Can project management processes be used to structure active learning tasks?

Dr Rachel John Robinson

What is the idea?

This chapter proposes that project management processes can be used to structure active learning tasks in education. For this purpose, the chapter will explore how the five processes from the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) standards could be used as a framework to plan active learning projects for students, regardless of whether they are in a face-to-face, online, blended, or hybrid learning environment.

Why this idea?

There are five processes in the PMBOK standards: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and closing. These are widely used in work-related projects and provide a logical structure which can also guide the use of active learning tasks in teaching. The five processes can deepen engagement in learning, by providing a necessary structure to tasks and an easy-to-follow sequence. Using this framework, the learners focus on one task at a time and this can help facilitate active participation and channel students’ approach to innovation, enhancing the quality of the work they produce.  In the process, learners develop project management skills which will be directly applicable to almost any future career.

How could others implement this idea?

Treating active learning tasks as a project requires that the tutors provide a clear structure for learners approaching the task. This is where the PMBOK standards from the Project Management Institute (PMI) come in handy. They state that there are five processes that are prevalent in almost every project:

  1. Initiating/ Defining outcome: The first stage starts with learners defining the start of a new active learning project, including its objectives, scope and coverage, as well as metrics by which its success will be measured. For example, students of business could be asked to do a group research project to study a particular company. The goal of this could be to ascertain the impact that this company has had on the development of the market as a whole.
  2. Planning or setting up the stage: In the second stage, learners create a project plan, including the objectives, how the objectives will be achieved, and a schedule with key milestones and deadlines to ensure the success of the project. Learners could produce this as a document and outline how they would measure the impact of their chosen company on the market – for example, through interviews, surveys or analysis of existing data (Young & Bruce, 2011).
  3. Executing Actions: With the project plan in place, in the third stage, learners begin executing the actions outlined in the plan. For group work, it is important to ensure that each member of the group knows their role and responsibilities before starting. In the case of the business research project, at this stage learners may begin gathering data on their chosen company and how it has impacted the market (Muslihat, 2018).
  4. Monitoring and Controlling: In the fourth stage, learners will monitor their progress and make adjustments to ensure that the active learning project can be completed on time. For example, once the data has been gathered, the students may discover some areas of difficulty in analysing the data. Members of the team would support each other to ensure that the project remains on track. If learners are collaborating remotely, it will be especially important for them to build in regular touchpoints to address issues which may arise (Dyer et al., 2018).
  5. Closing: In the final stage, students conclude all activities by reflecting on the lessons learnt and areas of development for the future. It may be helpful for students to evaluate the entire project using an anonymous student response system. This can ensure that each member of the group provides honest feedback on how to improve their work for future projects (Muir et al., 2020).

Transferability to different contexts

This approach could easily be applied to any subject discipline, as long as it is possible for students to complete a project of some kind. The process works particularly well for group or pair work, but it could also be adapted for individual projects. In any context, it is important that learners are empowered to take responsibility for their role in all of the project management processes. So regardless of the subject discipline, the tasks need to be scaffolded with clear guidance on how to run a project and how to manage your time independently. Building motivation and capacity amongst those involved in the project will entail more participation and behavioural change for a positive learning environment. Active learning projects are most effective when they provide early warning of any challenges that arise and adjustments are made sooner rather than later (Faris et al., 2014; ILO, 2015).

To support this process, active learning practitioners can encourage the use of project management tools such as MS Project, Smartsheet, Microsoft Planner, Trello, etc. Through this, the ideas captured can empower students by creating opportunities for them to reflect critically on their collaboration and identify ways to enhance their project and their learning experience as a whole. The links for some relevant tools can be found below.


Links to tools and resources


Dyer, T., Aroz, J., & Larson, E. (2018). Proximity in the online classroom: Engagement, relationships, and personalization. Journal of Instructional Research, 7, 108-118.

Faris, S., Medromi, H., El Hasnaoui, S., Iguer, H., & Sayouti, A. (2014). Toward an effective information security risk management of universities’ information systems using multi agent systems, ITIL, ISO 27002, ISO 27005. International Journal of Advanced Computer Science and Applications, 5(6).

ILO. (2015).  Technical Operation Manual– VERSION 1.—dgreports/—exrel/documents/genericdocument/wcms_172679.pdf 

Muslihat, D. (2018). Popular project management methodologies.

Muir, S., Tirlea, L., Elphinstone, B., & Huynh, M. (2020). Promoting classroom engagement through the use of an online student response system: a mixed methods analysis. Journal of Statistics Education, 28(1), 25-31.

Young, S., & Bruce, M. A. (2011). Classroom community and student engagement in online courses. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(2), 219-230.

About the author

Dr Rachel John Robinson is a specialist in Economic IT risks and security management, currently working as a lecturer after the corporate foray of being an auditor for 6 years. She actively pursues research through continuous learning and development. Being an active researcher, her main hobbies revolve around knowledge empowerment through writing and reading, with occasional playing of music.


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100 Ideas for Active Learning Copyright © 2022 by Dr Rachel John Robinson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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