Higher Education

, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 287–314 | Cite as

Project-Based Learning in Post-Secondary Education – Theory, Practice and Rubber Sling Shots

  • Laura HelleEmail author
  • Päivi Tynjälä
  • Erkki Olkinuora


The purpose of the study was to explore what project-based learning is, what are the pedagogical or psychological motives supporting it, how it has been implemented and what impact it has had on learning in post-secondary education. The study is based on a qualitative review of published articles. The work revealed that the majority of articles on project-based learning are course descriptions focusing on the implementation of individual courses, whereas serious research on the topic is virtually non-existent. In addition, the term project-based learning subsumes different activities with varying purposes. Therefore, practitioners and curriculum developers are encouraged to reflect upon the purpose and possibilities of project-based learning along with students and to set realistic, clear goals. Practitioners and researchers are urged to document courses even more carefully. Several issues for further research are identified.


higher education impact implementation project-based learning project method project studies review 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adderley, K.,  et al. 1975Project Methods in Higher EducationSociety for research into higher educationGuildford, SurreySRHE working party on teaching methods: Techniques groupGoogle Scholar
  2. Albanese, M.A., Mitchell, S. 1993‘Problem-based learning: A review of literature on its outcomes and implementation issues’Academic Medicine685281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Askeland, K (1999). ‘Project organised learning – what is it “really”?’ in Jens Olesen, H.S and Højgaard Jensen, J. (eds.), Project Studies – A Late Modern University Reform? Roskilde University Press, pp. 235–252.Google Scholar
  4. Aspegren, K. 1999‘BEME guide No 2: teaching and learning communication skills in medicine – a review with quality grading of articles’Medical Teacher21563570CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ausubel, D.P. 1968Educational Psychology. A Cognitive ViewHolt, Rinehart and WinstonNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. Barab, S.A., Hay, K.E., Squire, K., Barnett, M., Schmidt, F., Karragan, K., Yamagata-Lynch, L., Johnson, C. 2000a‘Virtual solar system project: Learning through a technology-rich, inquiry-based, participatory learning environment’Journal of Science Education and Technology9724CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Barab, S.A., Squire, K.D., Dueber, W. 2000b‘A co-evolutionary model for supporting the emergence of authenticity’Educational Training and Development483762Google Scholar
  8. Barron, B.J.S. Schwartz, D.L. Vye, N.J. Moore, A. Petrosino, A. Zech, L. Bransford, J.D. Technology Group at Vanderbilt1998‘Doing with understanding: Lessons from research on problem and project-based learning’Journal of the Learning Sciences7271311Google Scholar
  9. Bereiter, C., Scardamalia, M. 1993Surpassing Ourselves. An Inquiry into the Nature and Implications of ExpertiseOpen CourtChicago, ILGoogle Scholar
  10. Bereiter, C., Scardamalia, M. 1996‘Rethinking learning’Olson, D.R.Torrance, N. eds. The Handbook of Human Development. New Models of Learning, Teaching and SchoolingBlackwellLondonGoogle Scholar
  11. Blumenfeld, P.C., Soloway, E., Marx, R.W, Krajcik, J.S., Guzdial, M., Palincsar, A. 1991‘Motivating project-based learning: sustaining the doing, supporting the learning’Educational Psychologist26369398CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bobbitt, L.M. 2000‘Integrating marketing courses to enhance team-based experiential learning’Journal of Marketing Education221524Google Scholar
  13. Bobrowski, P.M., Kumar, P. 1992‘Learning project management outside the classroom: The internship’Project Management Journal232731Google Scholar
  14. Boland, R.J. and Tenkasi, R.V. (1995). ‘Perspective making and perspective taking in communities of knowing’, Organization Science 6 (4).Google Scholar
