A Historical Perspective on Project-Based Instruction Origination, Design, and Evolution

  • Jennifer Wilhelm
  • Ronald Wilhelm
  • Merryn Cole


The idea of projects emerged with John Dewey and the progressive movement (1876–1957). Dewey and other progressives looked at redefining education via seeing the child at the center, emphasizing learning by doing, including diverse real-world contacts, making curriculum relevant and meaningful to the learner, and making the teacher more than a “taskmaster” (Ruopp, Gal, Drayton, & Pfister, 1993, p. 52). Progressives like John Dewey, E. L. Thorndike, and William Heard Kilpatrick promoted “vocational training, curriculum differentiation based upon student desire, intelligence testing, project learning, and other devices that were divorced from the traditional liberal arts curriculum” to fit the industrial era in which they were living as opposed to the traditional liberal arts curriculum of the past (Null, 2007, p. 1015). This shift away from the traditional curriculum sets up a division between the traditionalists who favored the liberal arts curriculum and the progressives who were focused on student-centered, practical curricula for all students (Null, 2007). The first use of the term “project” can be traced to the year 1908 when project-based agricultural work was established at Smith’s Agricultural school in Massachusetts (Alberty, 1927). The agricultural student projects were focused on community and/or home improvements, such as planting trees, building walks, and increasing crop yield.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer Wilhelm
    • 1
  • Ronald Wilhelm
    • 2
  • Merryn Cole
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of STEM EducationUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Physics & AstronomyUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Teaching and LearningUniversity of Nevada Las VegasLas VegasUSA

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