Project-oriented learning

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This article attempts to provide a short overview of project-oriented learning. By project-oriented learning we mean something like "P5BL" (Problem- Project- Product- Process- People-Based Learning). We identify some common features and then point to more specialized articles.


  • Project-oriented learning engages learners in some kinds of projects that usually will lead to products. However, the main goal the process is the learning effect and not the product in itself.

Main features of project-oriented learning

The large project-oriented learning family is identifiably by the idea that projects have center-stage role and we can rely on definitions from project-based learning to describe what we roughly mean by "project":

  • “'Projects' are tasks of research and development which are limited in time and with which students, individually or in groups, are introduced to the contents and methods of the subject and to autonomous work” (Eckstein 1978:134 cited by Burdewick, 2003).
  • Project-based learning is centered on the learner and affords learners the opportunity for in-depth investigations of worthy topics. The learners are more autonomous as they construct personally-meaningful artifacts that are representations of their learning. (Grant, 2002)
  • Central aspects of project-oriented learning according to Burdewick (2003)
    • Working autonomy
    • Practical relevance
    • Learning of soft skills
    • Cooperation of university and practice

Proulx (2004:29-36) identifies the following features:

  1. A systematic process (i.e. a project is done in stages and needs some "system")
  2. Acquisition and transfer of learning (something needs to be learned, at least how to apply more typical "school knowledge")
  3. Anticipation, planning, implementation (qualified as the three major "moments")
  4. Alone or with pairs
  5. Under the supervision of a teacher
  6. An observable activity
  7. Leading to a final product that can be evaluated.

Why project-oriented learning

under construction, really not good enough

In the literature we can find several types of arguments, e.g. arguments related to motivation, to acquisition of soft skills and to metacognitive skills. Here are a few arguments:

  • Working in projects may lead to an increased motivation that can have a positive effect on learning. This applies in particular to projects that have a practical relevance (meaningfulness) and that students can identify as "their project". Working on a tangible "product" that takes "shape" yields feelings of success which in turn boosts motivation.
  • Projects engage learners to connect knowledge, including prior knowledge.
  • Projects allow learners to develop whole skills (i.e. competency to solve authentic problems)
  • Projects engage learners to work with other people, including teachers and partners from practice.
  • Project-based learning and the construction of artifacts enable the expression of diversity in learners, such as interests, abilities and learning styles (Grant).

Jonassen (2007) proposed a taxonomy of meaningful learning that {{quotation|describes the skills that are necessary for meaningful learning - learning that is intentional (goal-directed and regulatory), active (manipulative and observant), constructive (articulative and reflective), and authentic (complex and contextualized).. He postulates that problem-solving is the most meaningful goal state of learning and that it requires two fundamental reasoning skills: analogical reasoning and causal reasoning. These skills are best taught with some type of problem-oriented learning approach.

Typical stages and components

Michael M. Grant (2002) identifies common features of variety of project-oriented models (i.e. project-based science, disciplined inquiry and WebQuests):

  1. an introduction to "set the stage" or anchor the activity;
  2. a task, guiding question or driving question;
  3. a process or investigation that results in the creation of one or more sharable artifacts;
  4. resources, such as subject-matter experts, textbooks and hypertext links;
  5. scaffolding, such as teacher conferences to help learners assess their progress, computer-based questioning and project templates;
  6. collaborations, including teams, peer reviews and external content specialists; and
  7. opportunities for reflection and transfer, such as classroom debriefing sessions, journal entries and extension activities.

It is not easy to define typical stages, since there is a large variety of project-oriented instructional designs:

For example, Proulx (2004: 91-149) identifies four major stages:

  1. Preparation
    • Teacher explicitly identifies and conveys pedagogic intentions (students should know what they will learn from it)
    • Choice of the project
    • Planning
  2. Implementation
  3. Evaluation
  4. Presentation / Diffusion

These stages do make sense to refer to what we call Project-methodology-based learning. Now, if these stages are rather taken as elements that define project-based learning, they can be found in most designs. However, implementation-evaluation-presentation can occur iteratively for each stage of the project. Therefore we (10:48, 13 May 2006 (MEST)) suggest rather something like:

  1. Preparation
    • Teacher explicitly identifies and conveys pedagogic intentions (students should know what they will learn from it)
    • Choice of the project theme
    • Initial Planning
  2. Research Design or analysis of the initial problem/ inquiry task. E.g. for a project-based design you'd start with:
    1. Initial literature review
    2. Research goals and research questions
    3. Research and Development methodology
    4. Presentation, Evaluation and Revision of these
  3. .... (see different frameworks discussed for the rest)
  4. Evaluation
  5. Presentation / Diffusion

Typologies of project-oriented learning models

Various project-oriented learning models differt a lot in purpose and architecture.

