Question: Is it still PBL without an authentic audience?

Honestly, my first reaction to this question was a frown and discouragement. How can every project have an “authentic audience?”  Are simulations not project-based learning? Will my NASA project require me to find an astronaut or rocket scientist?

A quick Google search did not provide much relief from my first reactions. Overwhelmingly, the answer to the first question is “no.”  However (and thankfully), an article search on the Buck Institute for Education website yielded more clarifying information as to what an “authentic audience” truly is.  First, let’s explore the meaning of the word “audience.”

The public nature of student work is essential to both student motivation and project authenticity.  However, in 2014, there was an evolution of the “8 Essentials for Project-Based Learning” into the “Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements.”  The wording of one standard changed from “public audience” into “public product.” This revision appears to provide more insight into the intent of seeking an audience in project-based learning.  According to Mergendoller and Larmer, “It’s hugely important… But we don’t want to suggest that students always have to make a formal presentation to an audience.  There are other ways to make work public” (2015). The use of the word “audience” conjured up ideas of formal presentations in my mind; however, the change in wording suggests that the “audience” may also view the product online, see it displayed in a community, or receive a student-generated product or service. The publication of learning should fit the nature of the student’s solution to the challenging problem or question.

Now, what about the idea of being “authentic?” In the education realm, authenticity describes “how ‘real world’ the learning or the task is” (Larmer & Mergendoller, 2015). Projects may be made authentic by the context, processes, or tools used in their implementation.  Projects are also authentic when student products or solutions directly impact the needs of their community, school, or the students themselves (Larmer & Mergendoller, 2015). The audience can and will be only as authentic as the project and products themselves. A project that lacks authenticity will always fail to provide to an authentic audience; whereas, a project with authenticity must provide to an authentic audience.

Therefore, the answer to the original answer is “no.”  However, it does not guarantee that each project will require a formal presentation to an “authentic audience”.  Rather, publication of student work should fit the needs of the project.  Whether it is an actual product or service, a presentation, or an electronic post, student products must be shared publicly.  Projects crafted carefully to the “gold standards” will assure that audience will be authentic.


Larmer, J., & Mergendoller, J. R. (2015, April 12). Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements. Retrieved February 16, 2016, from

Mergendoller, J. R., & Larmer, J. (2015, May 11). Why We Changed Our Model of the “8 Essential Elements of PBL”. Retrieved February 16, 2016, from


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