Learning Pit Learning Pit Learning Pit

Learning Pit

Known by many as the Learning Pit, the Learning Challenge is used around the world to promote challenge, dialogue and a growth mindset. It was created by James Nottingham.

On this page you will find some of the best examples and resources for making the most of the Learning Challenge, including:

  • Brand new illustrations of the Learning Challenge
  • High quality graphics to download and use to create your own Learning Pits
  • A brief history and insider’s guide to the Learning Challenge
  • Lesson ideas (in various languages)
  • Our favourite tweets about the Learning Challenge
  • A bibliography and further links

You can keep up-to-date on developments by following @TheLearningPit on Twitter or via the Challenging Learning Facebook Page.


The Learning Challenge is one way to make challenge more appealing to learners. It gives a frame of reference to talk about learning. It also helps with planning, reviewing and metacognition.

At the heart of the Learning Challenge is “the pit”. Learners are said to be “in the pit” when they are in a state of “cognitive conflict”. That is to say when learners have two or more ideas that make sense to them but which on reflection, are in conflict with each other.

Read more in (PDF) A Guide to the Learning Challenge

A Brief History of the Pit

James Nottingham created the Learning Challenge as a way to promote and enhance challenge and inquiry. Originally, James created a 4-step inquiry process (Concept - Challenge - Construct - Consider) with his Philosophy for Children (P4C) groups in the late 1990's. Then in 2003, he came across the work of Butler & Edwards who described the process of going through a "pit" during periods of transformational change. James loved the analogy and, together with his students, added the pit to the "4C steps" to create The Learning Challenge.  More about the background to this model can be found on Page 109 of Challenging Learning (2nd Ed, 2016).


Stage 1 Concept

The Learning Challenge begins with a concept. The concept can come from the media, conversation, observations or the curriculum. So long as students have at least some understanding of the concept then the Learning Challenge can work. In SOLO Taxonomy terms, this is the uni-structural stage.


Stage 2 Conflict

The key to the Learning Challenge is to get students "into the pit” by creating cognitive conflict in their minds. This deliberate creation of a dilemma is what makes the Learning Challenge such a good model for challenge and inquiry. It is also the frequent experience of cognitive conflict  that helps to build a Growth Mindset (Dweck, 2006) in the minds of Learning Challenge participants. As for the SOLO Taxonomy, stage 2 represents the multi-structural stage.


Stage 3 Construct

After a while of being "in the pit,” some students begin to construct meaning for themselves. They do this by identifying relationships, explaining causes and integrating ideas into a new structure. As they do this, they experience a sense of "eureka” in which they have a new sense of clarity. This in turn puts them in an ideal position to help those students who are still confused. In SOLO Taxonomy terms, this is when students move to the relational stage of understanding.


Stage 4 Consider

Once “out of the pit,” students should be encouraged to reflect on the stages of thinking they’ve just been through – from a single, simplistic idea (stage 1) to the identification of lots of, sometimes conflicting, ideas (stage 2) right through to a new understanding of more complex and inter-related ideas (stage 3). They should then look for ways to relate and apply their new understanding to different contexts.  In SOLO Taxonomy terms, this is the extended abstract stage of hypothesis, generalisation and application to new contexts.

Learning Challenge Graphics

Here is an ever-growing collection of graphics designed by the Challenging Learning team. You are welcome to use them for educational purposes free of charge. 

Make Your Own Learning Challenges

Here are the individual graphics needed to make your own version of the Learning Challenge. Download the elements and join them together (we’d recommend dropping them into PPT or Keynote to do this). Send us your favourites and we’ll add them to our collection of completed illustrations.

Copyright notice: The materials contained in this database are copyrighted, and the availability of these materials does not constitute a transfer of any intellectual property rights. James Nottingham encourages users to download, customise and use these materials to support learning but the materials and any derivatives created by users may not be sold or distributed without the written consent of Challenging Learning.

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The Learning Challenge Collection