  15. Borgnakke, K. (1999). ‘Group work and learning processes: Viewed practically and analytically’, in: Olesen Jens, H.S. and Højgaard Jensen, J. (eds.), Project Studies –A Late Modern University Reform? Roskilde University Press, pp. 78–92.Google Scholar
  16. Boshuizen, H.P.A., Schmidt, H.G., Custers, E.J.F.M., Wiel, M.W. 1995‘Knowledge development and restructuring in the domain of medicine: The role of theory and practice’Learning and Instruction5269289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Boshuizen, H.P.A., Wiel, M.W.J. 1998‘Using multiple representations in medicine: How students struggle with them’Someren, M.W.Reimann, P.Boshuizen, H.P.A.Jong, T. eds. Learning with Multiple Representations.PergamonAmsterdam237262Google Scholar
  18. Boud, D.Feletti, G. eds. 1999The Challenge of Problem Based Learning2Kogan PageLondonGoogle Scholar
  19. Boud, D., Solomon, N., Symes, C. 2001‘New practices for new times’Boud, D.Solomon, N. eds. Work-Based Learning. A New Higher Education?The Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University PressBuckhingham317Google Scholar
  20. Brew, A., Boud, D. 1995‘Teaching and research: Establishing the vital link with learning’Higher Education29261273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Brown, K.A. 2000‘Developing project management skills: A service learning approach’Project Management Journal315358Google Scholar
  22. Bredderman, T 1983‘Effects of activity-based elementary science on student outcomes. A quantitative synthesis’Review of Educational Research53499518Google Scholar
  23. Brown, K.A. 2000‘Developing project management skills: A service learning approach’Project Management Journal315358Google Scholar
  24. Colliver, J. 2000‘Effectiveness of problem based learning curricula’Academic Medicine75259266Google Scholar
  25. Davis, B.D, Miller, T.R. 1996‘Job preparation for the 21st century: A group project learning model to teach basic workplace skills’Journal of Education for Business726974Google Scholar
  26. Dewey, J. 1933How We Think. A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Thinking to the Educative ProcessD.C. HeathBostonGoogle Scholar
  27. Dillenbourg, P. 1999‘Introduction: What do you mean by “collaborative learning”?’Dillenbourg, P. eds. Collaborative Learning. Cognitive and Computational ApproachesPergamonAmsterdam119Google Scholar
  28. Dochy, F., Segers, M., Vanden Bossche, P., Gijbels, D. 2003‘Effects of problem-based learning: A meta-analysis’Learning and Instruction13533568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Doise, W., Mugny, G. 1984The Social Development of the IntellectPergamonOxfordGoogle Scholar
  30. Duffy, T.M., Cunningham, D.J. 1996‘Constructivism: implications for the design and delivery of instruction’Jonassen, D.H. eds. Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and TechnologyMacmillan Library ReferenceNew York170198Google Scholar
  31. Fell, R.F. 1999‘Adult learning and action learning – a real workplace learning approach’Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension67382Google Scholar
  32. Foster, E., Stephenson, J. 1998‘Work-based learning and universities in the U.K.: a review of current practice and trends’Higher Education Research and Development17155170Google Scholar
  33. Godden, D.R., Baddeley, A.D. 1975‘Context-dependent memory in two natural environments: On land and underwater’British Journal of Psychology66325331Google Scholar
  34. Gott, S., Lesgold, A.M. 2000‘Competence in the workplace: how cognitive performance models and situated instruction can accelerate skill acquisition’Glaser, R. eds. Advances in Educational Psychology. Educational Design and Cognitive scienceLawrence ErlbaumMahwah, New Jersey239327Google Scholar
  35. Graeff, T.R. 1997‘Bringing reflective learning to the marketing research course: A cooperative learning project using intergroup critique’Journal of Marketing Education195364Google Scholar
  36. Gray, M., Ondaatje, E., Zakaras, L. 1999Combining Service and Learning in Higher Education: Summary ReportRand CorporationSanta Monica, CAGoogle Scholar
  37. Grzelkowski, K.P. 1986‘Merging the theoretical and the practical: A community action learning model’Teaching Sociology14110118Google Scholar
