4 Ways Challenge-Based Learning Builds Soft Skills

Challenge-Based Learning (CBL) has gained recognition for its unique advantages in developing soft skills. But what does that look like in practice? This article will explore that question, highlighting four key ways that Challenge-Based Learning develops learners’ soft skills.

1. Interaction with peers

A key facet of Challenge-Based Learning is collaboration. This means leveraging each team member’s strengths and perspectives towards a common goal. Working together strengthens learners’ interpersonal skills, making them more effective team members in the future.

This is backed by a 2018 study by the University of San Ignacio de Loyola, which found that first-year university students who worked in Challenge-Based Learning projects enjoyed significant improvements in measures of emotional intelligence.

Gains in emotional intelligence mean gains in self-understanding. Through experience, Challenge-Based Learning helps learners identify how they adapt to situations, and how to manage stressors to achieve team goals.

This demonstrates how the collaborative aspect of Challenge-Based Learning builds learners into more effective team members.

2. Interaction with the self

In addition to building emotional intelligence, the collaborative aspect of Challenge-Based Learning develops learners’ creative and professional identity.

Part of the collaborative process involves identifying what you can bring to your team. This means reflecting on where your strengths are, and how you can apply them to achieve results.

The strengths that benefit a project are often ones that conventional academics don’t capture. A 2011 study published by Apple found that students with below-average grades excelled in Challenge-Based Learning projects, as their non-academic strengths, such as leadership and creativity, became invaluable assets to their team’s success.

In short, Challenge-Based Learning helps team members identify where their strengths are, and where they can grow to become more effective workers and learners.

This is especially helpful for youth entering the workforce, as it gives them early insights into what they can offer to employers, and how they can improve in the early stages of their career.

3. Active problem solving

In the real world, very few solutions are made without significant investigation first. This requires skillful problem solving, a capability which Challenge-Based Learning is very good at developing.

Effective problem solving requires two soft skills: creativity and critical thinking. Creativity is necessary to come up with solutions, and critical thinking is necessary to evaluate their effectiveness.

Challenge-Based Learning develops both skills by asking learners to solve an open-ended problem. It provides very few restrictions on what kind of solutions they can come up with, and so gives them room to be creative. However, it also requires their solution to be viable, meaning they have to think critically about their ideas.

These benefits are confirmed by Apple’s studies on Challenge Based Learning. Their research found that students in Challenge-Based Learning programs improved in terms of creativity, innovative thinking, and general problem solving skills.

In short, Challenge-Based Learning builds team members into more effective problem solvers by developing their creativity and critical thinking. This prepares both students and workers alike to excel in real-world projects.

4. Real-world application

The real-world aspect of Challenge-Based Learning is one of its primary strengths. Where conventional learning asks students to solve hypothetical problems, Challenge-Based Learning asks them to engage with real issues faced by actual stakeholders.

Working with a real-world issue means learners have to analyze the problem more deeply. In this way, Challenge-Based Learning asks learners to look at the problem they’re working on creatively and critically.

Apple’s case study with Miami University also found that real-world problems improve engagement with the learning material. More engagement drives improved learning outcomes, which itself drives personal and professional growth.

Altogether, Challenge-Based Learning’s engagement with real-world issues develops stronger engagement, creativity, and critical thinking.

In short, Challenge-Based Learning inspires learners to become stronger team members, build their professional identity, solve problems effectively, and engage with the learning material.