According to instructional design models

Here is a provisional list:

See also the category project-oriented instructional designs.

According to scope

Cornwall and Schmidthals (1979) cited by Burdewick (2003:4) define 3 types according to function and space of the project.

  1. Type A: The project work represents the final part of a conventional, subject-related course of study (5-15% of course work)
  2. Type B: Working in projects takes place parallel to the conventional systematic courses, and from the beginning of the studies. It is regarded as important here that the task be as realistic as possible, which can be achieved by including industry and the public, for example. Key qualifications, such as communication abilities or problem solving skills, shall be acquired in the project work, in addition to subject-related knowledge.
  3. Type C: The project is regarded as a main element in a course of study. The conventional, subject-related courses are subordinate to the project work, they serve as a support of the project work. Here, the subject-related contents to be learned are exclusively selected on the basis of the practical and theoretical requirements of the project work. (Over 50% of coursework)

According to several criteria

Proulx (2004) defines four major dimensions:

  1. Duration:
    • short: usually students collect data, questions, etc. for the "next lesson".
    • medium: usually also inserted within a more traditional "structured" approach
    • long: semester or year projects
  2. Number of authors:
    • individuals:
    • teams (groups)
    • class
  3. Main activity:
    • Production: Leading a real product (including designs)
    • Consuming: Less focused on design, but on usage and implementation. Easier to implement than the "production" kind.
    • Problem-solving: Problems with unknown solutions (at least for the student), also "change management" situations (show how to make it happen)
    • Functional learning: Acquire technical, theoretical or practical skills.
  4. Political or strategic dimension
    • "Pedagogical projects": Several teachers (preferable from different fields for a same class or classes of the same level.
    • Training projects: Participation of different agents (teachers, learners, professionals, ...)
    • Educational projects: Usually engages whole schools
    • Institutional projects: Similar as above, but more "top-down", less focused on students.



Introductory articles for practitioners

  • Grant, Michael, M. (2002), Meridian: A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal a service of NC State University, Raleigh, NC, Volume 5, Issue 1 ISSN 1097 9778 HTML (retrieved 20:16, 23 May 2006 (MEST))
  • National Foundation for the Improvement of Education's (NFIE), Connecting the Bits: Project-based Learning and Information Technologies. PDF An earlier version in HTML is also available from ISTE.
  • Mergendoller, John R. and John W. Thomas, Managing Project Based Learning: Principles from the Field, The Buck Institute for Education, PDF
  • Perrenoud, Philippe, Apprendre à l’école à travers des projets : pourquoi ? comment ? Educateur, 2002, n° 14, pp. 6-11 HTML

More academic pieces

  • Burdewick, Ingrid (2003), Aspects Of Methodology And Education Psychology In Project-Oriented Studies, International Workshop on Project Oriented Learning, March 2003, Hanzehogeschool Groningen, Faculty of Technology. PDF, retrieved August 2007.
  • Eckstein, B. (1978). Einmaleins der Hochschullehre. Praktische Einführung in die Grundlagen und Methoden. München
  • Frey, K. K.: (1998). Die Projektmethode. Der Weg zum bildenden Tun. Weinheim/Basel.
  • Koh, C., Wang, C., Tan, O., Liu, W. and Ee-J. (2008). Students' discourse and motivation in project work. In Jeffrey, P AARE 2008 International education research conference : Brisbane : papers collection:(Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education, 30 November - 4 December 2008). Melbourne : Australian Association for Research in Education.
  • Hallam, S., Rogers, L. and Rhamie, J (2010). Staff perceptions of the success of an alternative curriculum: Skill Force. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 15: 1, 63 — 74
  • Morsund, David (2002) Project-based learning: Using Information Technology, 2nd edition, ISTE. ISBN 1-56484-196-0
  • Tadich, B., Deed, C., Campbell, C. and Prain, V (2007). Student engagement in the middle years: A year 8 case study. Issues In Educational Research, Vol 17, 2007
  • Thomas, J. W., Mergendoller, J.R., & Michaelson, A. (1999). Project-based learning: A handbook for middle and high school teachers. Novato, CA: The Buck Institute for Education.
  • Thom Markham et al. (2003), Project Based Learning Handbook, Buck Inst for Education, ISBN 0974034304
  • Thomas, J. W. (2000). A review of research on project-based learning. PDF - PDF - HTML Summary
  • Proulx, Jean, (2004). Apprentissage par projet, Sante-Foy: Presses de l'Université du Québec.