Challenge-based learning (CBL) started with the movement of “Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow—Today” which identifies the crucial design principles of the 21st century learning environment (Apple Inc., 2020). CBL builds on the theory of experiential learning founded by John Dewey, Kurt Lewin and Jean Piaget (Kolb, 1984).
CBL starts with a “big idea” which involves a broad issue affecting schools or communities. Throughout the challenge students have the opportunity to create a variety of products. These include, but are not limited to animation videos, games, journal articles, infographic posters, group or individual reflective videos and more (Apple Inc., 2020).
One of the important aspects of CBL is that students determine the direction of the research and solution. The challenge proposal where students state their big ideas, list out the guiding questions that help guide their search for solutions to their challenge, and why it’s important to them. Solving a problem that is meaningful and close to their hearts won’t only motivate students, but will also create meaningful learning for them (Apple Inc., 2020).
The teacher’s role in CBL is to be a project manager, coach or mentor. As such, tremendous preparation work is required from teachers themselves to successfully implement CBL in the classroom (Apple Inc., 2020).
Engage – Students use the ‘Essential Questioning process to guide them in identifying concrete and actionable challenge statements. The purpose of this phase is to have students connect and engage with the challenge, and feel excited about solving it.
Investigate – Students carry out content and concept-based research to find out as much information and evidence as possible. They then use this to create actionable and sustainable solutions for the challenge.
Act – Students develop and implement the evidence-based solutions with a genuine audience and then the final results are evaluated. Students not only master content successfully, but will make a difference more so in their communities.
CBL research was first mainly carried out in the United States (Johnson and Adams, 2011). Another study was carried out at Ringwood North Primary School in Melbourne, Australia and the result was encouraging. It was found that students’ self-esteem and confidence increased and their overall teamwork skills also improved.
The most profound finding through this research revealed that CBL helped develop kids’ empathy. One of the students stated in his reflective video “I’m making a difference. I’m not just feeling sorry for people — I’m trying to help people, and it makes me feel like a better person.” (Mark CBL, 2016).
This CBL sustainability project was carried out with 220 Year 7 boys in 2013 which showed not only students benefiting from CBL, but teachers also gained professional learning through this experience (Corcoran & Jensen, 2013). This was especially so for those teachers who were at first, hesitant to use technology (Corcoran and Jensen, 2013).