Challenge based learning (CBP): The evolution of PBL?

8 minutes
Written by: Ruth Martín

When I was in school, I was always petrified of exams. It didn’t matter whether it was math, history, or English. I would always get really nervous and no matter how much I’d paid attention in class or how hard I’d studied, the morning of the exam it was as if I’d forgotten everything I’d learned. Such drama!

I would always say to myself: “Come on, Ruth. In just a few hours it’ll all be over and you can forget about the structure of eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells FOREVER”.

Aha! Here lies the crux of the matter: forever. Isn’t it sad that after all that effort, my only motivation was to pass the exam and then forget it all? Luckily, times are changing, and more and more teachers are opting for active methodologies where the focus is on the student. This is where CBL or Challenge-Based Learning comes into play. 

In this post, you’ll discover what CBL is, how it’s different from other active methodologies, why you should implement it in your classes, and lastly, ideas and tips for successfully using it in your class. Let’s go!

What is Challenge-Based Learning?

Challenge-Based Learning, or CBL, is an active methodology which focuses on the development of problem-solving skills through challenges or tasks. This methodology encourages students to work in groups, develop their critical thinking skills, and take an active role in their learning. The objective? To develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence needed to provide a solution to the challenge that’s been set.

It’s based on creating a real problem (such as solving a community problem, designing a product, or working on a social justice campaign) that can be solved cooperatively. That’s why CBL is great for promoting teamwork!

In addition, instead of receiving detailed instructions on how to complete an activity, each student can explore it from different perspectives based on their prior knowledge and taking advantage of each person’s capabilities and strengths. In other words, it’s a methodology that adapts to each individual student, their way of learning and understanding, and their context. 

The process looks something like this:

  1. We start with a real, open-ended problem question.
  2. The students analyze, design, create, and apply the best solution. The teacher guides them with questions and activities during the learning challenges.
  3. The solution materializes through a specific action

Challenge-Based Learning isn’t a brand new fad. It’s actually been around for decades, but it’s been gaining more and more momentum in the educational community. It is, however, often easily confused with Project-based learning (PBL) and Problem-based learning (x-BL).

Why implement Challenge-Based Learning in your classroom?

There’s a reason CBL is becoming so popular! With the right planning and activities, this active methodology is designed to boost motivation and participation in your classes. In a little while, we’ll give you some great ideas to help you adopt CBL in your classroom.

But before we get stuck in and put them into practice, we want you to really feel the motivation. That’s why we’re going to highlight all the benefits you’ll see if you apply CBL with your students. Among other things:

  • It helps develop problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and power skills that are in high demand for the jobs of the future. As we’ve mentioned, this methodology is based on solving real challenges, which helps to identify and solve problems, an essential life skill!
  • It promotes teamwork. Each person contributes their knowledge and skills, but with a common goal which they work towards collaboratively. The result? Much more enriching and rewarding learning. What’s more, if we help each student to be aware of their strengths, they will be able to recognize their unique value within the group. 
  • It’s adaptable and customizable. This methodology adapts to each student and their way of learning and understanding. It involves posing real challenges, yes. But at the same time, they must be achievable and fit the students’ level.
  • It is ideal for building confidence and self-esteem. When they solve a real challenge, they feel a sense of accomplishment and confidence in their abilities, which drives them to keep working and learning.
  • It is very motivating and helps engage students in their own learning. Their role is no longer passive, now they have to contribute within the team. And what happens when you know that your opinion and participation are important? That’s right! You work harder to make it all happen 😉
  • And, something else that’s also very important … Learning by solving challenges is a lot of fun! If your students learn while having fun, congratulations! You have reached education nirvana. 

Sounds pretty good, right? If CBL achieves all that, why are some teachers still reluctant to apply it in their classrooms?  Well, change is always a bit scary, and starting to work with challenges implies a significant change in their way of thinking and working. That’s why good planning and having the best resources at hand is key. 

