Challenge-based learningWhat Is challenge-based learning?

According to the Apple website, “Challenge-based Learning is an engaging multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that encourages learners to leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems.” The process is further described as collaborative and hands-on, where students work with peers, teachers, and experts to “ask good questions, develop deep subject area knowledge, identify and solve challenges, take action, and share their experience”

Challenge-based Learning:

  • Is flexible
  • Is scalable
  • Allows students to take charge of their learning
  • Uses a global approach
  • Promotes technology
  • Develops 21st-century skills
  • Encourages deep reflection.

Challenge-based Learning: An Approach for Our Time, a study conducted in 2009 by the New Media Corporation in collaboration with Apple, asserts that there are some key features of challenge-based learning:

  • By taking ideas from real-world issues, students are connected and challenge-based learning leads naturally to the discovery of relevant subject matter.
  • Challenge-based learning uses everyday technology leading to high-level communication skills.
  • The process issues a call to action (e.g., research, brainstorm, develop solutions, and execute strategies).

Three example challenges are included in the appendix of the study.

View a video from hosts of the popular television show Mythbusters for an introduction on how challenge-based learning (CBL) changes our perceptions. Then see the discussion at Edutopia on ways educators are using this approach in their classrooms.

Problem, Brain, Challenged Based Learning…Oh My! Distinguishing Between the Methods addresses the similarities and differences in these approaches. In problem-based learning the focus is on student problem solving, whereas in project-based learning, students create a project. Of course there is overlap between the three methods. The article also points out key points of brain-based learning, passion-based learning, game-based learning (GBL), resource-based learning (RBL), experience-based learning (EBL), discovery-based learning (DBL), inquiry-based learning (IBL), and technology-based learning (TBL).

Getting started

A template from Collaborize Classroom provides a tool that helps you guide students to form their questions, articulate their challenges, brainstorm their guiding questions, conduct research and design, write their research papers, implement solutions, present their projects and reflect on the process.

A follow-up study conducted by the New Media Corporation in 2011 concluded that:

  • CBL builds 21st-century skills
  • CBL engages students in learning
  • Teachers find CBL effective in engaging students and helping them master the material — and it is a good use of their limited time.
  • While broadly applicable across the range of learning environments, CBL is ideally suited to teaching in a technologically rich environment.

In addition to lists of apps for teaching themes, preschool, special education, the flipped classroom, and more, APPitic also has a webpage for CBL. Under the category “launching a challenge,” suggestions for apps to use are Feedly, Flud News, Flipboard, NPR and Summly (news and social media readers), as well as Pinterest and TED, and Zite (which allows you to personalize the news items you view). Brainstorming tools include the mind mapping tools Idea Sketch and MindNode and quick note tools like lino and Stickyboard. Collaboration tools suggested are Whiteboard HD, Dropbox, Edmodo and Google Drive, among others. There are links to survey and poll-taking tools and many different apps for publishing and sharing project results. has compiled a list of More Challenge-Based Learning Resources on iTunesU. You’ll find a challenge-based learning student guide and the video, “What Does Challenge-based Learning Look Like?”

For examples of other projects, see the NYC iSchool modules, which include challenge-based learning ideas for biology and environmental science, global history and biology and government. Another guide, Challenge-Based Learning: A Classroom Guide from Apple offers many project ideas and classroom tips. Scoop is a contributor-based website with links to many challenge-based learning resources, and both Wikispaces and Pinterest offer teacher-tested ideas for the classroom.

Presenting student work

The EdTech Toolbox has created the Edge (Educating the Digital Generation) challenge-based learning program challenge. The Edgie Award Ceremony showcases student work.  In a video created by Nebraska physical education teacher Kevin Morrow, see how a challenge-based learning project addressed the childhood obesity epidemic.

For an example of how another group of students reported on their CBL project, see the Vimeo produced by the Ringwood North Primary School in Australia based on their experience as a part of Apple's global challenge-based learning program. Their topic was resilience and their challenge was to “Help a community recover from a disaster.” It was cited as the “Number 1 Educational Video of 2011” by EdReach, according to Wired.  At Edmodo and Challenge Based Learning, you can see the process a class in Hawaii used for its challenge “E Malama ‘Aina” (Take Care of the Land). Your students can join a team at the Apple Join a Challenge website. You might also be interested in having your students join a “mini-mooc” (massive, open, online course) such as the self-paced CBL on climate change offered by HP’s Catalyst Academy.

For up-to-the-minute tips and school projects, and to share ideas, “like” the CBL Facebook page.

Patricia Bruder, president of Linchpin Solutions LLC, consults for the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) located at the South Jersey Tech Park at Rowan University, Mullica Hill. EIRC is a public agency specializing in education-related programs and services for teachers, parents, schools, communities, and non-profit organizations throughout New Jersey. Learn more about EIRC at or call 856-582-7000. Contact Patricia Bruder at