Research Shows Project Based Learning Accelerates Student Achievement

Project-Based Learning (PBL), an inquiry-based learning model that frames learning as challenges and focuses on student voice and choice, was the subject of four new studies released last month. From advanced placement high schoolers in Seattle and Des Moines to 6th graders in California and 2nd and 3rd graders in Michigan, all 4 studies come to the same conclusion: teachers who use PBL get better results.

At a time when educators and families alike are wondering what matters most in education, PBL offers a promising solution: instruction focused on real-world challenges coupled with better results on traditional achievement tests. Students simply perform better when they are able to transfer their learning to real world situations. PBL boosts engagement, reduces inequalities, and helps students create memories of meaningful learning throughout their school years.

Despite the clear benefits of PBL, many districts, schools and teachers still struggle with implementation. Finding a challenging problem or question that aligns to kindergarten social studies standards or combines chemistry and geometry is not easy! Teachers may wonder how to sustain inquiry for a weeks-long project. They may struggle to find an authentic audience, help students respond proactively to critique and feedback, or they may have difficulty keeping up with district pacing while offering students voice and choice. Teachers need support and scaffolding, especially if they are new to PBL.

Defined Learning offers structure and support for teachers at all levels of PBL proficiency. Featuring hundreds of high-quality, transdisciplinary, career-based scenarios for students in prek-12, teachers can choose which challenging problem best frames what they want students to know, understand and be able to do. Each task offers multiple entry points for a variety of content standards and a variety of products for students to choose from. Teachers can customize tasks to create an authentic, local audience or adjust resources for enrichment or support. They can use the ample research resources provided, or they can add their own, framing an entire unit of instruction around a Defined Learning task. Take a look and get started with these free PBL units that are tailored for remote learning.  

Defined Learning also offers a variety of professional learning opportunities, including self-paced and cohort-based models that allow teachers to collaborate over extended periods of time. As they learn PBL theory, they also learn how to use Defined Learning tools to address practical classroom challenges, like assigning multiple products to groups of students or creating a portfolio. They share as a group, learning from each other how best to use Defined Learning alongside district resources and curriculum to make PBL a reality in their classrooms.

With clear evidence for the effectiveness of PBL in a variety of settings, it’s important to offer practical scaffolding to help teachers implement a student-centered model in a traditional learning environment. Defined Learning offers support, structure and professional learning to bridge the gap between PBL theory and practice. 


About the Author: 

Meghan Raftery is a curriculum consultant with special interests in authentic learning, literacy and content integration, and student engagement.  She can be reached at


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