Approaches_Cognitive Constructivism_Project-Based Learning

Project-Based Learning

A scenario

Figure 1. Source:

Dick is a science teacher at a secondary school. One day, he finds that only few students attend his class, and the reason is that many of them get sick with flu. In later classes, he picks this “authentic problem” as a topic for students to work on. He divides students into groups, and each group can choose a specific topic related to flue. For example, one group is working on the relationship between hand washing and getting a flu, and another group is making a poster about how a virus spreads. After the students finish their project, Dick let each group present their work in the class, and also lets them comment on each other’s project. Dick finds that students improved their critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills through engaging in project-based learning.




According to Moylan (2008), “Project Based Learning (is) a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning essential knowledge and life-enhancing skills through an extended, student-influenced inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and task.”

More specifically, project-based learning can be defined as follows (Moursund, 1999):

  • Focuses on the central concepts of a discipline via a “driving question” (Blumenfeld et al., 1991).

  • Engaging learning experiences that involve students in projects through which they develop and apply skills and knowledge

  • Learning that requires students to draw from many information sources and disciplines in order to solve problems

  • Learning in which curricular outcomes can be identified up-front, but in which the outcomes of the student’s learning process are neither predetermined nor fully predictable

  • Experiences through which students learn to manage and allocate resources such as time and materials (Moursund, 2002; J. W. Thomas et al., 1999)


Basic Assumptions and Principles

Rooted in various constructivist schools of thought, e.g. theories that have followed from constructivism (Piaget), socio-culturalism (Vygotsky, 1962) and situated learning (Lave and Wenger, 1991).


Classroom Implication and Teaching Strategies

Project Based Learning is a teaching and learning model in which

  • Teachers take the role of a facilitator and help students through a research and learning process that is focused around the student’s ability to build their own learning schema.

  • Learners work collaboratively and more autonomously in complex, real-world project to construct their own learning and culminate realistic products

To successfully implement project-based instruction, according to van Merriënboer and Pass (2003, p.3) Powerful pedagogical designs are characterized with the following characteristics :

  • the use of complex, realistic and challenging problems that elicit in learners active and constructive processes of knowledge and skill acquisition

  • the inclusion of small group, collaborative work and ample opportunities for interaction, communication and co-operation

  • the encouragement of learners to set their own goals and provision of guidance for students in taking more responsibility for their own learning activities an processes

Project-Based Learning Support System (Laffey et al., 1998)

Processes Definitions Methods


Structural supports to assist novice learners in the performance of tasks for which they would otherwise be unprepared.

Interface design broadly scaffolds the steps of a project, the language of real science, and concerns which must be addressed in order for a project to be successful.


Situated responses to learner task performances which are targeted at bringing learner performance closer to expert performance.

Advanced, interactive help system that this is context/ task sensitive.

Immediate feedback targeted at improving the use of the tools themselves.

Immediate feedback targeted at explaining/ scaffolding/ supporting performance at various project tasks.

Context sensitive guidance system.


Planning & Resourcefulness

Tools designed to assist learners with the complex demands involved in planning and being resourceful within authentic research projects.

Scheduling tools for establishing specific objectives and their start and stop dates.

Resources tool for specifying material and information resources necessary for the project, with linking to specific objectives.

Team member/ member responsibility specification tool.

Knowledge Representation

Tools designed to assist learners in the framing, representation, and re-representation of their ideas, knowledge, and their development, and in deriving cognitive benefits from the act of representation.

Sections for representation of a project abstract, project goals, objectives, resources, and application/ extensions of the work.

Multiple representational formats via native documents and automatically generated/ uploaded WWW pages.

Scaffolding, coaching, and guidance systems fully integrated to assist in the representation process.

Communication & Collaboration

Tools designed to support the exchange and sharing of ideas and results, collaboration between widely distributed participants, feedback, discussion, & debate, and the growth of a “community” of learners.

World-Wide-Web based comment forms.

Site customizable, threaded, public and private discussion groups with embeddable URL’s for resource sharing.

Integrated email with address book and embeddable URL’s.

Integrated point-to-point and group real-time chat facilities.


Tools to support self and communal evaluation and reification of previously completed work, with subsequent cognitive and physical revision, re-framing, and restructuring of ideas, assumptions and representations.

Tracking and storage of all revisions to a team’s work.

Multiple-window views for comparison of old and new work.

Sharing of all work, including old and new revisions, with the larger community.

Scaffolding, coaching, and guidance systems fully integrated to assist in the reflection process.

Technology enables Project Based Learning by, e.g.

  • Providing access to information: the web provides massive amount of information about key ideas and concepts and other available sources such as museums and libraries.

  • Facilitating communication and collaboration within groups and with the world outside the classroom: E-mail, electronic mailing lists, forums, and other online applications can be used to share collected information; all electronic compositions of art, music, or text can be published on the Web for review by real audiences all over the world.


The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences ?Chapters?

Krajcik, J. & Blumenfeld, P.  (2006). Project-based learning. In R. K. Sawyer (ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 317-334), Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Key Works
  • Blumenfeld, P. C., Soloway, E., Marx, R. W., Krajcik, J. S., Guzdial, M., & Palincsar, A. (1991). Motivating project-based learning: Sustaining the doing, supporting the learning. Educational psychologist26(3-4), 369-398.

  • Barron, B. J., Schwartz, D. L., Vye, N. J., Moore, A., Petrosino, A., Zech, L., & Bransford, J. D. (1998). Doing with understanding: Lessons from research on problem-and project-based learning. Journal of the Learning Sciences,7(3-4), 271-311.

Successful Examples
Further Reading
  • Laffey, J., Tupper, T., Musser, D., & Wedman, J. (1998). A computer-mediated support system for project-based learning. Educational Technology Research and Development46(1), 73-86.

  • Moylan, W. (2008). Learning by project: Developing essential 21st century skills using student team projects. International Journal of Learning15(9), 287-292.

  • Moursund, D. G. (1999). Project-based learning using information technology. Eugene, OR: International society for technology in education.

  • van Merriënboer, J.G. and F. Pass (2003). Powerful learning and the many faces of instructional design : Toward a framework for the design of powerful learning environments », in E. De Corte, L. Verschaffel, N. Entwistle and J.G. van Merriënboer (Eds), Powerful Learning Environments : Unraveling Basic Components and Dimensions, Amsterdam, Pergamon, p. 3-20.