Many methods of problem-based learning have emerged in education all around the world. Many of these approaches to teaching and learning have much in common, including being student centered; however, they each have their own uniqueness as well. Two of the most common instructional approaches include project-based learning and problem-based learning. In Grosse Pointe Public Schools, our teachers embrace a range of teaching strategies to help support all learners, and these two methods are no exception.
To add some clarity to the difference between problem-based and project-based learning, here are some basics you need to know. Problem-based learning is a sub-category of project-based learning, but both methods follow a set process of steps for students guided by the teacher. In project-based learning, the focus is on doing an authentic project and learning from it. In problem-based learning, the focus is on solving a single problem, with or without a project as the solution. The context for project-based learning is typically something happening in the world (authentic) and problem-based learning is often hypothetical (imaginary.)
You’ve probably seen something that looks like each method in your own life experience, and that’s because these methods are based off of real life. For example, 'determining how much wallpaper you need to buy in order to cover an entire room' given a certain budget or other guidelines, would be a problem-based scenario that involves math. The solution doesn’t require a project. On the other hand, 'design and plan a fundraising event that celebrates the artwork of children and also benefits children’ would be more an example of project-based learning. In the second example, the “project” would be the event itself and has very few defined parameters. It would require the use of several different areas of knowledge and skill, but it would also require some creativity and innovation. The problem-based learning example may or may not require more than calculation and measurement knowledge or skill