  38. Guile, D., Griffiths, T. 2001‘Learning through work experience’Journal of Education and Work14113131Google Scholar
  39. Hamilton, M.A. and Hamilton, S.F. (1997). ‘When is work a learning experience?’ Phi Delta Kappan, May 1997.Google Scholar
  40. Heitman, G. 1996‘Project-oriented study and project-organisized curricula: A brief review of intentions and solutions’European Journal of Engineering Education21121132Google Scholar
  41. Henke, J.W., Jr. (1985). ‘Bringing reality to the introductory marketing student’, Journal of marketing education, Fall 1985, 59–71.*Google Scholar
  42. Hewton, E. 1985‘Project work in higher education’Husen, T.Postlethwaite, N. eds. International Encyclopedia of Education. Research and StudiesPergamonOxfordGoogle Scholar
  43. Holter, N.C. 1994‘Team assignments can be effective cooperative learning techniques’Journal of Education for Business707376Google Scholar
  44. Hughes, C. 1998‘Practicum learning: Perils of the authentic workplace’Higher Education Research and Development17207227Google Scholar
  45. Hyrkäs, Tarkka, Paunonen-Ilmonen,  2001‘Teacher candidates’ reflective teaching and learning in a hospital setting – changing the pattern of practical training: A challenge to growing into teacherhood’Journal of Advanced Nursing33503511Google Scholar
  46. Kilpatrick, W.H. 1921‘Dangers and difficulties of the project method and how to overcome them: Introductory statement and definition of terms’Teachers College Record22283288Google Scholar
  47. Kliebard, H.M. 1987The Struggle for the American Curriculum: 1893–1958Routledge and Kegan PaulLondonGoogle Scholar
  48. Kolb, D.A. 1984Experiential Learning. Experience as a Source of Learning and DevelopmentPrentice HallEnglewood Cliffs, NJGoogle Scholar
  49. Kushman, J.E. 1996‘Project-based learning for customer service and consumer voice’Consumer Interests Annual42235236Google Scholar
  50. Lattery, M., Cicerelli, M., Covach, E., Dempsey, S., Franke, J., Rudich, C. and Smith, M. (2001). ‘Full immersion into physics’, Physics Teacher. 39, March 2000, 166–171.*Google Scholar
  51. Laughton, D., Ottewill, R. 1998‘Laying foundations for effective learning from commissioned project in business education’Education and Training4095101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lave, E., Wenger, E. 1991Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral ParticipationCambridge University PressCambridgeGoogle Scholar
  53. Lenschow, R.J. 1998‘From teaching to learning: A paradigm shift in engineering education and lifelong learning’European Journal of Engineering Education23155161Google Scholar
  54. Lenschow, R. 1998‘From teaching to learning: A paradigm shift in engineering education and lifelong learning’European Journal of Engineering Education23155161Google Scholar
  55. Littleton, K., Häkkinen, P. 1999‘Learning together: Understanding the processes of computer-based collaborative learning’Dillenbourg, P. eds. Collaborative Learning. Cognitive and Computational ApproachesPergamon/Elsevier ScienceAmsterdam2030Google Scholar
  56. Long, A.B., Larsen, P., Hussey, L., Travis, S.S. 2001‘Organizing, managing and evaluating service-learning projects’Educational Gerontology27322Google Scholar
  57. Lunsford, D.A., Henshaw, J.M. 1992‘Integrating courses in marketing research and engineering design: An instructional technique for enhancing the product development process’Journal of Marketing Education Summer19921019Google Scholar
  58. Malhotra, N.K., Tashchian, A., Jain, A.K. 1989‘The project method approach: An integrated teaching tool in marketing research’Journal of Marketing Education Summer19893240Google Scholar
  59. Maynard, M. 1987‘An experiential learning approach: Utilizing historical interview and an occupational inventory’Physical and Occupational Therapy in Geriatrics55169Google Scholar
  60. Morgan, A. 1983‘Theoretical aspects of project-based learning in higher education’British Journal of Educational Technology16678Google Scholar
  61. Morgan, A.R. 1995‘Improving student learning in distance education: Theory, research and practice’European Journal of Psychology of Education10121130Google Scholar
  62. Mäkinen, J., Olkinuora, E., Tynjälä, P. 1999Growing demands of skills and knowledge - learning and the development of expertise in information societyAnalytic Teaching201928Google Scholar