How to apply Challenge-Based Learning, step by step 

Now that we know what CBL is and its main advantages, it’s time to get down to work. Let’s go step by step: 

1. Choose the theme of the challenge

The key to successful CBL is to identify an authentic, real-world problem that students can solve as a team. Something that sparks their interest and forces them to think critically and find solutions.

To illustrate the following examples, we have chosen self-esteem and emotional intelligence as a theme. It is an important theme for students of any age, and one that matters to them. For this reason, it is easier to link it to their context and real life. However, certain aspects must be taken into account and the methodology and materials must be adapted to students’ age.

2. Start planning the challenge

The next step will be to link the challenge to learning objectives, which in turn will be linked to the evaluation criteria.

In addition to the general learning objectives, set specific objectives for each group before the challenge begins, and if possible, for each student as well. This ensures that they know their role in the challenge, what you expect from their team, and how they can contribute individually to the group’s success. 

For primary or secondary school

This is a failsafe template for planning your CBL sessions. Don’t forget to share it with your students: this way no one will get lost along the way and they will have the resources and information at all times. 

For university

If you’re a college professor, take a look at this other template. It has everything you need to plan the resolution of a case study.  

3. Devise a powerful problem-solving question

Once the theme has been chosen and the plan is made, it is time to ask yourself:

  • What is the most obvious problem?
  • How can you impact the students from the start?
  • How can you relate the challenge to the students’ real-life context?

During planning and also at this point, a good choice of challenge materials will be vital. In addition to the resources that will guide students to the final solution, it is worth taking extra time to select the resources that you’ll use to present the problem question and serve as triggers for learning.  

For example, videos are fantastic resources for creating challenge-based learning experiences. Choosing the right video will stir your students’ emotions and motivate them to find a workable solution to the problem. 

For primary or secondary school

For elementary through high school, you can show them a real video of a student their age who has gone through the situation and shares their feelings. This will make it easier for them to connect with their emotions, sympathize, and realize that this is a real problem that also affects them.

You can use a flashcard with a video. It’s a simple yet powerful resource. 

For university

In higher education, you can set students something similar. Social experiments with people with concerns or contexts similar to ours evoke endless sensations, so take advantage of this type of resource for your challenges!

College students’ minds will be more prepared to receive and generate multiple ideas, leading to more complex discussions. With a video presentation, you can condense everything you want to convey before you begin.

4. Be the guide you would have liked to have

One of the objectives of working through CBL is to encourage student autonomy, but it is also important to be available to provide guidance when needed.

Want to give their creativity a boost, or do you notice that they’re getting stuck? Raise thought-provoking questions and offer helpful suggestions when necessary, but don’t go overboard: the idea is to get them to reach the solution autonomously and not to lower the sense of challenge.  

For primary or secondary school

Customize this template as you wish to adapt it to your challenge and your students and accompany it with other activities on emotional education that reinforce it.

For university

Comparisons can be very interesting to continue or energize the constant debate and reflection involved in working on a challenge.

5. Evaluate in a fair and meaningful way

The final piece of the puzzle. With this type of methodology, you don’t have to wait until the end to evaluate your students’ work. On a day-to-day basis, and through your duties as a CBL guide, you will already have an idea of the solution they have devised and the type of product (digital or physical) they will use to present it, before putting it into practice.

I’m sure you already know that in Genially they can create any type of digital product to support the solution to the challenge and the proposed action. Their choice will have a lot to do with the timeframe and the level of proficiency that the students have in Genially: they can choose from presentations, guides, microsites, infographics …

Now all that remains is to evaluate their performance and final solution as a team, and also their individual performance. That way, each student will be held accountable for their own contribution to the team.

You can use an assessment rubric like this one and adapt it to your own challenge evaluation criteria.

Don’t be afraid to try new ways of teaching. Only through practice will you be able to identify which activities your students like the most and give the best results. This will allow you to connect much more with your students and improve the classroom environment. Doesn’t that sound worthwhile? 

Now it’s your turn! Have you ever applied CBL in your classes? Do you have any special strategy? Let us know in the comments!

Ruth Martín
Ruth Martín
If you don’t get it wrong from time to time, it means you’re not learning enough
Recommended Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *