PBL in Higher Education

Project Based Learning Group

Students begin preparing for life after graduation the moment they step on campus in their first year. Their time as undergraduates is just as valuable as it is limited, and it’s the responsibility of higher education institutions to prepare them for a successful future, both professionally and personally.

The goal is clear, but the question remains: What’s the most effective method of delivering a meaningful education to students? How can colleges and universities ensure that their students are ready for life after graduation, to tackle new challenges, passions, and problems? Research suggests that active learning in higher education, as well as repeated exposure to high-impact practices such as project-based learning, is the answer.

While it’s been proven that PBL in higher education is an effective method of preparing students for life after graduation, beginning the process of its implementation—potentially even revamping an entire curriculum—may be overwhelming. Where do you start? How do you start? How does teaching in higher education need to change? Maybe most important, what difference will it make? WPI’s Center for Project-Based Learning (CPBL) offers a wealth of project-based learning resources and expertise to help make this pedagogy a reality in academic institutions around the world.

PBL 5-Part Podcast Series on The Academic Minute, WAMC National Production

Episode 1 | June 3, 2024

Maximizing Learning through High-Impact Practices | Kris Wobbe

This podcast examines the unique contribution of five high-impact practices (HIPs) on a range of outcomes confirming that stacking HIPs over time provides unique benefits to students.

Listen below:
Episode 2 | June 4, 2024

Project-Based Learning: More Is Better | Kimberly LeChasseur

This podcast explores the dosage effects of project-based learning—the amount of a particular type of learning experience an individual must have to receive the potential benefits.

Listen below:
Episode 3 | June 5, 2024

The Unexpected (and Expected) Benefits of Projects in the Humanities | Ryan Madan

This podcast examines the impact of a Humanities or Arts capstone project on several outcomes and whether it might amplify learning of technical skills for engineering students.

Listen below:
Episode 4 | June 6, 2024

Failing Forward with Project-Based Learning | Sarah Stanlick

This podcast examines initial struggles with project-based learning and the impact on subsequent project experiences highlighting the differences between satisfaction and learning.

Listen below:
Episode 5 | June 7, 2024

Projects Narrow Self-Efficacy Gaps for Women | Lindsay Davis

This podcast examines project-based learning’s effectiveness on self-efficacy with women, suggesting that PBL can be an attractive pedagogy for recruiting and retaining women in STEM.

Listen below:

Project-Based Learning Newsletter

Issued quarterly to share and promote PBL ideas, practices and findings.


Sharing PBL Expertise Around the World

Drawing on over 50 years of experience, WPI’s Center for Project-Based Learning has been changing the face of teaching PBL in higher education since 2016, helping other institutions implement facets of PBL on their own campuses through workshops, consultations, resources, and its flagship Institute on Project-Based Learning.

Benefits of Project-based Learning

In a curriculum built around project work, students—guided, rather than directed, by faculty—take responsibility for their own learning by tackling real, tangible problems through open-ended projects. This form of active learning in higher education leads students to develop key skills and abilities—collaboration, communication, problem solving, confidence, leadership, and more—that will prove invaluable professionally and personally.

Is Project-based Learning Effective?

PBL in higher education involves changing the traditional academic roles that students and faculty may be used to, taking them out of their comfort zones in some cases. Such changes are not easy, but decades of research have shown that PBL and other high-impact practices result in greater student learning gains than traditional teaching in higher education, particularly for students in underrepresented groups.

Why Does Project-based Learning Matter?

More than ever, higher education needs to prepare students not just for their first jobs, but for lives and careers that, much like open-ended projects, are difficult to predict. Students who have experienced active learning in higher education through PBL are primed to take the skills they’ve learned through project work and transfer them seamlessly to their professional lives. Thanks to these high-impact practices, students not only graduate with confidence and a sense of purpose, but are fully prepared for anything the world throws at them.

WPI Presents at SXSW EDU

WPI’s panel proposal for the SXSW EDU 2022 (South by Southwest) conference was accepted, putting the university on a national stage alongside fellow thought-leaders and innovators in higher education.

Moderated by President Leshin, the session––titled Educating Changemakers for Global Impact––showcased WPI's leadership in project-based learning and how this and other high-impact practices prepare tomorrow's global changemakers. She was joined by leadership from Agnes Scott College, Miami Dade College, and Bellevue College, institutions that have engaged with the Center for Project-Based Learning and have integrated project-based learning and other high-impact practices into their own curricula.  

Neil Heffernan, professor of computer science and developer of the online learning tool ASSISTments, also participated as a panelist for Revolutionizing Assessment Through Research, focusing on how research and technology can impact student

Impact of PBL

Matt Cugno '22

Cugno has discovered a passion for building something entirely different—as an entrepreneur. He partnered with his best friend, Josh Kim, to cofound The Cubby, an art marketplace for college students to sell and showcase their work to the public.

Ready to Transform Higher Education?

From the PBL Resource Library

Developed in partnership with the Chronicle of Higher Education, WPI’s complementary three-part webinar series, “Project-Based Learning (PBL) as a Vehicle for High-Impact Practices,” gives participants the chance to hear from experts on their successes and challenges teaching in higher education when reinventing their courses, programs, and institutions through project-based learning.


UMBC shares impact from the Institute on Project-Based Learning

Bringing PBL to Life on Your Campus

Tangible plans, collaborative research methods, reinvented student interactions—they’re all examples of participant takeaways from their time at WPI’s Institute on Project-Based Learning. Start picturing the benefits of project-based learning—and implementing—what PBL will look like on your campus today. Hear from Institute participants.

Delving Deep into High-Impact Practices

The best way for others to learn about PBL is the same way students do: by experiencing these high-impact practices firsthand. In 2019, the Chronicle of Higher Education attended WPI’s annual Institute on Project-Based Learning, resulting in an exclusive feature story in the Chronicle’s “Teaching” newsletter that spotlighted WPI’s expertise in PBL, and its critical role in active learning in higher education.

WPI’s Institute on Project-Based Learning provided a view of higher education that is very much needed.
  • Andy Borchers, Professor of Management
  • Lipscomb University
The two-day project-based learning workshop delivered by WPI on our campus was an important catalyst for discussions, collaborations, and forward motion for our college.
  • Laura Hahn, Director of Academy for Excellence in Engineering Education
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
What we’re really talking about is the ability to reimagine the systems of higher education in your own institution and that’s exciting.
  • Arnold Robinson, Director of Community Partnership Center
  • Roger Williams University