Challenge Based Learning is an engaging multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that encourages students to leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems through efforts in their homes, schools and communities.
Traditional teaching and learning models are becoming increasingly ineffective with a generation of students who have instant access to vast amounts of information, embrace the roles of content producer and publisher and have access to extensive online social networks.
Today, students are often faced with assignments and assessments that lack a real-world context. Many of these students either learn to do just enough to get by or they lose interest altogether and drop out. In this interconnected world, with ubiquitous access to powerful technologies, new models of teaching and learning are possible, and engagement is paramount to meeting the needs of more students.
Outside of school, students encounter very different models of teaching and learning. Online learning communities revolving around the passions and skills of the participants appear, evolve and expand as needed without the constraints of time or physical location. Students embrace media where participants are presented with a challenge requiring them to draw on prior learning, acquire new knowledge, and tap their creativity to develop and implement solutions. Cable and network television have capitalized on this formula with shows focused on topics ranging from cooking, to designing clothes, to participants working to solve real-world business challenges. To address the need to create new ways of engaging students to achieve, Apple worked with educators across the country to develop the concept of Challenge Based Learning.
Challenge Based Learning is collaborative and hands-on, asking students to work with other students, their teachers, and experts in their communities and around the world to develop deeper knowledge of the subjects students are studying, accept and solve challenges, take action, share their experience, and enter into a global discussion about important issues.
The Challenge Based Learning process begins with a big idea and cascades to the following: an essential question, a challenge, guiding questions, activities, resources, determining and articulating the solution, taking action by implementing the solution, and evaluating the results. The process also integrates important ongoing activities such as reflection, assessment, and documentation.
The big idea is a broad concept that can be explored in multiple ways, is engaging, and has importance to students, and the larger society. Examples of big ideas are Resilience, Separation, Creativity, Health, Sustainability, and Democracy.
By design, the big idea allows for the generation of a wide variety of essential questions that reflect the interests of the students and the needs of their community. Each group will narrow their thoughts to one essential question.
From the essential question a concise challenge is articulated that asks the learners to create a specific solution that will result in concrete, meaningful action.
Generated by the learners, guiding questions represent the knowledge needed to successfully develop a solution and provide a map for the learning process. The learners identify lessons, simulations, activities, and content resources, to answer the guiding questions and set the foundation for them to develop innovative, insightful, and realistic solutions.
Each challenge is stated broadly enough to allow for a variety of solutions. Each solution should be thoughtful, concrete, clearly articulated and actionable in the local community.
Implementation allows the learners to test their solution in an authentic environment. The scope of implementation can vary greatly depending on time and resources, but even the smallest effort to put the plan into action in a real-life setting is critical.
During the evaluation process the learners gauge the success of their solution using a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods including surveys, interviews, and videos. Through this process the learners determine the efficacy of the solution and can determine the next steps.
At each step of the challenge process the learners should document and publish information about their experience. Documentation and publishing utilizing blogs, videos and other tools creates the resources for ongoing reflection and assessment. These resources can also serve as the foundation for a learning portfolio and communicating the solution to the world.
Throughout the process, the learners should be continuously reflecting on content and the process. Much of the deepest learning takes place by considering the process, thinking about one's own learning, analyzing ongoing relationships between the content and concepts, and interacting with other people.
Assessment can and should be conducted throughout the challenge process. The results of the formal and informal assessments confirm learning and inform decision making as the learners move towards the implementation of their solution. During the evaluation stage both process and product can be assessed.
Challenge Based Learning follows a workflow that mirrors the 21st century workplace. Students are given enough space to be creative and self-directed and at the same time are provided with support, boundaries, and checkpoints to avoid frustration. The workflow can be structured and modified in a variety of ways. The following process is provided as a starting point but is not meant to be prescriptive.
A shared working space is helpful for a successful challenge. The workspace should be available to students 24/7, include needed resources, access to activities, a calendar, and serve as a communication channel with the teacher and between team members.
