Education is a constantly evolving field, with various learning approaches being developed to meet the needs of diverse learners. In this blog post, we will compare five distinct learning approaches, including challenge-based learning, and examine their effectiveness in different learning scenarios. By understanding the differences between these methods, educators can make informed decisions about the best teaching strategies for their classrooms.
Table of Contents
Challenge-based Learning (CBL)
Challenge-based learning is an inquiry-based approach that presents students with real-world problems and empowers them to develop solutions. By integrating technology and interdisciplinary concepts, CBL fosters critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills.
Background: Challenge-based learning was developed by Apple Inc. (1) in collaboration with educators in 2008. It was introduced as a pedagogical framework designed to engage learners in solving real-world problems using technology.
- Elementary school
The teacher presents a challenge for students to design a community garden that promotes environmental sustainability. Students work in groups to research different types of plants, sustainable gardening practices, and resource-efficient irrigation systems. They then create a model of their garden, incorporating their findings, and present their designs to the class.
A professor tasks students with developing a business plan for a socially responsible startup. Students collaborate in teams to research the target market, analyse competitors, and create innovative strategies for addressing social or environmental issues through their business model. The teams then present their business plans in a class competition, with the winning team earning extra credit.
Project-based Learning (PBL)
Similar to CBL, project-based learning is a student-centered approach that focuses on meaningful, long-term projects that connect learning to real-world contexts. PBL encourages teamwork, creativity, and critical thinking.
Background: Although project-based learning has roots in educational philosophy dating back to John Dewey in the early 20th century, it gained significant attention in the 1990s through the work of researchers and educators like Sylvia Chard and Lilian Katz.
A first-grade class is tasked with creating a class cookbook featuring healthy recipes from different cultures. Students interview family members to collect recipes, research the cultural backgrounds of each dish, and create illustrations for each recipe. Finally, the class compiles their work into a cookbook, which they share with their families and the school community.
Engineering students collaborate on a semester-long project to design and build a solar-powered vehicle. They research materials, develop blueprints, and construct a prototype, working together to solve challenges and optimise the vehicle's performance. The project concludes with a showcase of their work and an evaluation of the vehicle's efficiency.
Inquiry-based Learning (IBL)
Inquiry-based learning encourages students to ask questions, gather information, and explore topics of interest. Teachers act as facilitators, guiding students through the process of investigation and discovery.
Background: Inquiry-based learning is also grounded in the educational philosophies of John Dewey and Jean Piaget. Jerome Bruner, an American psychologist, played a significant role in developing and promoting inquiry-based learning in the 1960s through his work on discovery learning (2). He strongly believed that the aim of education should be to create autonomous learners.
A second-grade class explores the life cycle of butterflies by raising caterpillars in their classroom. Students observe the transformation process, ask questions, and conduct research to learn more about the stages of development and the role butterflies play in their ecosystem.
Anthropology students are presented with a collection of artefacts from an ancient civilisation. They must investigate the origins, functions, and cultural significance of these artefacts by analysing their features, researching historical contexts, and drawing conclusions based on their findings.
The flipped classroom model reverses traditional teaching methods by having students review materials at home and engage in active learning and problem-solving during class time. This approach allows for more personalised instruction and fosters a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
Background: The flipped classroom model was popularised by educators Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two chemistry teachers, in the early 2000s. They introduced the concept as a way to maximise classroom time for student engagement and interaction by having students review materials at home.
A fourth-grade math class uses a flipped-classroom approach to learn about fractions. Students watch instructional videos at home and complete online exercises to familiarise themselves with the concepts. During class, the teacher facilitates group activities and hands-on exercises to reinforce understanding and provide individualized support.
A chemistry professor assigns pre-recorded lectures and readings for students to review before attending class. In class, students participate in lab experiments, group discussions, and problem-solving activities that apply the concepts covered in the pre-class materials.
Game-based Learning (GBL)
Game-based learning incorporates elements of play into the learning process, utilising games, simulations, and other interactive tools to promote engagement and retention. As a result, GBL can be particularly effective for developing problem-solving, decision-making, and critical-thinking skills.
Background: Game-based learning has evolved over time, with early pioneers like Clark Abt (3) contributing to the development of the approach in the 1970s and 1980s. James Paul Gee and Jane McGonigal (4) have been influential in promoting the use of games for educational purposes.
A fifth-grade class uses an educational computer game to learn about the United States geography. Students compete in teams to identify states, capitals, landmarks, and geographical features, earning points for correct answers and progressing through levels as their knowledge grows.
Medical students participate in a virtual reality simulation that recreates a high-pressure emergency room scenario. They must diagnose and treat patients with various medical conditions, using their knowledge and critical thinking skills to make quick, accurate decisions. This immersive, game-like experience helps students develop confidence and competence in their future medical careers.
PPP is a widely-used teaching approach, particularly in language learning, that involves a structured sequence of instructional stages. Unlike the previously described approaches, this one is more teacher-centred. The approach consists of three stages:
- Presentation, in which new information or concepts are introduced.
- Practice, where students engage in controlled activities to reinforce the new material.
- Production, where students apply their newly acquired knowledge in creative and communicative tasks.
Background: The PPP is a deductive approach that enables the learners to practise the content through controlled activities set by the teacher.
It is often associated with language teaching methodologies that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly the work of British linguists and language educators like Christopher Brumfit. The method was widely adopted as a means to structure language lessons in a way that allowed for gradual mastery of new language structures.
- In a language class (elementary school or university), the teacher first presents a new grammatical concept (e.g., the present perfect tense). Students then practice the new concept through structured exercises, such as filling in the blanks or matching sentences. Finally, students engage in a role-play or conversation activity, applying the new grammatical structure in a more authentic, communicative context.
Each of these five learning approaches offers unique advantages and can be tailored to suit a range of learning styles and objectives. By considering the strengths and limitations of challenge-based learning, project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, flipped classroom, and game-based learning, educators can create diverse, engaging, and effective learning experiences for their students.
Suggested reading on the topic:
(1) Nichols, M. H., Cator, K. (2008). Challenge-Based Learning White Paper. Cupertino, California: Apple, Inc
(2) Mcleod, S. (2023). Jerome Bruner’s Constructivist Theory Of Learning And Cognitive Development. (https://simplypsychology.org/bruner.html)
(3) Abt, C.C. (1987). Serious Games. University Press of America.
(4) You can read more in: Katie Salen. John D. and Catherine T. (eds) The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. doi: 10.1162/dmal.9780262693646.021