George Lucas Educational Foundation

Proof that PBL works vs. standard lectures

Proof that PBL works vs. standard lectures

Related Tags: Project-Based Learning
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Hi all, I am looking for a study or some proof that PBL works better than standard lecture based classes. Yes, I know that it is obvious, or should be. However, for people who have never been exposed to PBL and are used to only lecture classes, it can be a hard concept. I need something fairly easy to understand that I can show traditional teachers and those who have little/no experience with PBL. If possible, some numbers, such as percentages, would be very useful. I've been looking, but have not found this kind of thing. If you could help me out, I'd really appreciate it. Thanks a lot. Hans

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Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate

Hi Hans,
Here are some resources to help you make the case.

One is an experimental study comparing results for high school AP Economics, PBL vs. traditional. PBL students outscored peers who had more traditional learning experiences (lectures and tests), and were also better able to apply what they had learned. Teacher satisfaction was up in the PBL group, too.
Download full report here:
Find a discussion of this research, plus more summaries, at Buck Institute for Education site:

You may also be interested in following the PBL "AP+" study currently underway. Learn more here:

Finally, check out the Edutopia page on PBL research:

Good luck!

Hans Albanese's picture
Hans Albanese
English Language Arts teacher in Japan, Course Supervisor (past)

Thank you. The links were very useful.

pingapple's picture
Engineering Diploma Teacher

Before the development of any education systems, almost all learning was problem based. Tradition learning (lecturer, tutorial and lab) was developed for efficient, effective and economical education system. It was established for the bright children (top 3%) and those families have power or being rich. Why there are so much discussions about PBL now? These are my opinions. As the world gets more "advanced", we can afford to put children into 20 to 30 years of schooling. So on average, students are not so bright and teachers are not so bright too. On the other hand, technology gets more advance and society gets more complex. There are a lot more to learn, to understand, to master and to apply. Therefore, we keep seeing the traditional system does not fit well to the average students. Therefore, educators seek for new teaching methods. The natural old way, PBL are brought back and try to modify on it. Apparently, PBL suits very well to the average students and it is not much problem for the very bright students. However, good PBL demands small teacher-to-student ratio and very good teachers who care the students, who knows broad and deep.

Sadaf's picture
"Satisfaction is the end of struggle"

Very well said and being a student, what I observed up till now and experienced I believe that Problem Based Learning should be practice in our academic settings rather than Lecture Based Learning as in lecture based learning the teacher actually direct the students, discussion factor is absent in this setting as students can not actively participate in the class, cannot share their views and ideas, boundaries of knowledge are restricted to textbooks and lectures, motivation in such traditional classroom environments is also usually low and the idea of practical approach is missing in this setting whereas in problem base learning, learning is driven by challenging, open-ended problems, students work as self-directed, a key concept is problem is identified and a solution is agreed upon and implemented, teachers adopt the role as facilitators of learning (by using Pedagogy approach), guiding the learning process and promoting an environment of inquiry rather than having a teacher provide facts and then testing students ability to recall these facts via memorization.

Sadaf's picture
"Satisfaction is the end of struggle"

I truly respect your point of view, but you know if we talk about the "Traditional Learning System" it's mainly the mean of Lecture based learning in which no active participation come out from the student only the teacher teaches whereas in Problem based learning the student mainly think about the topic go beyond the things that are bookish, think like if this situation comes in their life how they will react and respond and this is also improve the decision making pattern in both average and bright student and many schools, colleges and universities teachers are using this approach. Instead of setting in class listening silently to a teacher student remember better those things that are shown and include active participation, this is what I think because being a student sometimes I do find this lacking in our curriculum structure and in teaching methodology. The difference between traditional subject-oriented education and this project-oriented educational model may be expressed in short by an old Chinese proverb:

"Tell me and I will forget - Show me and I will remember; Involve me and I will understand - Step back and I will act"

sheza's picture

I am completely agree with sadaf and want to add something more about problem based learning that with the help of this we examine and try out what we know, discover what we need to learn, develop our people skills for achieving higher performance in teams, improve our communications skills, state and defend positions with evidence and sound argument, become more flexible in processing information and meeting obligations, practice skills that we will need after our education. I am a student and I believed that these are the opportunities provided by problem based learning. In addition one of the benefits to the staff is that, by having the students actually involved in the class, it's just much more satisfying to them than having students sitting passively, perhaps listening to what they're saying. The problem based learning students are much better at being able to explain how they learn, why they learn, and under what conditions learning suits them.

saria's picture

traditional and PBL based both have its own importance, old way can be productive at times it reminds we should not always depend upon technology. Discussion, regular attending of classes and participation matters alot.
I believe it is not always teacher we have to be dependent upon self study also matters alot.

Sadaf's picture
"Satisfaction is the end of struggle"

ys u r right but the problem base learning itself is a way in which the student actually explore their ideas, thoughts and concepts and relying on their self to solve the problems or issues actively I m not saying that the teacher should use this approach always but you know the combination of both actually makes the course or the subject very interesting and purposeful and students actually learn a lot form it and remember more from this as well, but unfortunately only few of our educational institutes or u can say teacher use this approach they just rely on lecture base learning come to the class, make students sit quietly deliver your lecture and just go. again I say being a student I experienced both ways that's why now I personally feel that the problem base learning is a better way of learning the topic or the course with the lecture base learning.

Monam Suaigh's picture

Well I will say that you are right but it also depends on the context what type of the context teacher will teach you so she can do this thing that teach the subject r the context one day and the next day the practical implication of this thing should be practiced you know "what. if, how" like questions usually arise in the minds of the students the teacher should address them in a positive and better manner, the question answers relation should be maintain in the class and I have studies a lot about this that the students that practiced this are more able to solve their issues and problems in a better way instead of rushing here and there what to do now, mainly their cognitive skills are more better than other students, teacher should tell the students what is this now give them chance to explore where it comes from or what other possibilities might be so this leads to both what I think lecture and problem based experienced both. I really appreciate that as u mentioned the bookish thing concept and the pedagogy approach I personally think every teacher should use this and makes a classroom environment more democratic rather than authoritarian and one thing I want to add now in India the British Bombay English school is actively using this approach so why not other to make learning process better and the future of the students good effort, gr8 job :-)

Sadaf's picture
"Satisfaction is the end of struggle"

[quote]you r right but u know the traditional was lecture based as u said, but the problem based learning is something which is active participation from students side, students explore the thoughts and the ideas and this is important for the average and the bright students both and if the bright student don't get a chance to share their views and ideas, don't get a chance to solve the problem and always teacher dictated him or her so ultimately the qualities of bright student would be decreased eventually this is proved by the research conducted by the McKeachie (2005) that the teachers apply the problem-based strategy in the classroom instead of lecture-based strategy it enhances the retention rate of the subject matter and increase problem solving capabilities of students which is more desirable in their practical life" it can also link with the John Dewey experience theory that should get a chance to experience also that learning is guided by the leaner's own experiences and students learn best by "doing". . .[/quote]

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