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What’s the Difference Between Project- and Challenge-Based Learning, Anyway?

Here’s a quick exercise for those in education: What do the letters CBL stand for?

For many, competency-based learning might have been the first thing to pop in their heads. But others might have considered challenge-based, community-based or even case-based learning.

The fact that three letters can mean so many different things raises an obvious question: Have we reached peak “based” learning?

“There are so many acronyms that are pretty closely related,” explains Karen Cator, CEO of Digital Promise and a former director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. (Cator’s organization has tried to brand CBL as challenge-based learning.)

Leaving competency-based learning aside—which focuses on ensuring students achieve mastery over a particular skill or standard before moving on—many of these strategies, like problem-, project- and inquiry-based learning, center on so-called “active learning,” where students, not their teachers, drive much of what they do in class, through individual or group projects centered on research, problem solving and collaboration with peers and outside experts.

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