When to use Task-based learning (TBL) and Project-based learning (PBL)

Task-based learning vs Project-based learning

Task-based learning vs Project-based learning

09.05.2024

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Very often teachers look for variety in teaching and try to apply new and interesting approaches. In this article, we are going to discuss two common approaches — Task-based learning (TBL) and Project-based learning (PBL). They both focus on learners' needs and contribute to promoting learners' autonomy. 

At the same time, there are some differences in terms of learning outcomes, the structure of the task, organisation of the learning process, the role of a teacher and learners all of which will be discussed below. Finally, we will summarise when it is more appropriate to use either TBL or PBL.

Task-based learning

In TBL, a teacher sets a task for learners. 

The task usually reflects a real-life situation — it can be choosing the best product, planning an event, organising a fancy-dress party. In order to complete the task, learners should use some target language

For instance, in order to plan an event, learners should use the vocabulary to describe events, venues. They should use a variety of future grammar structures and functional language of suggesting, persuading, agreeing and disagreeing, and reaching a consensus. 

As you can see, while working on the task, learners should negotiate, persuade each other, ask for, and give opinions. Therefore, the target language is normally used for a certain communicative goal.

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Project-based learning

In PBL, learners have a project to complete.

For this, they should plan, prepare and present it to the class. Projects usually deal with complex problems, often reflecting real-life situations, e.g. solving the problem of global warming, designing the infrastructure of a new district, or developing a personal brand.

For successful completion of the project, learners should use some relevant language and they may also need knowledge in other fields, e.g., science, technology, business, or city planning. While working on the project, learners should:

  • investigate the topic;
  • do research;
  • select appropriate data;
  • plan the stages;
  • design the project;
  • and prepare its presentation.

Therefore, learners should develop so-called 21st-century skills, such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity.

Learning outcomes

In TBL, learners are supposed to learn some target vocabulary, grammar and functional language to be used in communication to be able to complete the set task. 

One more essential outcome is the development of communicative strategies (negotiating, asking for and giving opinions, clarifying, agreeing and disagreeing, etc).

Regarding PBL, the outcomes also involve learning some useful language to work on the project.

However, PBL more aims at the development of other skills such as communication, collaboration, research, critical thinking, and problem-solving. As you can see, the outcomes have a wider focus than just learning the language.

Task structure

Another significant difference between the two approaches is the task characteristics and its structure.

TBL tasks are specific and have a clear and achievable aim.

Task completion involves the use of specific language and a communicative goal e.g. persuade, reach a compromise. Such tasks are usually short and can be fulfilled during one or several lessons.

In PBL, learners should explore in-depth a certain problem and suggest practical solutions rather than just practise the language on a certain topic.

As you can see, a project has a more complex structure. It usually takes longer to be completed than a task in TBL as learners need sime time to plan it, research, design, draft, etc. Therefore, a project can take up to several months, depending on the material and the objectives.

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Learning process

In a nutshell, in TBL, a teacher sets a task to be completed. 

There can be some prior activities that prepare the learners for the task and activate what they know on the topic. Then comes the task completion when learners communicate with a certain goal.

After that, the teacher gives feedback on the task and helps learners acquire some language they lack to be better able to do a similar task. Finally, learners can be offered to do another task of the same kind.

In PBL, preparing a project has a more flexible structure, and learners have more freedom to plan and design their project which promotes their creativity and autonomy. 

Due to such complexity, the learning process may consist of several stages such as 

  • planning, doing research, designing the first draft, redesigning, preparing the presentation and presenting. 

During these stages, learners communicate, collaborate, investigate, analyse and evaluate the information, and reflect on the process.

The role of a teacher and learners

As both approaches centre around the learners' needs and an emphasis is placed on developing learners' autonomy, a teacher acts more as a facilitator.

In TBL, a teacher prepares the learners, selects and sets the task, monitors the task completion, gives feedback and teaches the language the learners need.

 

In PBL, a teacher mainly helps the learners during the initial stage by setting the project objectives, developing the plan, and selecting the resources.

Then throughout the work on the project, a teacher may provide feedback at some stages, consult the learners and ensure that the learners are on track and move in the direction of the desired outcomes.

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Which approach to choose

How to decide which approach to choose for your learners? The choice depends on a number of factors

  • the aim you set;
  • the amount of time you have;
  • and what skills and language you would like to develop. 

If you are short of time, you would like your learners to work with specific real-life tasks or you would like them to acquire and practise some specific target grammar, vocabulary or functional language in meaningful communication, then TBL is more appropriate. 

 

If you would like your learners to work with complex problems, investigate a certain topic in-depth, even using the background information in other subjects, develop 21 century skills, then it is more reasonable to use PBL.

As you can see, both approaches involve active learning, focus on learners and their needs, make use of real-life tasks and problems, the use of language with a certain communicative goal, and the development of essential skills. 

A clear understanding of the differences can help you use a more suitable approach for your learners.

Article authors & editors
  • Olena Bochkarova

    Olena Bochkarova

    Author

    DELTA, CELTA certified teacher of General & Business English, IELTS Prep, International Speaking Examiner

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