Face-to-face classrooms in k-12 and higher education have embraced project-based learning. According to the Buck Institute for Education, project-based learning or PBL is “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.” Unsurprisingly, this strategy produces high levels of student engagement in all age groups.

Project-based Learning Online

When you think of project-based learning, you likely imagine a student or group of students sitting at a table, working in a library, or engaging in some form of hands-on learning. `These mental pictures do not mesh easily, for many educators, with online learning. In fact, online learning offers some advantages for project-based learning, particularly flexible time, scheduling and work locations.

Project-based learning works because it’s in-depth, involved and engaged. These traits can translate surprisingly easily to online learning, but it does require that the instructor be quite intentional about planning, goal-setting, and communication.

Instructors can think of project-based online learning as a series of manageable steps. 

  1. Provide a hook to draw the student’s attention; this hook can be a question, statement or problem. The hook can be presented as a video or a document, but should immediately make students ask questions.
  2. Produce a video to introduce the project to students. This should be short, interesting and appealing to the intended age group.
  3. Design assessments to measure student learning and understanding. These should take place throughout the course of the project, and can enable instructors to provide additional support when necessary.
  4. Create learning materials for students, including readings and videos. These can be specific to the project, or provide necessary background information. 
  5. Build an example tutorial for students that contains a detailed rubric, sample project, and grading or scoring of the sample project. This provides all students with a clear understanding of requirements and expectations. 
  6. Score and grade projects. Provide opportunities for revision to support student success.
  7. Provide an environment to share projects with classmates or even a broader community. This can be a face-to-face interaction, like a science fair, or can be shared through video.