Project-Based Learning vs. Problem-Based Learning

Project-based learning (PBL) is another collaborative, learner-centered instructional approach where students work in groups to construct their knowledge and gain mastery of the course content. Project-Based Learning is often confused with Problem-based Learning. One source of the confusion is that they have the same acronym PBL. One way to think about the difference between the two is to look at the outcome. While in Project-based Learning, students have to produce an artefact to demonstrate their mastery of content, in Problem-Based Learning, students have to present a solution to a clearly defined authentic problem. This definition is simplistic but allows for a distinction between the two concepts. Also, it has been argued that Problem-based Learning is, in fact, a subset of Project-based Learning in the sense that one way an instructor can frame a project is by asking students to solve one or many problems. 

Semantics set aside, here is, in a nutshell, a comparison between project-based learning and problem-based learning.

Project-based Learning

Problem-based Learning

Project-based Learning begins with the assignment of tasks that will lead to the creation of a final product or artefact. The emphasis is on the end product. 

  • Students work on open-ended assignments. These could be more than one problem
  • Students analyse the problems and generate solutions. 
  • Students design and develop a prototype of the solution
  • Students refine the solution based on feedback from experts, instructors, and/or peers

Problem-based Learning begins with a problem that determines what students study. The problem derives from an observable phenomena or event. The emphasis is on acquiring new knowledge and the solution is less important.

  • Students are presented with an open-ended, authentic question.
  • Students analyse the question
  • Students generate hypotheses that explain the phenomena.
  • Students identify further follow-up questions 
  • Students seek additional data to answer the questions.