February 22, 2024

The Power of Challenge-Based Learning for Organisations

Are you working for a company or organisation that wants to innovate and drive change? Challenge-Based Learning is a compelling strategy for open innovation. In this article, we’ll explain why.

Picture: By Bart Leguijt, students with prototype during the Sustainable Campus Challenge 2021

Challenge-Based Learning can have two different goals

1. On the one hand, a challenge can focus on the process where students, team leaders, or managers can be immersed in an innovative, fast-paced and team-building setting.

2. Or a challenge can focus on the outcome, for example, by having a fully fleshed prototype that can be further developed after the challenge. 

With these different goals in mind, it is essential to understand how and why Challenge-Based Learning originated.

What is Challenge-Based Learning (CBL)?

In 2008, Apple coined the concept of Challenge-Based Learning for American high schools to revolutionise the education system. CBL aims to engage students in tackling real-life problems with creativity, innovation, and teamwork. Apple defines CBL as follows: 

A multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning where students solve real-world problems. Challenge-based learning is a hands-on and collaborative learning experience for students, teachers, experts, and surrounding communities. By asking good questions and understanding the subject area of the real-world problem, students take action to solve the challenge (Source: Nichols, Mark H., Cator, Karen, 2008).

So, where Challenge-Based Learning has a place in education, it also offers benefits for organisations involved in those challenges, as Erik Mooij, expert and project lead at the Utrecht Challenge Alliance, points out: 

“Challenges attract all types of organisations who work on real-life 'challenges': companies, public institutions, and governmental institutions. They value challenges because they offer them insights and new perspectives outside their organisation and network. And the organisations enjoy working with young people because of their intelligence, and they can get to know new talents for their organisation”.

sustainable city challenge utrecht

Picture: By Seth Carnill, Sustainable City Challenge 2023 finale

ICT MBO Challenge

A fantastic example of this is the ICT MBO Challenge at the Spoorwegmuseum in Utrecht. Over sixty students from different ICT studies and schools - who initiated this challenge -, including ROC Midden Nederland, MBO Utrecht, Nimeto Utrecht and Grafisch Lyceum Utrecht, came together to solve real-life client cases from the Ministry of Defence, Rabobank and Utrecht municipality. 

Melanie Kok, a teacher at ROC Midden Nederland, and part of the organisation of this particular challenge, was impressed by the process and its outcome. Reflecting on the experience she expressed: “A challenge is a perfect opportunity to connect students and future clients”

In addition, she expressed a challenge lowers the hurdle for both students and organisations to meet and get to know each other and offers an opportunity for companies to see what MBO students can do and how they can contribute to their company or organisation. 

For example, one group was tasked by Rabobank to contribute to the sustainability of the Rabo SmartBuilds neighbourhoods in the Netherlands. To begin, students engaged with the topic by asking questions to experts and doing desk research. Fundamentals' organised and facilitated the day by nudging the students to step out of their comfort zone and get creative. The environment of a challenge is a fast-paced and buzzing environment where new ideas are discussed, made, and tested. The students quickly developed new ideas, giving the Rabobank team fresh input for their project.

For Melanie, a valuable part of this challenge was seeing how students collaborated with people they had never met before. The challenge fostered collaboration between students and clients, allowing them to share different perspectives and find new ways to solve the client’s case.

Overall, a challenge is a great way to bring students and clients together to solve real life problems. It’s an opportunity for both parties to collaborate and learn from each other’s perspectives and approaches. Through this exchange, new innovative ideas can arise and be tested. Important to note is that a challenge can last one day or several days, depending on the intention of the challenge.

Main takeaways why Challenge-based Learning is valuable?

• It can offer students, managers, and team leaders an innovative, fast-paced and team-building setting.
• It can result in a fully fleshed prototype that can be further developed.
• It is an opportunity for different groups of people to learn from each other and tackle real-life problems together.  
• It is a networking opportunity.

Want to know if Challenge-Based Learning could be useful for your team? Reach out for a consult or our hand-out on challenges via our contact page.

Text: Lena Wagner


Challenge Based Learning. (2023, October 15). Framework - Challenge based Learning - CBL Framework. https://www.challengebasedlearning.org/framework/

Kasis, N. (2023, December 16). Challenge-Based Learning & projektorientierte Lehre • Europa-Universität Viadrina / EUV. https://www.europa-uni.de/de/struktur/zll/angebote/cbl/index.html

Nichols, Mark H., Cator, Karen (2008), Challenge Based Learning White Paper. Cupertino, California: Apple, Inc. 

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