4 Ways Challenge-Based Learning Builds Future-Proof Skills


Employers are noticing skills gaps and organizational barriers to company success, and as such, they are turning to innovative talent development strategies.

One of the most effective strategies for attaining a highly skilled, future-proof team is to invest in challenge-based learning. Challenge-based learning in a talent development context builds essential employability skills in a collaborative, hands-on environment.

To understand the value of challenge-based learning and how it works, the following are four ways that challenge-based learning fosters essential, future-proof skills:

Laptops on the table

Real-world application

Challenge-based learning is a hands-on exercise that allows learners to apply their knowledge and test their skills with an encouraging, interactive activity.

Challenges ask employees to solve real-world problems that are relevant to them and often the good of the world, too.

This unique focus on real-world application is what makes challenge-based learning so engaging for employees, as they are not passive learners in their talent development process.

Rather, they are proactive learners taking their talent development into their own hands, empowered by their own initiative and the freedom to create innovative solutions to real-world problems.

Students with hands-on learning

Apple, the pioneer of the challenge-based learning method, conducted a study to test the method and its engagement with the learners.

Although this study took place in a formal education setting, the methodology of challenge-based learning is emphasized as the driving factor for the learners’ success: the learners were engaged in the program because of its “relevance” with real-world problems.

The challenge-based learning strategy gave the learners meaningful work to contribute to, a project that applies outside of the classroom, in the real world.

The real-world application of challenge-based learning engages learners and empowers them to actively participate with enthusiasm and motivation to improve their practical skills.

Group of students working


The collaboration that is core to challenge-based learning makes the experience that much more enriching. Collaboration has proven to significantly improve soft skills like communication, project management, negotiation, leadership, and teamwork.

Not only can peers exchange specialist knowledge and teach one another in a collaborative environment, but also, they learn how to cooperate with diverse minds in order to produce a collective product.

Collaborative learning provides employees with practical experience of interpersonal workplace challenges, which arise out of the collaborative talent development efforts.

study conducted by Indiana State University with business students highlighted the effectiveness of the challenge-based method: when collaborative learning was combined with active forms of learning—challenge-based or ‘case-based’ techniques—learners benefited from a great wealth of growth and skills.

The active collaboration expands beyond what collaboration exercises and problem solving exercises can achieve on their own, making for a holistic skill-building experience.

Students in cafe

Active problem solving

Problem solving requires solvers to tap into novel, critical ways of thinking in order to innovate original yet logical solutions.

Along with the collaboration, challenge-based learning uses the power of active problem solving to foster one of the most essential skills universally: critical thinking, which is also closely intertwined with creative thinking when practised in a problem-solving setting.

Critical thinking is a skill that is proven to be nurtured through work-integrated learning emphasizing active, practical problem solving.

Academics identify key aspects of critical thinking that are relevant to the problem solving process: reasoning, looking at situations from multiple perspectives, analytical thinking, attention to detail, understanding challenges clearly, and more.

Moreover, through the problem solving process, employees accomplish tangible achievements, which builds self-confidence—which, in turn, then benefits the organization with an employee who is less stressed, more satisfied, more productive, producing better results, and cultivating growth potential.

With challenge-based problem solving, individuals become overall better employees with the motivation and skills to push organizational growth forward.

Two students working


The innovation of challenge-based learning amplifies the future-proof potential of the company.

Not only is innovation increasingly essential for companies to invest in, but also, its role in challenge-based talent development offers the opportunity for employees to build critical digital literacy skills and creativity.

Innovation requires learners to leverage modern technology to solve modern problems. Naturally, this allows learners to practice their digital literacy—their ability to use digital tools to their best advantage—in order to make a tangible positive impact.

Moreover, innovation is characterized by creativity. Recent research suggests that creativity is best learned in active learning environments with creative innovation exercises.

The effectiveness of active learning for building creativity, the top soft skill of 2020, is due to the three key elements of creative thinking identified by experts in active learning: synthesizing, articulation, and imagination:

Students in classroom

Firstly, synthesizing refers to analogous thinking and ideating novel, unique ideas to solve a problem.

Secondly, articulation refers to expanding old knowledge with concrete thoughts formed by creative materials and imagination.

The imagination dimension refers to flexible thinking during a creation process, based on reliable thought.

These three key elements of creative thinking are all a focus of innovative thinking, and thus, the innovative approach builds creative thinking skills—the most valuable, growing soft skill today!

In Apple’s case studies on challenge-based learning, researchers found that across a wide age range of students, creative thinking significantly improved, as well as students’ confidence and interest in creativity.

Before the challenge-based learning took place, fewer than 15% of students felt that they were creative or that they liked contributing creatively, but by the end of the process, 88% of students reported that they like to be a creative thinker.

The results highlighted challenge-based learning’s effect on creativity in learners. By practising creative thinking with innovation, learners gain both confidence and improvement in their creative skills.

The evidence highlights the potential for challenge-based learning to amplify innovation in an organization by empowering its employees to contribute creatively.

Students having fun

The above four ways that CBL builds future-proof skills are not comprehensive of all the ways in which CBL benefits its learners and organizations.

However, this article does offer an overview of how challenge-based learning works on a basic level, which skills it builds, and why it should be implemented across a broad range of industries.

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