Welcome to The Learning Challenge

Guiding Students Through the Learning Pit

Welcome to The Learning Challenge

Guiding Students Through the Learning Pit

Welcome to The Learning Challenge

Guiding Students Through the Learning Pit

Welcome to The Learning Challenge

Guiding Students Through the Learning Pit

This site celebrates The Learning Pit, one of the most powerful and popular ways to encourage students to step out of their comfort zone. The model works with any student able to think and talk about challenge and is being used to powerful effect with 3- to 19-year-olds and adults around the world. If you search online for #TheLearningPit or view @TheLearningPit on social media, you will find millions of examples. 

The Learning Pit was created by James Nottingham. He first published the idea in Teaching Thinking & Creativity in 2007, and then in his first book, Challenging Learning (2010, 1st Ed; 2016 2nd Ed.) The most in-depth exploration of the Learning Pit can be found in The Learning Challenge: Guiding Students Through the Learning Pit (Nottingham, 2017). More recent books share some of the very best ways to support students through the pit in different areas of the curriculum, including Learning Challenge Lessons for Primary Schools (2019); Learning Challenge Lessons for ELA Students (2019); Learning Challenge Lessons for Maths Students (2020).

The Learning Pit is designed to help students think and talk about their learning. In some ways, it is a child-friendly representation of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (1978) in that 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. 

The point of the model is to purposefully encourage students to go through the Learning Pit (not to avoid it, as some people have assumed!) By taking this more challenging route, students will think more, engage more, and ultimately learn more.

  • “The Learning Challenge has become one of the most powerful and popular heuristics of learning over the past 20 years.”  Professor Barry Hymer, University of Cumbria, UK
  • “In beautifully simple and clear language, The Learning Challenge presents a comprehensive methodology to bring philosophical inquiry to everyday learning.”  Daniel Fisherman, Montclair State University, NJ
  • “Profound, practical and precise: The Learning Challenge shows how to make your classroom a place where young people love to be.”  Professor Guy Claxton, King’s College, London

Using and Referencing the Learning Pit

We encourage you to use the Learning Pit for educational purposes. In fact, on this site, we provide free downloads to help you can create your own Learning Pit illustrations using our professionally-created characters and backgrounds.

Whether or not you use the resources on this site, or you create your own, please respect James Nottingham’s IP by referencing as follows:


Illustrations of the Learning Pit

When drawing a Learning Pit, make sure the right-hand-side is higher than the left, so as to give the right impression that by going through the pit, learners will emerge with a greater understanding of the concepts. Then add a title or footnote stating:

The Learning Pit by James Nottingham

Illustration by (your name)


Referencing the Learning Pit in articles or reports

In the main body of text, use these references:

The Learning Pit (Nottingham, 2007, 2010, 2017)

The Learning Challenge (Nottingham, 2017)

In the full references, use:

Nottingham, J. A. (2007). In Teaching Thinking & Creativity, Volume 8:2, Issue 23 (pp. 64-68), Birmingham, UK: Imaginative Minds.

Nottingham, J. A. (2010). Challenging Learning (pp. 183-329). Berwick Upon Tweed, UK: JN Publishing Ltd.

Nottingham, J. A. (2017). The Learning Challenge: Guiding Students Through the Learning Pit, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.


Further Reading

This document is an authorised extract from The Learning Challenge: Guiding Students Through the Learning Pitby James Nottingham. All Rights Reserved.

The Learning Pit intro by James Nottingham

Resource Library

Search online for ‘The Learning Pit” and you will get more than 29 million hits. So, there’s no question about the model’s popularity. However, some of the variants are misleading and many are referenced incorrectly. So, here are some templates to help you create your own brilliant – and accurate – versions of The Learning Pit.

Remember: if you reference your wonderful creations correctly!

Copyright notice: The materials contained in this website 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.


The Learning Challenge

By James Nottingham (2017)

The Learning Challenge describes the theory and practice of guiding students through the ‘Learning Pit’. It is a practical book filled with ideas for making lessons engaging, thought provoking and collaborative.


This book includes so many worthwhile processes to invoke the various stages of learning, to show the connections between these stages, and to identify evidence of impact from techniques that have been tried and tested in many contexts around the world by James Nottingham and his team. It is a pleasure reading a book that puts the challenge back into learning.

John Hattie, 2017

Learning Challenge Lessons

By Jill Nottingham and James Nottingham 

with Mark Bollom, Joanne Nugent and Lorna Pringle 

Created to accompany The Learning Challenge, the twenty lessons collected in these books grapple with timely concepts and provide teachers with everything needed to run thoughtful, dialogue-driven challenges for students.

Each lesson engages students around an exciting topic of current importance—including social media, health, friendship, space exploration, language, fairness, and other issues—and invites students into the “Learning Pit” to explore their thoughts with others through dialogue.


Weekly Wobble

Being in the pit involves a cognitive wobble. This is when you hold two or more opinions that are in conflict with each other. Although frustrating at times, this wobble can lead onto a deeper understanding of concepts and to a strengthening of learning outcomes.

To help you on this adventure, we offer concept suggestions. To receive our short Weekly Wobble bulletin, sign up here.

The Learning Challenge on Twitter

Learning Challenge Testimonials

  • “Teachers use initiatives, such as the ‘learning pit’, very effectively across the school to engage pupils in discussion and to build resilience and a determination to succeed. As a result, pupils demonstrate an exceptional attitude to learning.”

    Ofsted Report, April 2018

    Brudenell Primary School, Leeds
  • “Your input as a team has had a considerable impact on all of our staff and was certainly a contributing factor to the positive reports we received from the inspectors.”

    Headteacher’s report, Feb 2018

    Brechin High School, Angus
  • “The school develops pupils’ resilience and perseverance very effectively. This is evident throughout the work of the school. For example, in lessons, teachers refer regularly to the ‘learning pit’ as a method for pupils to overcome difficulties when they are stuck.”

    Estyn report, Dec 2017

    Merllyn CP School, Flintshire
  • 'Over time, you have created some unique features of the school, (including) the ‘learning pit’, a helpful tool to enable pupils to describe how they are feeling about the difficulty of a task. This contributes to an enriching learning experience for pupils.'

    Ofsted report, Nov 2017

    Minster Primary School, Ramsgate, Kent
  • "In one corner of the learning zone is the Learning Pit. This is the place that the children go to if they are struggling with a challenge. Here they will be helped through resources and advice to develop strategies to tackle the issue that they are finding a challenge.”

    A Study of Outstanding Primary School Leadership in England

    National College for Teaching & Leadership: A Study of Outstanding Primary School Leadership in England, Oct 2014, pg. 223
  • “Pupils are resilient and have a good understanding of how to improve their own learning. They explained clearly how they might struggle at first, or ‘fall into the learning pit’ as they described it, before fully understanding a new concept.”

    Ofsted report, July 201

    Robert Bakewell Primary School, Loughborough