electrical Engineering

 Ruichong (Ray) Zhang 

 Mechanical Engineering