As what Nickerson (1994) argues, problem solving is (1) at the core of the survival of individuals and communities interacting with an increasingly complex external environment; (2) essential to developing and sustaining a democratic society, and; (3) an increasingly sought-after high level cognitive ability in the knowledge workplace of today. But despite the acknowledgement of the importance of developing problem solving skills, relatively little research has been conducted on this theme in the field of instructional design (Jonassen, 1994).
Moreover, within the existing research base, even fewer contributions have been made to the development of instructional design approaches for ill-structured or complex problem solving instruction. The majority of the instructional design literature in the area of problem solving instruction points to the use of particular instructional strategies to support the acquisition of problem solving skills (e. g. cognitive apprenticeships and simulations). However, these strategies have rarely been researched with sufficient rigor to ascertain their effectiveness in achieving the desired outcomes (Nickerson, 1994).
Recent literature has dedicated a fair amount of attention to considering the methods for applying problem-based learning as an instructional strategy in the context of primary and secondary school contexts (Ennis, 1987; Baron & R. J. Sternberg, 1998). The majority of this work has approached the application of problem-based learning to formal instruction from a conceptual or theoretical standpoint, with little reporting on empirical research studying the effectiveness of this approach.
Research findings on learner performance The existing research on learner performance in problem-based learning environments is characterized in a number of ways: (1) most of the research conducted to date compares the impact of problem-based learning on learner performance to the instructional strategies that characterize traditional, classroom-based teaching. (2)
The research studies tend to focus primarily on learner performance on standardized tests, rather than performance in complex and authentic transfer contexts, and (3) the studies generally measure performance in terms of outcome measures rather than process-measures of performance.
In this context, the research on the impact of problem-based learning on student performance has generally shown that there are no statistically significant differences in learner performance when compared to performance of learners receiving lecture-based instruction (Bransford, et al. 1990). Student perceptions of the effectiveness of problem-based learning on their performance appears to be consistent with the general research findings.
Although only one research study was identified regarding student perceptions of the effectiveness of problem based learning, it is worthwhile noting that in this study, students pointed to problem-based learning as a more effective method of instruction than traditional, lecture-based methods, while qualifying their observations by noting that traditional teaching methods are more effective for knowledge acquisition (Biggs & Moore, 1993).
Research findings on student attitudes There are a number of other research studies, in which students in problem-based learning environments reported significantly higher levels of motivation and satisfaction and where it is reported that problem-based learning enhances intrinsic interest in the subject matter to a greater extent than traditional instructional methods (Savery, 1992).
Given the general finding that learners in problem-based learning environments report more positive attitudes and higher levels of motivation, it is important to consider the factors learners attribute to their favorable disposition toward problem-based learning. Research conducted by Wilson (1995) provides some insight into this, reporting that students in problem-based learning curricula perceived their curriculum to be more stimulating and enjoyable than traditional instructional methods.
In addition, research conducted by Bransford, et al.(1990) reports that students in problem-based learning environments rated their curriculum more favorably for democratic decision making, and for supporting effective interaction among peers. Another issue of relevance to effective design of problem-based learning environments is the extent to which various instructional support tools and mechanisms are provided to learners through this strategy.
Research conducted by Biggs & Moore (1993) found that students tend to rely on different instructional support tools at different stages in their learning process. In their study, Biggs & Moore (1993) found that the four most meaningful elements impacting the students learning processes were (1) learning materials, (2) small-group process, (3) facilitator effectiveness, and (4) academic support.
Furthermore, the study found that these four factors shifted in relative importance as the students progressed through the curriculum, with facilitator effectiveness being of greatest importance at the outset, while learning materials were the most important factor in determining learning success toward the end of the instruction.
This finding appears to be generally consistent with the theory underscoring problem-based learning, which argues that, as students develop greater independent ability to engage in effective hypothetico-deductive reasoning, their reliance on the facilitator for this kind of support will be reduced. Problem-based learning is one constructivist instructional strategy that has shown much promise in its application to disciplines and domains where learners have to tackle complex problems in ambiguous situations.
