Does PBL Work?
Buck Institute for Education, 2009
There is forty years of accumulated evidence that the instructional strategies and procedures that make up standards-focused Project Based Learning are effective in building deep content understanding, raising academic achievement and encouraging student motivation to learn.
Research studies have demonstrated that PBL can:
• be more effective than traditional instruction in increasing academic achievement on annual state-administered assessment tests. (1)
• be more effective than traditional instruction for teaching mathematics (2,3), economics (4), science (1,5,6), social science (7), clinical medical skills (8) and for careers in the allied health occupations (7) and teaching (7).
• be more effective than traditional instruction for long-term retention, skill development and satisfaction of students and teachers (1,9,2)
• be more effective than traditional instruction for preparing students to integrate and explain concepts. (10)
• improve students’ mastery of 21st-century skills. (11,12)
• be especially effective with lower-achieving students.(1,4,6)
• provide an effective model for whole school reform.(13)
As with any teaching method, PBL can be used effectively or ineffectively. At its best, PBL can be the catalyst for an engaging learning experience and create a context for a powerful learning community focused on achievement, self-mastery, and contribution to the community. At its worst, it can be a colossal waste of time for all concerned. The videos and tools in this web site will help you understand Project Based Learning and use it effectively. For more research on PBL effectiveness and use, please visit our research library.
1. Geier, R., Blumenfeld, P.C., Marx, R.W., Krajcik, J.S., Fishman, B., Soloway, E., & Clay-Chambers, J. (2008). Standardized test outcomes for students engaged in inquiry-based science curricula in the context of urban reform. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(8), 922-939. [Abstract]
2. Boaler, J. (1997). Experiencing School Mathematics: Teaching Styles, Sex and Settings. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press. [Book]
3. Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. (1992) The Jasper series as an example of anchored instruction: Theory, program description and assessment data. Educational Psychologist, 27, 291-315. [Abstract]
4. Mergendoller, J.R., Maxwell, N., & Bellisimo, Y. (2006). The effectiveness of problem based instruction: A Comparative Study of Instructional Methods and Student Characteristics. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 1(2), 49-69. Retrieved from http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/ijpbl/vol1/iss2/5/. [Full text]
5. Hickey, D.T., Kindfeld, A.C.H., Horwitz, P., & Christie, M.A. (1999). Advancing educational theory by enhancing practice in a technology-supported genetics learning environment. Journal of Education, 181, 25-55. [Abstract]
6. Lynch, S., Kuipers, JU., Pyke, C., & Szesze, M. (2005). Examining the effects of a highly rated science curriculum unit on diverse students: Results from a planning grant. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42, 921-946. [Abstract]
7. Walker, A. & Leary, H. (2008) "A Problem Based Learning Meta Analysis: Differences Across Problem Types, Implementation Types, Disciplines, and Assessment Levels," Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 3(1), 12-43. Retrieved from http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/ijpbl/vol3/iss1/3. [Full text]
8. Vernon, D. T. & Blake, R. L. (1993). Does problem-based learning work? A meta-analysis of evaluative research. Academic Medicine, 68(7), 550-63. [Abstract]
9. Strobel, J. & van Barneveld, A. (2008) "When is PBL More Effective? A Meta-synthesis of Meta-analyses Comparing PBL to Conventional Classrooms," Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 3(1), 44-58. Retrieved from http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/ijpbl/vol3/iss1/4. [Full text]
10. Capon, N, & Kuhn, D. (2004). What’s so good about problem-based learning? Cognition and Instruction, 22, 61-79. [Abstract]
11. Hmelo, C. (1998). Problem-based learning: Effects on the early acquisition of cognitive skill in medicine. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 7, 173-208. [Abstract]
12. Gallagher, S.A., Stepien, W.J., Rosenthal, H. (1992) The effects of problem-based learning on problem solving. Gifted Child Quarterly, 36, 195-200. [Abstract]
13. National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform (2004). Putting the Pieces Together: Lessons from Comprehensive School Reform Research. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.centerforcsri.org/PDF/PTPTLessonsfromCSRResearch.pdf. [Full text]