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Project-Based Learning Environment Characteristics

Project-Based Learning Environment Characteristics


The project-based learning environment refers to a student-centered and dynamic classroom education approach, where the learners gain knowledge through the active tackling of the real world problems. In this method of learning, the students usually gain knowledge regarding a given subject by working for an extended period of time while responding to quite complicated questions and addressing various problems related to the discipline of study. Project-based learning environment involves different characteristics, which are normally regarded as quite unique and essential for its effectiveness (Thomas, 2000). They include authentic, autonomy of learners, collaboration and group work, well-defined, driving question, extended period and delivery as well as construction artifact (Frank et al., 2003). This paper explains some of the very important characteristics of project-based learning environment.


The first significant characteristic of the project-based learning environment is that it is authentic. The projects involved usually challenge the students to develop products for the real world purposes and audiences (Bell, 2010). In this case, teachers and students have to be clear regarding the specific product, its purpose and target audience. All these requirements make the project-based learning environment to be an authentic one when fulfilled. Connecting the particular product to an authentic purpose and audience gives project-based learning environment a point of leverage, which is normally missing in the other forms of school education (Blumenfeld et al., 1991). The question about learning shifts from the grade scored to the kind of service given to the target audience in order to satisfy their needs. The concern in learning becomes based on whether the product developed meets the set purposes (Helle et al., 2006). As students do the real, purposeful and meaningful work in a project-based learning environment, their level of interest and engagement in the process of education is enhanced more than in the case of traditional school function.

Student Autonomy

Autonomy of the students means that the learners are at liberty to choose the specific projects to do, ways of doing them and the resources to use. Teachers only provide the necessary guidance and framework for making the choices (Helle et al., 2006). The voice and choice of the students is given precedence in the project-based learning environment. This feature makes the project to feel quite interesting and meaningful for the students. However, the teacher’s input in the choice of the right project cannot be completely eliminated. Teachers are the ones who approve the chosen projects since they know those that fit the standard required for effective outcome from the subject under study (Helle et al., 2006). Learners have the independence of choosing the way to design, develop and present the project product. The teachers control the choices simply through providing the list of options from which students then select their preferred projects. This list, which is decided and provided by the teacher, is only meant to ensure the choices (Frank et al., 2003) made by students are within the scope of the subject being studied. Students decide also the resources to use for their selected projects. This level of student autonomy makes the project-based learning environment to be more effective than the traditional school work since learners, in this case, do what they love most (Frank et al., 2003). They give it their whole dedication and are significantly motivated by the independence in choosing what to do. It must be noted that learners select what they feel is within their ability to tackle hence there is no likelihood of failure in this form of learning.

Collaboration and Group Work

Collaboration and group work means that learners work in cooperative teams to finish the selected projects. There is collaborative project-based learning environment, where the students team-up in small sizes and select projects at the group level. They then work on the projects as one team and present the product to the audience. Collaboration and group work is quite beneficial to each student who participates in the team (Helle et al., 2006). Firstly, there is the opportunity of learning from each other. A lot of student knowledge is gained from, the others while working in the groups. Moreover, one’s weaknesses in doing the selected team project are offset by the strengths of other learners within the same group. Moreover, working on the selected project through collaboration and group work makes the whole process easier for each learner. The project becomes easier because the workload is shared with every student just taking a section of it (Helle et al., 2006). Therefore, each students only works on some small part and then the different sections done are compiled together to create the final product before presentation to the target audience. The product developed is of high quality, in this case, since each student works on the section where he or she has strength and ability. The final product is always perfect. It must, thus, be reiterated that collaboration and group work have to be integrated in the project-based learning for it to be highly effective.

Well-Defined Problem

The meaning of well-defined problem is that students get a comprehensive explanation of the requirements of the project. The tasks to be done are clearly indicated and substantiated fort the learners (Thomas, 2000). Moreover, the objectives to be achieved by the end product are also clearly designed and stated for the students (Helle et al., 2006). The students simply have to seek solutions to a clearly stated problem. The benefit of a well-defined problem for the learners is that they are able to then do the relevant tasks and arrive at the right solutions. The final product created is one that is correct since the learners follow clearly explained requirements and procedures of doing the project.

A Driving Question

A driving question means a project requirement that captures the intent of the whole as expressed in compelling terms and gives the students a sense of purpose and challenge in doing it. A driving question gives the students the burning motivation to answer it in the project. In the project-based learning environment, such a driving question must be provocative, complex, open-ended and related to the core content of the subject learned by the students (Savery, 2015). The driving question must be focused on solving the project problem. Its benefit is that it gives the students the urge to do the project well (Helle et al., 2006). It creates and enhances the interest of students in the whole task of doing the project.

Extended period

Extended period means the project-based learning project takes some prolonged duration before it is finished. The students take time doing each step of the project and ensuring accuracy (Tseng, Chang, Lou & Chen, 2013). This feature enables the learners to understand the project requirements before starting it. It, therefore, ensures the enough time for creation of high quality product.

Deliver and Construct Artefact

Deliver and construct artefact means project-based learning gives learners the opportunity to exercise their artistic abilities in developing and delivering unique products for their audience (Spoelstra, Van Rosmalen & Sloep, 2014). Therefore, the artistic capabilities of the students are significantly enhanced through this form of learning.


Project-based learning is very effective in terms of good student education outcomes. It increases opportunities for effective engagement of the learners in the process of education. Moreover, the knowledge gained in a project-based learning environment is practical and applicable in the real-world. It enhances the skills of problem-solving for the learners.


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Blumenfeld, P. C., et al. (1991). «Motivating project-based learning: Sustaining the doing, supporting the learning.» Educational psychologist26(3-4): 369-398.

Frank, M., et al. (2003). «Implementing the project-based learning approach in an academic engineering course.» International Journal of Technology and Design Education 13(3): 273-288.

Helle, L., et al. (2006). «Project-based learning in post-secondary education–theory, practice and rubber sling shots.» Higher Education
51(2): 287-314.

Savery, J. R. (2015). Overview of problem-based learning: Definitions and distinctions. Essential readings in problem-based learning: Exploring and extending the legacy of Howard S. Barrows, 5-15.

Spoelstra, H., Van Rosmalen, P., & Sloep, P. B. (2014). Toward Project-based Learning and Team Formation in Open Learning Environments. J. UCS, 20(1), 57-76.

Thomas, J. W. (2000). «A review of research on project-based learning.» The Autodesk Foundation.

Tseng, K. H., Chang, C. C., Lou, S. J., & Chen, W. P. (2013). Attitudes towards science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in a project-based learning (PjBL) environment. International Journal of Technology and Design Education23(1), 87-102.