Promising results of study into Challenge Based Learning with students in Mexico

In recent years, the incorporation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has entered all aspects of society, and education is no exception. This has been increased by the contingency caused by COVID-19, which has caused higher education institutions to change their educational models to e-learning and hybrid models to allow academic continuity. In this context, questions arise about promoting learning in students to learn actively and motivate them towards topics of importance for their development.

One way to promote student learning in online classes is Challenge-Based Learning (CBL). CBL is an innovative teaching methodology that engages students to resolve real-world challenges while applying the knowledge they acquired during their professional training. This pedagogical approach leverages students’ interests to give practical meaning to education. It develops competencies such as multidisciplinary teamwork, decision-making, leadership, and communication.

CBL consists of the following elements:

To find out how we could use CBL to motivate students towards sustainable issues, we researched 20 undergraduate students in a Mexican university. This study consisted of the implementation of an e-learning course that followed the CBL methodology. The course was held as an extracurricular activity in a workshop to develop life and work skills directed at students following different career paths. The course’s main objective was for the students to seek solutions to social problems by proposing products or services that could become entrepreneurial businesses. The course duration was five weeks with synchronous and asynchronous activities and content related to CBL and entrepreneurship, hosted on a Moodle platform. Synchronous activities included meetings or chats to organise the group work, and asynchronous activities included forums and blog interventions. Also, during the last week, some groups presented their pitches face-to-face at the university.

In the course, the students faced a series of challenges related to community problems that had to be solved collaboratively with peers and teachers. We collected the information through the discussion forums, questionnaires, observation guides, evaluation rubrics for the challenge activities, and the students’ solutions. The students presented a final pitch that highlighted the proposal’s essential points to be shown to potential users or clients of the venture.

In analyzing the elements of CBL that can contribute to solving local problems through an e-learning course, we found that, in this project, the students started from an essential question. The study participants considered the importance of entrepreneurship on economic and social development and employment. In the discussion forums’ responses, the students were very interested in sustainable development and how to develop initiatives that favour it. However, they did not know how to generate proposals to create initiatives that would address sustainable development barriers in some cases. They also did not know what their skills were and how to leverage them to create new businesses.

This study’s contribution to education for sustainable development is to present CBL as a proposal that provides students with the opportunity to reflect on local, national, or global problems. Reflection was possible via the activity of having students discuss their experiences in the course. Most of the students told us that their study experiences allowed them to recognise how to profit from society. Such reflections allowed them to delve into their knowledge to generate innovative solutions to these problems. The ubiquitous ability to leverage e-learning for interactions and communication among multidisciplinary groups facilitates transversal competencies in students in university curricula.

According to this study, we found that CBL, as innovative pedagogy, presents university students in multidisciplinary fields of study with specific, real-world challenges that they can address collaboratively in their courses. Presenting local, national, or global problems can strengthen their motivations to conduct research and find solutions that address their environments’ realities. The application of CBL takes advantage of the e-learning mode and communication tools that facilitate collaborative work and interactions among participants at different times and places. It offers the opportunity to integrate various flexible and inexpensive technological tools into students’ studies. Also, it provides the resources and the content that guide students to resolving the challenges they have selected.

This article has been adapted from: Portuguez Castro, M. & Gómez Zermeño, M.G. (2020).  Challenge Based Learning: Innovative Pedagogy for Sustainability through e-Learning in Higher Education. Sustainability, 12 (10) 1-15.


Dr May Portuguez Castro. Mentor of Experimentation. Institute for the Future of Education. Tecnologico de Monterrey, Monterrey, Mexico (