The rise of project-based learning

Thought
25th September 2017

In the 21st century project-based learning has emerged as a popular and growing pedagogy at all levels of education. Education experts Edutopia, part of the George Lucas Foundation, describe project-based learning as a “dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge”. It’s something that we have been championing at Engineers Without Borders UK for a number of years now as an important way to educate young engineers. Our Engineering for People Design Challenge is a great example of this.

With project-based learning the content is embedded within a long-term project, a real-world problem that students work to solve in a creative and authentic way. In the process of working through the project students meet the standards and demonstrate they have developed the required skills. However, this work is integrated in the project, not separated like many traditional forms of education, for example taking an exam at the end of a module.

The rise in the use of project-based learning can be attributed to many different factors however, to try and untangle why this is happening we can look at four key factors to help understand its popularity:

In addition, Edutopia have also identified a number of trends that have contributed to the adoption of project-based learning as a 21st century strategy for education. They note how cognitive scientists have advanced our understanding of how we learn and develop and how we begin to think at a higher level. We now have a much better understanding of what conditions create the best environment for learning. Using these insights we can see why project-based learning is seen as a great way of engaging a diverse group of learners. Projects offer students the opportunity to engage with real-world problems and contexts, they allow students choice and the ability to direct their own learning, for most students this is incredibly motivating and creates a real desire to learn and engage. Projects require students to interrogate the brief they have been given, come up with multiple solution and to justify any decisions that they have made, all of these activities engage higher-order thinking skills which is why this approach to teaching is becoming increasingly popular.

Over the coming years the trend for project-based learning is likely to increase as more educators embrace the pedagogy and realise the benefits of this method of teaching. Preparing students for the 21st century requires a shift in education towards methods that will equip students with the skills that they will require in a rapidly changing workplace.


At Engineers Without Borders UK we have developed a project-based learning initiative for first and second year undergraduates called the Engineering for People Design Challenge. The challenge invites students to work in teams to develop a design solution to address one of the issues highlighted in the design brief we produce each year. If you’d like to find out more about the Engineering for People Design Challenge you can get in touch by emailing [email protected] or calling 020 3753 5820.  

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