How to Create an Authentic Project-Based Learning Experience

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How to Create an Authentic Project-Based Learning Experience

As our world continues to change at an ever-increasing rate, educators understand that to best prepare our students of today for the jobs of tomorrow, traditional methods of teaching must also evolve. Project-based learning (PBL), an educational approach focused on assigning and guiding students through self-directed projects toward clear learning outcomes, has become one of the most effective ways to subvert passive styles of learning, and cultivate an active and engaged classroom.

One of the difficulties of implementing PBL in the classroom is determining what types of projects are most valuable and authentic to real-world scenarios. To learn more about what makes a project authentic, we invite you to read an excerpt from our white paper, "The Values of Project-Based Learning in STEM Education.


What Makes a Project Authentic?

The concept of authenticity is a difficult one to agree upon. Because each person may have a differing opinion as to what is “genuine” or “real,” even an instructor’s best intention to introduce an authentic project into their classroom may fall flat. Though an activity might contain clear real-world applications, not every student will respond with the same amount of interest. In line with the constructionist belief that each person brings with them a different set of experiences, a one-size-fits-all approach to project-based learning (PBL) is simply not effective.

In an article for Edutopia, John Larmer, Editor in Chief at the Buck Institute for Education, agrees that there exists a sense of confusion around what separates “authentic” PBL from the non-authentic type. To simplify this, he promotes a “sliding scale of authenticity”:


  1. Not Authentic

These projects do not resemble the type of work done outside of school and are little more than academic exercises. Examples include writing an essay, creating a poster or developing a PowerPoint presentation. Beyond the teacher and their classmates, there exists no outside audience for the work they’ve produced. 


  1. Somewhat Authentic

Here students simulate what occurs in the world outside the classroom. A common activity in this category would involve each member of a class playing a specific role — a scientist, computer programmer, journalist etc. — and being placed in a situation which mimics an event that might occur in the real world.


  1. Fully Authentic

In this category, students conduct work that is real and authentic to their own lives, or work that has an impact on or use in the real world. From prototyping an invention to brainstorming ideas for a business, the key here is that these projects are their own, and they have agency over the projects’ direction.


Download our free white paper!

To learn more about project-based learning, we invite you to read our free white paper, "The Values of Project-Based Learning in STEM Education.

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