  63. Newman, H.S. 1980‘First year building project: Learning experience and community service’Journal of Architectural Education342628Google Scholar
  64. Norman, G.R., Schmidt, H.G 1992‘The psychological basis of problem-based learning: A review of the evidence’Academic Medicine67557565Google Scholar
  65. Norman, G.R., Schmidt, H.G. 2000‘Effectiveness of problem-based learning curricula: Theory, practice and paper darts’Medical Education34721728CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Nye læringsmetoder i den digitale tidsalder ved Fakultetet for bygg- og miljöteknikk, NTNU (2000). Sluttrapport for prosjektet “PBL-strengen” 1997–1999 ved Fakultet for bygg-og miljøteknikk, NTNU.Google Scholar
  67. Peacock, J.R., Bradley, D.B., Shenk, D. 2001‘Incorporating field sites into service-learning as collaborative partners’Educational Gerontology272335CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Peterson, S.E., Myer, R.A. 1995‘The use of collaborative project-based learning in counselor education’Counselor Education and Supervision35150158Google Scholar
  69. Piaget, J. 1963Psychology of IntelligenceLittlefield Adams & CoPaterson, NJGoogle Scholar
  70. Rogoff, B. 1999‘Cognitive development through social interaction: Vygotsky and Piaget’Murphy, P. eds. Learners, Learning and AssessmentPaul Chapman Publishing & Open UniversityLondon6982Google Scholar
  71. Ryan, R.M. and Deci, E.L. (2000). ‘Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being’,American Psychologist January 2000.Google Scholar
  72. Schön, D.A. 1983The Reflective Practitioner. How professionals Think in ActionBasic BooksNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  73. Schmidt, H.G., Norman, G.R., Boshuizen, H.P.A. 1990‘A cognitive perspective on medical expertise: theory and implications’Academic Medicine65611621CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Sexton, C.A. 1990‘A comparative analysis of project method and learning project’International Journal of Lifelong Education98198Google Scholar
  75. Siegel, C.F. 2000‘Introducing marketing students to business intelligence using project-based learning on the world wide web’Journal of Marketing Education229098Google Scholar
  76. Springer, L., Stanne, M.E., Donovan, S.S. 1999‘Effects of small-group learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering and technology: A meta-analysis’Review of Educational Research692151Google Scholar
  77. Star, S.L. 1989‘The structure of ill-structured solutions: boundary objects and heterogeneous distributed problem solvingGlasser, L.Huhns, M.N. eds. Distributed Artificial IntelligencePritmanLondon3754Google Scholar
  78. Stefani, L., Nicol, D. 1997‘From teacher to facilitator of collaborative enquiry’Brown, S.Armstrong, G.Thompson, S. eds. Facing up to Radical Change in Colleges and Universities.Kogan PageLondonGoogle Scholar
  79. Stites, R. (1998). ‘What does research say about outcomes from project-based learning’, Web Extension to the Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project. [WWW document]. URL.Google Scholar
  80. Teasley, S., Roschelle, J. 1993‘Constructing a joint problem space: The computer as a tool for sharing knowledge’Lajoie, S.P.Derry, S.J. eds. Computers as Cognitive Tools Hillsdale.ErlbaumNJ229257Google Scholar
  81. Thacher, E.F. and Compeau, L.D. (1999). ‘Project-based learning communities at Clarkson University,’ in Olesen Jens, H.S. and Højgaard Jensen, J. (eds.), Project Studies –a Late Modern University Reform? Roskilde University Press, pp. 194–207.Google Scholar
  82. Titus, P.A., Petronius, S.M. 1993‘Bringing consumer behaviour to the workbench: An experiential approach’Journal of Marketing Education Spring19932030Google Scholar
  83. Tucker, M.L., McCarthy, A.M., Hoxmeier, J.A., Lenk, M.M. 1998‘Community service learning increases communication skills across the business curriculum’Business Communication Quarterly618899Google Scholar
  84. Tourunen, E. (1992). ‘Educating reflective system designers by using the experiental learning model” presented at IFIP W.G. Professional development of IT professionals, Singapore, 13.-17.7.1992. eero/eero-pub.html.
