Putting the SEL into PBL

Project-based learning (PBL) and social emotional learning (SEL) are a perfect match; here’s why

2. Increased student engagement
PBL makes the connection between the classroom and the outside world easier to grasp. Students are actively solving real-world problems that their communities are experiencing right now. When you couple this with student choice, you create a learning experience that’s far more exciting and one that “sticks.”

3. Improved academic performance
Research shows that PBL helps students retain content knowledge longer, develop better problem-solving skills, and perform better on high-stakes tests. This makes sense when you think about the opportunities for differentiation and increased student engagement.

4. 21st-century skills development
The Framework for 21st Century Learning identifies both learning and innovation skills such as creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication, and collaboration. With PBL, students have to employ critical thinking as well as creativity to solve real-world problems. Additionally, they work with their classmates throughout the projects, which fosters communication and collaboration skills.


The link between PBL and social emotional learning (SEL) lives directly within the 21st-century skills. In addition to the learning and innovation skills, the Framework for 21st Century Learning also identifies life and career skills: flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, and leadership and responsibility.

SEL can lay the foundation and help students develop these skills. PBL provides an opportunity to put SEL skills into practice. For this reason, SEL programs and PBL initiatives complement and support one another when implemented correctly.

Let’s look at an example. PBL requires that students be able to effectively communicate and collaborate with one another. SEL helps student develop communication skills, respect for others, empathy, and ability to navigate conflicts or disagreements as they arise. It is important to realize that PBL can be challenging and sometimes frustrating. The ability to self-manage and be resilient will help students navigate these obstacles. SEL programming helps students develop these and other important life skills and sets them up for successful PBL.

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