Once the big idea is selected, the first step is to develop with the class an overview of the big idea and the related essential question. This sets the broader context and foundation for the work that will follow. The class then identifies a suitable challenge or is introduced to one of the existing challenges.
In today's workforce, individuals with various skill sets typically work together in teams on specific projects or challenges. During this team formation stage, it is important to consider roles and responsibilities and discuss the developmental nature of teams.
The teacher and the teams discuss what they will use as a measure of their success and adopt, adapt, or develop a project rubric to gauge the success of their solution. Assessment can and should be conducted throughout the process by both the students and the teachers. The results of the assessment should inform decision making as the students move towards a solution. At the end of the challenge both process and product can be assessed.
After the teams are formed and briefed, the students begin the process of identifying the questions that will guide their analysis of the challenge topic. These questions outline what the students think they need to know to formulate a viable solution. Questions will be answered, reframed, or new questions will be formulated along the way as information is gathered and concepts explored.
During this stage, the teams seek to find answers to the guiding questions by participating in a variety of learning activities, conducting research, experimentation, interviewing, and exploring various venues to assist in crafting the best solution. The activities can be teacher directed or student directed, whole group, small group, or individual, depending on the topic and the need. The goal of this stage is for students to gain a solid foundation on which to develop their solution.
Once the students have identified possible solutions, they can build them out, try them with small user groups, or present them to a focus group. This process allows the teams to polish their solution. This cycle of refinement moves the learners toward a final implementation of their solution.
The next step is to develop the implementation plan for the solution and put it into action. The scope of implementation will vary greatly depending on time and resources, but even the smallest effort to put the plan into action in a real-life setting is important. The teams gauge the success of their implementation.
Throughout the process, the students should document their work and reflect on the process. Much of the deepest learning takes place by considering the process, thinking about one's own learning, analyzing ongoing relationships with the content and between concepts, interacting with other people, and developing a solution. Blogs, video, podcasts, digital storytelling, and photographs are all great ways to document and reflect on the process.
The purposes of the Challenge Based Learning Implementation Study (CBLi) were two-fold, and blended in some ways the long-standing boundaries between outcomes- and process-focused evaluation and more traditional educational research. The first purpose was to determine if the outcomes and findings of the pilot could be replicated and extended beyond the purely high school focus of the pilot to other educational levels and settings, especially as they fall into four areas: the overall student experience; the overall teacher experience; the match of CBL learning outcomes (particularly informal learning outcomes) with key skills described in "Framework for 21st Century Learning"; and the learning goals for the time devoted to the work.
The second was to add additional understanding of several aspects of the school ecosystem that may influence the success of challenge based learning. Among these are the importance of training and support in the implementation of CBL; the impact of student groups on outcomes; a greater understanding of the skills and resources needed for a teacher to successfully implement CBL; and a sense of if (and how) a CBL approach might extend learning to times and places outside the traditional classroom.
With these goals in mind, the CBLi project was launched in January 2011, with a meeting of the 56 teachers participating in the effort. The primary goal of the two-day workshop was to ensure the participants understood CBL well enough to implement it to a baseline standard, with the secondary goal of giving them dedicated time to identify a big idea for their school, tease out essential questions, and frame their challenges. The 19 schools and universities involved then worked to implement those challenges through late May 2011.
For a full description of the CBLi Project download the New Media Consortium research report.
In the fall of 2008, Apple, Inc worked with the New Media Consortium to conduct a pilot study with six schools from across the country with one-to-one laptop initiatives in place. Both teachers and students found challenge based learning effective and engaging. Fully 97% of the 321 students involved found the experience worthwhile. More so, when the data are disaggregated by teacher, 73% of the faculty were able to engage every single student in their classes; the data for those classes shows student satisfaction rates of a remarkable 100%. Teachers unequivocally also rated the experience as positive, with every one of the 29 pilot faculty reporting that work of the students exceeded their expectations. All but one faculty member reported that the kids embraced the topic eagerly and worked well together and almost three-quarters noted positive changes in student attitude and behaviors. Students self-reported that they were learning and refining skills that closely matched those identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
For a full description of the pilot and results download the New Media Consortium research report.