The Learning Challenge

Guiding students through the Learning Pit

The Learning Challenge: guiding students through the Learning Pit

The Learning Challenge was designed by James Nottingham, co-founder of our company.

The Learning Challenge is for the teachers, leaders and support staff who wish to guide their students in the development of critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinking. It is a model that provides learners with a language to think and talk about learning. It helps build participants’ resilience, wisdom and self-efficacy. And when it is used as a structure for learning, it can also improve teacher clarity and raise expectations of success.

The Learning Challenge (LC) is designed to help students think and talk about their learning. In some ways, it is a child-friendly representation of Vygotsky’s (1978) zone of proximal development in that it describes the move from actual to potential understanding. It can help develop a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006), prompt people to explore alternatives and contradictions, and encourage learners to willingly step outside their comfort zone.



Introduction from James Nottingham’s book, The Learning Challenge

The Learning Challenge can work with all school-age students as well as with adults. Originally, I developed the model to help 9-13-year-olds understand the role of uncertainty in learning but then broadened its application to be useful for anyone from the age of three onwards. Although it wasn’t published until I wrote my first book, Challenging Learning, in 2010, it has been shared far and wide at education conferences and workshops since the late 1990s. Since then, it has captured the imagination of educators, students and their parents. It has featured in many periodicals, articles and books. It appears on many classroom walls around the world. It has even made it into the UK’s Financial Times newspaper (Green, 2016).

I’d like to think its popularity is due to its contribution in making learning more engaging and long-lasting. And from what many people tell me, that is indeed a key reason. But, of course, it doesn’t explain the whole story. Other reasons include how well it sits alongside John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers (Hattie, 2011) and Carol Dweck’s (2006) Mindset. The model also helps to explain and build on the SOLO Taxonomy (Biggs & Collis, 1982) and is an effective way to structure Philosophy for Children (P4C) and other approaches to dialogue. It can guide metacognitive questions such as these: How does my final answer compare to my earlier thoughts? Which strategies worked best for me this time? What could I do better next time? It also offers a rich language and framework for talking about – and thinking about – learning in general.

Perhaps the main reason for the popularity of the Learning Challenge is its simplicity. It is easy enough to be understood by the youngest learners in schools and yet complex enough to keep the most advanced learners interested. Although that can also be a bit of a double-edged sword leading to some ‘interesting’ misinterpretations, the simplicity and complexity are also part of what makes the Learning Challenge relevant to so many people.

Learning Challenge PD

There is of course, no other organisation in the world better placed to help you guide your students through the Learning Pit than Challenging Learning, led as we are by James Nottingham, the creator of the Learning Challenge!

We can tailor-make accredited courses, in-school training, and welcome you into one of our international networks of schools, pre-schools and colleges – all focused on making the best use of the Learning Pit.

Our PD will ...

  1. Provide a clear, concise and research-based approach to creating cognitively challenging classrooms that captivate, activate and invigorate learners
  2. Offer guidance as to the types of concepts to use to take students through the Learning Pit
  3. Construct and consider new and innovative ways to promote stronger and deeper learning for students
  4. Show how to create the conditions to encourage and support students’ deep understanding of complex concepts
  5. Develop a framework and practical strategies that educators of all levels and disciplines can use to educate students to think critically
  6. Give real, practical examples of the best strategies for deepening learning
  7. Explore some of the best lesson ideas for engaging students in the Learning Challenge


Complete the form at the bottom of this page and we will give you some suggestions about next steps. In the meantime, we recommend that you visit these other sites:


You could also search on social media using the hashtags

#LearningChallenge / #TheLearningPit / #LearningPit / #Pit

Reviews of the Learning Challenge

“James Nottingham’s The Learning Challenge is a seminal piece and should be considered mandatory reading for every educator. The examples included throughout help to paint a clear picture of how teachers can create the conditions to encourage and support students’ deep understanding of complex concepts.”

(Jenni Donohoo, Author, Collective Efficacy Curriculum and Assessment Policy Branch, Ontario, Canada)


“Profound, practical and precise: James Nottingham tells you how to make your classroom a place where young people would love to be.”

(Guy Claxton, Author, Intelligence in the Flesh King’s College, London, England)


“The name James Nottingham is virtually synonymous with the Learning Challenge – the study of thinking as a process of enquiry, or better known to many as ‘The Learning Pit’, in which students are challenged to think more skilfully. His coverage is comprehensive, ranging from the processes educators can use to get students deeply engaged and collaboratively involved in their learning to practical suggestions for lesson design . . . moving the educational culture from one of input and teaching to one of learning and impact.”

(Julie Smith, PhD, Consultant Co-Author, Evaluating Instructional Leadership, Vancouver, WA)


“James Nottingham has searched the world and understands what learning looks like. This is a must-read not only for teachers but also for students to understand and be deliberate about the way they approach the challenges, thrills and processes of learning.”

(Summer Howarth, Director of Learning Design and Events Education, Melbourne, Australia)


“In beautifully simple and clear language, The Learning Challenge presents a comprehensive methodology to bring philosophical enquiry to everyday learning. Nottingham makes a strong case for the didactic value of cognitive conflict, and offers K–12 teachers the tools and theory they need to make the learning pit a core part of their work in the classroom.”

(Daniel Fisherman, Educational Foundations, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ)

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