With all the buzzwords in education, it can be difficult to keep certain concepts straight. Problem, project, and challenge-based learning are all popular methods that can be easily confused. However, these are three different approaches.

Problem-based learning starts, as the name suggests, with a problem. In this model, students are presented with an open-ended problem. Students must search through a variety of resources, called trigger material, to help them understand the problem from all angles.

In problem-based learning, there is no one right answer to the problem. Instead of working towards one “right” answer, students exercise critical thinking skills and develop their own solutions. Often, the problems used are real-world examples of complex problems.

Typically, students work in small groups to solve the problem. This allows for students to practice working collaboratively. Each student must assist in coming up with solutions, then work as a team to evaluate each solution and determine which is best.

Project-based learning is often confused with problem-based learning. This may be partly because both methods are sometimes referred to by the acronym PBL. Though they are similar, there are a few key differences between problem and project-based learning.

Both PBLs involve students working to answer questions or solve problems. In both models, students are given complex problems with no clear solution and are asked to come up with an original idea.

The main difference between problem and project-based learning is in the product students created. In a problem-based learning lesson, students are simply developing a solution to a problem. With project-based learning, students must extend their ideas and complete an entire project.

Project-based learning is typically more in-depth and takes longer. While teachers might use a problem-based approach as a jumping-off point or only for a single lesson, project-based learning takes several weeks. As such, project-based learning usually involves more complex problems and is designed to challenge students more than problem-based learning.

Finally, there’s challenge-based learning. Challenge-based learning is similar to problem or project-based learning. While these models have existed for decades, challenge-based learning was created more recently and aims to incorporate 21^{st}-century skills into problem-based learning.

With challenge-based learning, students are again asked to develop solutions to a complex problem. However, challenge-based learning incorporates technology into the process. The goal of challenge-based learning is to have students come up with real-world solutions to problems, not just to complete a critical thinking exercise. This makes challenge-based learning a natural extension of these other methods.

Have you used problem, project, or challenge-based learning in your classroom or school? Tell us about your experiences!

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