This approach to instruction structures courses and entire curricula on problems rather than on subject content (Ericsson & Hastie, 1994)). Hence, problem based learning strategy is appropriate in any circumstance of the teaching-learning process as life is always full of problems. There will always be problems. If a learner knows the technique of problem solving, he will be able to tackle whatever difficulties he meets. Further, this strategy gives direction to a discussion and prevents wandering off from the topic. It stimulates reflective thinking and furnishes a guide for organizing ideas.
It directs attention to the task to be done and encourages concentration. The implementation issues surrounding the use of problem-based learning involves both the teacher, as he has to guide the pupils learning, and the learners, as they may not be able to recognize the problem without the teachers guidance. To raise the problem, the teacher must set the stage. The teacher should assist them by directing their observation to related data and recalling past experiences that have a bearing on the problem. The next issue is working on the problem.
This involves organization of facts, principles, and ideas pertinent to the problem, selecting a hypothesis and trying it out, gathering data through reading, observing, etc. , evaluating the solution, and forming a conclusion. Hence, in implementing the problem- based learning strategy, the teacher directs the learning while the learners do the work. As a conclusion, problem-based learning strategies should be used as the need and situation arises. But a word of caution, however: Some teachers try to look for problems in every subject so that they can present the lesson in probable form.
This will tend to make learning too stilted and formal. Besides, a problem will be considered as such by the pupils only if it is real and worthwhile. Further, what the teacher thinks of as a problem may not always be one to the class. To the pupils, it may just be a task or exercise assigned by the teacher. Hence, this strategy should be used only when: 1. A difficulty exists which demands solution and is thought provoking. 2. The problem is clear, definite, suitable to the level of the learner, and of practical value. 3. It is real, interesting, and worthwhile to the learner.
In order to use the problem-based strategy, these are the essential steps to follow: (1) recognition and statement of the problem, originating in a difficulty or perplexing situation, (2) statement of hypothesis inspection and proposal of solutions, (3) critical evaluation of suggested solution, and (4) verification of accepted solution. There may be several basic problem-solving approaches that have emerged and although teachers stress one specific approach to solve problems, students often use a variety of approaches, especially with more complex problems.
In this regard, the teacher must be aware of how their students process information and what approaches they use to solve problems in order to teach according to the way the students think. The teacher who insists on one approach and penalizes students who uses other approaches is discouraging their problem-solving potential. Problem-solving must be part of the teachers instructional strategies. They should consider it as a commitment and complementary to the teaching-learning process.
References Biggs, J.B. & Moore, P. J. (1993). The process of learning. New York: Prentice Hall Borich, G (2004). Effective teaching methods (5th ed. ). New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc. Bransford, J. D. ; Vye, N. ; Kinzer, C. ; Risko, V. (1990). Teaching thinking and content knowledge. In: B. F. Jones L. Idol (Eds), Dimensions of thinking and cognitive instruction. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers. Ennis, R. H. (1987).
A taxonomy of critical thinking dispositions and abilities. In: J. B. Baron & R. J.Sternberg (Eds), Teaching thinking skills: Theory and practice. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company. Ericsson, K. A. & Hastie, R. (1994). Contemporary approaches to the study of thinking and problem Academic Press. solving. In: R. J. Sternberg (Ed), Thinking and problem solving. (2nd ed) San Diego: Jonassen, D. (1994). Designing constructivist learning environments. In C. Reigeluth (Ed. ), Instructional design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. II,). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Nickerson, R.S. (1994). The teaching of thinking and problem solving. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed), Thinking and problem solving. (2nd ed) San Diego: Academic Press. Nickerson, R. S. (1994). The teaching of thinking and problem solving. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed), Thinking and problem solving. (2nd ed) San Diego: Academic Press. Savery, J. R. & Duffy, T. M. (1992). Problem-based learning: An instructional model and its constructivist framework. Wilson, B. (1995). Constructivist Learning Environments. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.