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Challenge-based Learning

Challenge-based Learning

Challenge-based learning is a teaching method in which participants identify a real-world question about a topic of common interest and actively work to design a solution. This approach can be applied to come up with innovative ideas within any domain, from sustainability to real-world engineering issues. Read on for a closer look at the benefits and specifics of how it works.

1. A future-proof learning framework

The challenge-based learning framework is an inquisitive, collaborative, and active approach to learning. As the name suggests, it challenges learners. But what for? First of all, to come up with their own questions about issues that are important to them, their schools, workplaces, and communities. 


Participants conduct rigorous research and develop, implement, and evaluate an authentic solution on key topics of common interest. In this way, learners are at the center of the process, and the instructor is a coach who guides them through it. The learning experience becomes personalized and intrinsically motivating. 


For example, learners will deep dive into everything they need to know about sustainability if they’re asked to solve a real-world problem they hold dear – like how to reduce their daily commuting carbon footprint. On the contrary, a standard lecture framework of being told what you need to know, memorizing it, and being assigned a problem to illustrate it just won’t help get the same level of motivation and interest in the topic. 


Here’s a proven framework to streamline your next challenge-based learning activity. 


Questions → Research → Solution

2. A ready-made 3-step process

The challenge-based learning framework provides an organized set of steps for coming up with meaningful questions, researching answers, and innovating a solution, all while training skills like critical thinking, research, and teamwork. Let’s take as an example a workshop on corporate sustainability and go through the steps together.

1. Engage

First, let’s ask the questions (and identify the challenge). Participants pass from a big idea, or general theme or topic, to a specific challenge, using essential questions. Picture a funnel as it goes from: 

  • “We want to begin a sustainability initiative,” to 
  • “How could the daily routines of our organization be made more environmentally sustainable?” to 
  • “Find out the carbon footprint of your daily commute to work.” 


The resulting challenge is immediate, interesting, and useful. If it’s not – let’s backtrack to zoom back out and zoom in on a different angle of the big idea. Tools like brainstorming and mind-mapping can help spark the free-form, divergent thinking needed to come up with several new, creative ideas before settling on the one.

2. Investigate

Once the challenge has been identified, we enter the research phase. Here, we continue to narrow in on specific questions that will get us specific answers to our challenge. What is a carbon footprint? How is it calculated? Now, let’s collect sources of information – articles, video, and internal experts. The investigative phase concludes with a presentation of findings and a debrief – do we have all of the essential information needed to proceed? 


  • If yes = proceed! 
  • If not = continue the investigation just a bit longer.

3. Act

Or, as most would refer to it – the most fun part! Here, we put our ideas into practice and show how they can work. Going back to our example – our data visualization guru can display our combined carbon footprint of commuting to work, and how it will be reduced via installation of a convenient bike parking space in our company parking lot. Seven people will bike to work, reducing our carbon footprint by… you get the idea. 


To conclude, we implement the solution – in this case – by building the bike parking lot, evaluate its effectiveness, and reflect on everything we learned in the process. Not only a team-building opportunity where you will find your most avid bike advocates, design thinkers, and construction innovators, but you’ve also just found a concrete way to make an impact and show the world that your company cares about sustainability.

3. Bring your next challenges on WeSchool

Use the Open Module feature in WeSchool to create a Challenge-based Learning environment for your team!

  • Upload any necessary onboarding materials - challenge-based learning framework overview, brainstorming templates, and blank documents for teams to do their research
  • Instruct participants to upload research to the group, while you can curate (add or delete) materials
  • Google Docs, Sheets, PDFs, and videos are all game! As well as 50+ integrations
  • Moderate the community! Invite participants into the group, and let the collaboration begin
  • Presentations and projects can be done in person, on the WeSchool platform, or a blended combination of both. We’ve got a Calendar and Activity Planner to help you set up!

4. TL;DR: Challenge Based Learning in a nutshell

Based on a 3-step approach of Engage, Investigate, and Act, the Challenge Based Learning framework is a way to bring learning to life by solving a real challenge. From schools to corporations, it can be used to identify real-world problems most relevant to people and their communities, uncover key resources through research, and come up with actionable solutions to create real change. What will you tackle next?

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Ready to introduce challenge-based learning using WeSchool’s platform?