Project Based Learning

GIS is a powerful ally in Project Based Learning (PBL)! PBL and similar ways of understanding the world like field studies or even service learning begin by asking a question or identifying a problem facing the community. Asking a good question that is realistic and answerable can be challenging, especially the first few times. It often helps to have a mentor or even participate in someone else’s study the first time.

In PBL, learners become investigators. Investigators, like good detectives, need to acquire as much information about a subject or topic as possible before they begin taking action. Good investigators must learn about factors that positively or negatively affect the question or problem. They must remain unbiased and good investigators must be willing to change their mind, as they learn more about the issues. This often times means investigators change their question or problem statement – making it better or more aligned to the needs of a community.

Take action, explore, or collect data! Collecting new information about your question or taking action to solve a problem builds on your newly acquired knowledge. For those collecting new information, you must use or design a method for consistently collecting information. This should be done in a uniform or standard way so that your data can be comparable. If you can’t summarize your data, it will be very difficult to make accurate statements about what the data mean. 

For those collecting data, analyze it! Analysis of data can be simple or complex. As a starting point, make a map of your findings. Use map markers to show where your data were collected. Using an ArcGIS Organizational account, use the Analysis button to discover the best tools for understanding your data.

To act on the results of your study or project can be to present your findings to stakeholders (like a town council or parent teacher association). It may also mean doing something that mitigates or helps to correct the problem. A teacher, adviser, or GeoMentor can help determine what the best course of action may be.


PBL, field data collection, and service learning can all use GIS to:

  • Make maps describing the problem (study)
  • Make maps to analyze or visualize the problem
  • Make maps to report findings or actions

Using ArcGIS Online, learners can:


Project Based Learning can be varied, demanding a wide range of resources and commitment. If you are new to using PBL or service learning methods, consider joining a collaborative project initially.

Collaborative projects have established protocols, data collection, and reporting.

  • Technology is often prebuilt
  • Potential for mentors
  • Some extra time required

Local projects are for those that want to build a custom project. See our Toolkit for additional ideas.

  • Technology may be customized. Learn more about GeoForms and Survey123.
  • Local problem/data
  • Mentoring becomes important. Learn more about GeoMentoring