Project-Based and Experiential Learning

Engage students in real-world, inquiry-based tasks to develop deep content knowledge, critical thinking, and communication skills

About Project-Based and Experiential Learning

Overview Description

Project-based and experiential learning (PBL) provide authentic opportunities for students to engage in deep, contextual experiences. These experiences are based in an inquiry approach to learning focused on student ownership, decision making, and problem solving. Through this type of learning, students are able to participate in meaningful real-world activities while interacting with and mastering new academic content. Project-based learning can provide transformative opportunities for every type of learner in the classroom.

While some advocates suggest an "all or nothing" approach to project-based and experiential learning, BetterLesson is focused on making learning more experiential, hands-on, and authentic via targeted activities and teaching strategies that can be implemented in any classroom.

At the heart of project-based and experiential learning is the idea that teachers will see an increase in engagement when students are participating in activities that are relevant to their lives. This type of learning increases student autonomy and also incorporates a more global perspective by connecting students to the world and providing opportunities to address the problems around them. Project-based learning is not one single strategy; instead, it is a set of principles and strategies focused on problem solving, critical thinking, and inquiry.

A classroom rooted in experiential learning requires that students are actively engaging in 21st-century skills: problem-based questioning, research, decision making, problem solving, collaboration, prototyping, reflecting, revising, and creating design solutions to solve complex, authentic problems. Project-based and experiential learning provide the opportunity for students to not only create a product but to collaborate with their peers by engaging in the process of design thinking.

Many experiential learning teachers have found success leveraging community involvement to create an authentic audience, which can provide validation for student work. Other teachers have found that collaborating with colleagues to create cross-curricular activities and projects can create rich, interdisciplinary experiences for students.  

It is important to note that BetterLesson is not attached to a specific PBL or EL framework or curriculum and doesn't require an "all or nothing" approach. Our work in this area is focused on making learning more rigorous, inquiry-based, hands-on, and authentic via targeted tasks and teaching strategies that can be implemented in any classroom.

Why it's important

Students deserve to be engaged in learning experiences that are relevant to them in today's world, have multiple entry points reflective of the diversity in today's schools, and that are driven by inquiry and problem solving. Project-based and experiential learning seek to provide students with opportunities to take ownership of their learning through authentic experiences driven by content and real-world applications.

When teachers take this approach to teaching and learning, students develop deeper understanding and expand their critical thinking skills. Throughout the inquiry-based process, students employ design processing skills (development, reflection, and refinement) to push towards growth and prepare for success in both college and career paths.

What success looks like

While the day-to-day specifics will vary across grade levels, content areas, and contexts, there are some common threads that exist across all project-based and experiential learning classrooms:

  • Students drive the learning process by exercising inquiry skills to identify the problems that need to be solved.

  • Activities and projects are hands-on and centered around developing 21st-century skills

  • Activities provide multiple paths for students to master and show mastery of the content and design-thinking skills.

  • Activities are structured in a way that students have ownership of their learning and can easily transfer skills to new problems.

  • Projects and activities utilize the design-thinking process including questioning, researching, collaborating, prototyping, failing, revising, reflecting, and finalizing the end product.

  • Projects typically include problem-solving, collaboration, an authentic audience, and evaluation.

Featured Strategies

Driving questions initiate and focus the inquiry and learning throughout a project while creating an interest and challenge for students
Driving questions initiate and focus the inquiry and learning throughout a project while creating an interest and challenge for students
Want to assess both content mastery and design thinking/process skills during project based learning? Try the comprehensive PBL rubric!
Want to assess both content mastery and design thinking/process skills during project based learning? Try the comprehensive PBL rubric!
Starting a unit or project with the end goal in mind helps teachers to authentically integrate all content and plan the steps to achieve the
Starting a unit or project with the end goal in mind helps teachers to authentically integrate all content and plan the steps to achieve the

Growth Areas

BetterLesson growth areas are targeted goals for growth in a learning domain through BetterLesson Coaching. Learn more about BetterLesson Coaching.
My students identify relevant, real-world problems to solve
My students develop questions and engage in research utilizing diverse sources
My students seek and use feedback to develop a solution to the identified problem
My students present their solution to peers and adults using reasoning and evidence to defend their point of view

Additional Reading

How BetterLesson Can Help

We provide personalized, continuous support to help teachers and instructional leaders make growth towards their professional goals.
Get in Touch