The Difference Between Doing Projects Versus Learning Through Projects

project-based-learning-versus-doing-projectsThe Difference Between Doing Projects Versus Learning Through Projects

by TeachThought Staff

We’ve clarified the difference between projects and project-based learning before. Projects are about the product, while project-based learning is about the process.

Projects are generally teacher-directed, universal, and tangent to the learning, while project-based learning is student-centered, personal, and the learning pathway itself. Put simply, it is an approach to learning rather than something to complete.

Paul Curtis recently shared this excellent visual on twitter that takes a different approach to clarifying the difference, looking at it from the perspective of curriculum planning and instructional design. A non-PBL unit will see a linear series of often tightly-scripted activities (whether lecture or not) that will ultimately culminate in a project. In PBL, there is constant checking, revising, feedback, and reflection on quality, research, literacy efforts, and quick assessment results.

Note that this is only one approach. It also could be argued that PBL isn’t linear at all except that it starts at some point, and then at another point later the class moves on. In that way, you might imagine a circle made of twisting arrows that reflect the iterative and recursive nature of authentic–and messy–project-based learning.

Thoughts, comments, or related resources in the comments below.

The Difference Between Doing Projects Versus Learning Through Projects


  • Thanks for that, Terry. I’m looking for some excellent Project Based Learning plans combining English, History, and Citizenship that I can learn from. When I search PBL, many “Projects” come up, but not all of them are PBL.

  • I was procrastinating writing a blog post for my COETAIL course and opened this among my many tabs. I was just creating my storyboard showing how my teaching of our Exploration unit has changed in the 4 years since I’ve been at my current school.

    My first year, I followed my team leader through a glorified integrated thematic literature heavy unit on THE Explorers that had texts that our kids couldn’t begin to comprehend and more importantly, they could not connect with, and it all ended with a written report (We have 60-70% non-native English speakers). The second year I convinced them to open it up a bit and be student driven research in an area of their choice ending with a Powerpoint with a voice track over it, and of course we guided and modeled along the way.

    Last year, we received MacBooks and were prepping to roll out 1:1 iPads. We had some staff turnover, so we threw out the old and let students choose any topic that they wanted to explore in small groups to tell a story about what they found out with whatever app they knew. Most used Keynote. The unit was much more engaging for them, though. This year, 1:1 rolled out week 3. The unit changed to pure inquiry in any area of learner choice with direct instruction of CRAP design and digital storytelling. I don’t think I need to say any more. If you would like to visit my learners’ blogs and check them out, head to . My exemplars are Alyssa’s on the human body and Sophia’s on chocolate.

    I would love to use your graphic with attribution and track back on my assignment if possible.

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