Research Publications

Explore published research and evidence about the impact of quality Project Based Learning.

Shifting to Project-Based Learning in the Advanced Placement Context   

KIA Report

This unpublished manuscript describes how experienced Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science and U.S. Government treatment teachers, participating in a large-scale randomized controlled trial, shifted their practice toward the Knowledge in Action (KIA) project-based learning approach. Results show that, under conditions of optimal support and compared to randomly-assigned, business-as-usual control teachers, treatment teachers shifted towards greater emphasis on deeper learning objectives, more student-centered pedagogy, more authenticity, and less lecture and explicit examination-preparation. Though the shift was challenging, students reported feeling prepared for the relevant AP examination, and over ninety percent of teachers recommended the approach.

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Citation: Saavedra, A.,  Rapaport, A.,Marwah, E., Carle, J., Liu, Y., Johnson, S. J.,  Li, J., Hoepfner, D., Garland, M. (2019). Shifting to project-based learning in the Advanced Placement context. Unpublished manuscript.

Source Organization: University of Southern California

Project Based Learning & Student Achievement: What Does the Research Tell Us?

PBL Research BriefThis short research brief summarizes evidence of the impact of Project Based Learning on student learning in core content areas. The driving question for this brief is based on the most common question that teachers, principals, school leaders, coaches, and grant writers ask us at PBLWorks about Project Based Learning: What evidence exists that shows the impact of Project Based Learning on student learning in core content areas?

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Citation: Kingston, S. (2018). Project Based Learning & Student Achievement: What Does the Research Tell Us? PBL Evidence Matters. 1(1), 1-11.

Source Organization: PBLWorks

Project Based Learning: A Literature Review 

PBL Literature ReviewThis review primarily includes studies published from 2015 to 2017 focused on PBL implementation and its effects on student outcomes. This review suggests there are a growing numbers of studies that show a positive relationship between PBL and student learning outcomes, and this evidence is “promising, not proven.” Some studies show positive effects on students’ engagement, motivation, and self-efficacy. This review focuses on underlying PBL principles, PBL in K-12 settings, implementation challenges, enabling school and district factors, and evidence of effectiveness.

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Citation: Condliffe, B., Quint, J., Visher, M.G., Bangser, M. R., Drohojowska, S. Saco, L., and Nelson, E. (2017). Project Based Learning: A Literature Review, 1-78. New York, NY: MDRC.

Source Organization: MDRC/Lucas Education Research

A Review of the Research on Project-Based Learning 

Review of PBL ResearchThis review covers research studies published between 1984 and 1999 conducted at the elementary and secondary levels that focus on project based learning, problem based learning, and Expeditionary Learning. This review focuses on research on PBL practices that meet five criteria: centrality, driving question, constructivist investigations, autonomy, and realism. Key topics in this review include: definitions of Project-Based Learning, underpinnings of PBL research and practice, student characteristics and PBL, implementation challenges, and effectiveness research.

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Citation: Thomas, J. W. (2000). A Review of the Research on Project-Based Learning, 1-45. San Rafael, CA: The Autodesk.

Source Organization: The Autodesk Foundation

Putting PBL to the Test: The Impact of Project-based Learning on Second-grade Students’ Social Studies and Literacy Learning and Motivation

Putting PBL to the Test This study investigated the impact of PBL on social studies and literacy achievement and motivation of students in second grade in high poverty and low performing districts as part of a Project PLACE: A Project Approach to Literacy and Civic Engagement. PLACE is a second-grade Project Based Learning program that integrates social studies and content literacy. Researchers found that PBL can raise student achievement in high-poverty communities. Specifically, the gains made by the PBL group were 63% higher in social studies and 23% higher gains in informational reading than the control group.

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Citation: Duke, N., Halvorsen, A-L., Strachan, S. L., Kim, J., Konstantopoulos, S. (2017). Putting PBL to the Test: The Impact of Project-based Learning on Second-grade Students’ Social Studies and Literacy Learning and Motivation, 1-50. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.

Source Organization: University of Michigan

Research Briefs: What Can We Learn from John Hattie about Project Based Learning?

Hattie Research

This four-part series highlights research by John Hattie that supports Project Based Teaching. John Hattie’s research is based on more than 1000 meta-analyses – a statistical method that combines the results of separate research studies – Hattie has drawn conclusions about the factors that make the most difference in student learning. He bases these conclusions on research that has involved more than 240 million students.

Part 1 focuses on understanding Hattie’s research findings. Part 2 describes how Hattie’s findings support Project Based Teaching. Parts 3 and 4 describe what Hattie’s research says about effective feedback and practical guidance for applying the research in practice.  

Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4

Citation: Mergendoller, J. R. (2016). What Can We Learn from John Hattie about Project Based Learning? Novato, CA: PBLWorks.

Source Organization: PBLWorks