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Challenge Based Learning

Last updated on 13 March 2024
Improving the mobility of athletes with spinal cord injuries, or creating a toolkit on planet-friendly eating. For challenge-based learning (CBL) students tackle relevant issues from the world around them in meaningful ways.

Sustainability, digitalisation and poverty - these are socially relevant topics that raise important questions. In the educational concept of Challenged Based Learning (CBL), students  engage meaningfully with these issues from different disciplines, and based on real life challenges from businesses, society or science. These challenges can be characterised as so-called 'wicked problems' for which there are no unambiguous solutions.

CBL encourages students from different domains to work together, to think creatively, to ask the right questions and to identify, investigate and solve problems. This way, they apply the theory they have learned directly and learn new skills that are relevant for their professional future and society in general. A CBO project can vary in length and scope, for example, from one day to six months.  

At VU Amsterdam, an example of CBL is the annual Dream Teams, five of which will be active in the current academic year. For example, Dream Team 3 which focuses on developing an empathic robot, or Dream Team 4 which develops a toolkit on planet-friendly food for a sustainable future. And Dream Team 5 focuses on PULSE-racing - improving the mobility and vitality of athletes with spinal cord injuries through functional electrostimulation. 

The concept of CBL is applied in different ways at VU Amsterdam, for example: A Broader Mind, Community Service Learning, the Migration Law Clinic or Street Law.

In CBL, students generally go through three phases (on a project basis):

  • Engage - students start with a broad concept such as sustainability, to which they make their personal connection. After that, they look for a concrete challenge that they can actively work on. During this process, they learn more about the topic and how it connects to their knowledge. It also stimulates their enthusiasm to take real action.
  • Investigate - in this phase, students ask questions about their specific challenge that help them to conduct extensive research on the topic. In this way, they acquire the basis of knowledge needed to come up with an innovative, creative and realistic solution to the problem.
  • Act - expanding on the basis from the research phase, students work on a concept solution and plans to implement it. They experiment with prototypes and simulation tests, after which they adjust the solution. Then, they implement the solution, measure the results and reflect on the process.

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