  85. Tudge, J., Rogoff, B. 1989‘Peer influences on cognitive development: Piagetian and Vygotskyan perspectives’Bornstein, H.Bruner, J.S. eds. Interaction in Human DevelopmentErlbaumHillsdale, NJ1740Google Scholar
  86. Tynjälä, P. and Tourunen, E. (2002). ‘Three-way partnership assessment in working life oriented project-based learning,’ in Benton, N. and Benton, R. (eds.), Te Rito o te Matauranga. Experiential Learning for the Third Millenium. Selected papers from the Seventh Conference of the International Consortium for Experiential Learning, Vol. 2, Auckland: James Henare Maori Research Centre, pp. 47–58.Google Scholar
  87. Vorst, R. 1996‘The local company project: Involving local companies in undergraduate environmental engineering education’European Journal of Engineering Education21161168Google Scholar
  88. Someren, M.W.Reimann, P.Boshuizen, H.P.AJong, T. eds. 1998Learning with Multiple RepresentationsPergamonAmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  89. Vaz, R.F. 2000‘Connected learning. Interdisciplinary projects in international settings’Liberal Education862431Google Scholar
  90. Veenman, M.V.J., Wilhelm, P., Beishuizen, J.J. 2004‘The relation between intellectual and metacognitive skills from a developmental perspective’Learning and Instruction1489109Google Scholar
  91. Vernon, D.T.A., Blake, R.L. 1993‘Does Problem-based Learning work? A meta-analysis of evaluative research’Academic Medicine68550563CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Verran, J. 1992‘A student-centred learning project: the production of leaflets for “live” clients’Journal of Biological Education26135138Google Scholar
  93. Voetmann Cristiansen, F. (1999). ‘Exemplarity and educational planning’ in Olesen Jens, H.S., Højgaard Jensen, J. (eds.) Project Studies –a Late Modern University Reform? Roskilde University Press, pp. 57–66.Google Scholar
  94. Kotze, A., Cooper, L. 2000‘Exploring the transformative potential of project-based learning in university adult education’Studies in the Education of Adults32212228Google Scholar
  95. Vygotsky, L.S. 1978Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological ProcessesHarvard University PressCambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  96. Weaver, N. (1999). ‘The Atelier Principle in Teaching,’ in Olesen Jens, H.S. and Højgaard Jensen. J. (eds.), Project Studies – a Late Modern University Reform? Roskilde University Press, pp. 220–232.Google Scholar
  97. Wenger, E. 1998Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning and IdentityCambridge University PressCambridgeGoogle Scholar
  98. Williams, D.L., Beard, J.D., Rymer, J. 1991Team projects: achieving their full potentialJournal of Marketing Education Summer19914553Google Scholar
  99. Winn, S. 1995‘Learning by doing: Teaching research methods through student participation in a commissioned research project’Studies in Higher Education20203214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Wynd, W.R. 1989‘An experiential approach to marketing education’Journal of Marketing Education Summer19896471Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Helle
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Päivi Tynjälä
    • 1
  • Erkki Olkinuora
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Educational ResearchUniversity of JyväskyläFinland
  2. 2.Department of EducationUniversity of TurkuTurunFinland

Personalised recommendations