Are You Using Projects or Project-Based Learning?

By |2018-07-31T06:49:24-07:00April 14th, 2016|

As we head into spring, there’s a bit of “lightness” ahead. We’re more willing to try some new things and launch ourselves toward the final quarter of the school year. One way people do this is through project-based learning. When our team at EdCloset advocates for Project-Based Learning in and through the arts, some people look at us funny. They say things like

“isn’t project-based learning the same thing as what you do in the arts all the time anyway?”

Yes and no. Sometimes, we’re using project-based learning and sometimes, we’re just doing projects.

Our resident PBL expert and director of eLearning, Brianne Gidcumb, shares a handy chart to identify whether or not what you’re doing is really project-based learning:

Are You Using Projects or Project-Based Learning, Education Closet


There’s nothing wrong, of course, with using a project in your classroom! But if you’re looking for a way to go deeper and to integrate that project authentically in and through the arts, project-based learning is your next step.

This chart helps to clarify some ways that we can integrate true PBL into what we’re already doing! If you’re interested in learning more about how to do that, be sure to check out our online course Project Based Learning in the Arts.

There are so many varieties of PBL out there: project-based, problem-based, and even process-based learning. In the end, I think it’s all about learning what will work for you, your students and your classroom.

With any project, the key always lies in how you got to the finished presentation. No matter what it is – a project for your class, a new craft you’re working on, or even a project to spruce up your home – the intention and the journey are what sets it apart.

Learn more about project-based learning with these resources online:





  1. jfreer April 14, 2016 at 7:24 am - Reply

    I would offer that the categories are not as black and white as they appear in the diagram.

    1) In order to actually learn and work on process, students must have a grasp of some basic truths that then inform all the work and process. Otherwise – floundering and waste of time occurs and we see this very often. In all project based learning, the need for a guiding hand is essential and how that guidance happens and how it offers information to the students is the key.

    2) While the teacher guides, and helps the students to understand the integration of the process, the teacher must step in to help point the student in a different direction if the student is heading in a direction that lacks informed choices.

    3) Always present work to an audience – but it is imperative to explain the process and exactly where the students are in learning the process, so that an unpolished but process driven presentation is possible and understood.

    4) Failure and student lead feedback are essential – followed by suggestions/notes from the teacher for the next time everyone gathers to work. This makes learning process the focus for students to develop their own “technique” and tools to make sure they are doing meaningful work with deeper meaning and connecting on a more visceral level.

    5) Finally – in 30 years of teaching, I have found that most great arts education is experiential and really is the best project based learning that exists in schools today – because of the benefits to the brain ….. which then spill over into all areas of students life and academic career. Not everyone is capable of teaching this way – and I know for sure that I NEVER will be perfect at this and so challenge myself and learn from working with fellow teachers to always provide the best collaborative learning as possible for the students.

    Thank you for posting this!

  2. Susan Riley April 14, 2016 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Thank you SO much for such valuable reflections. I agree – nothing in education is black and white. In fact, I believe that almost all of teaching is both and art and a science, which offers us the ability to be both instructors and facilitators. Your points are beautifully made and helpful to all of us working with this approach. Thanks!

  3. […] years ago, in preparation for a district-wide initiative into problem-based learning, I began cultivating as much information as I can regarding problem/project/process-based learning, […]

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