Problem solving skills

Stress could be one of many problems for your learners during their learning period but there are other problems they have to be prepared for. Adult education is a problem-oriented process. On the one hand learners choose to study because of some life or professional problem. On the other hand the teaching/learning process has to be organised around resolving study problems. Therefore one important task for you as an adult educator is to develop problem solving skills in your learners.

Problem solving skills give the opportunity to develop other useful learning skills:

    *practise specific procedures
    *put theoretical knowledge to practical use
    *develop reasoning abilities and creativity in finding answers
    *develop learners’ understanding of underlying principles
    *research topics in detail

Resolving a study problem may go through the following stages:

    *review of information
    *define the problem
    *relate available information to the problem
    *design a workplan and methodology
    *implement workplan
    *monitor outcomes

Your learners could have different levels of skills relating to the six stages of problem solving.

You have to encourage them to make a strategy for developing their problem solving skills, which could include:

    *reviewing their own effectiveness in this area
    *identifying the main steps of the problem solving process
    * identifying the criteria against which to judge the standard or quality of outcomes
    *looking at the problem in different ways, simplifying it, making comparisons
    *researching information and consulting people to establish critical thinking
    * choosing and using methods to tackle the problem
    *taking into account factors that may affect problem solving plans
    *recording information in useful ways

You can ask your learners to rate their ability in the problem solving stages, using the next checklist.

To what extent are you skilful in Problem Solving?

Please use the rating scale where: 1 = ‘very good’ and 4 = ‘in need of considerable improvement’?

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another way of describing the problem solving process stages is:

    Define the task: What exactly is it that has to be solved? Is this a particular kind of problem? What sort of answer is required – a report, a formula, a number, an action, an essay, etc.? Is this problem similar in any way to previous problems or tasks that have been done? Could the solution from the previous apply to this?
    Look at it from different angles: look for similarity with other problems; re-word the problem; sketch the problem as a diagram; identify the most difficult parts; looking at another point of view.
    Identification of the needed information: Would any of the notes be useful? Which theories and cases could be applied? What other resources could help? Who can be asked for information?
    Consider alternative solutions: What are the advantages and disadvantages of each solution? Would each work? Which is the best option overall? Why?
    Write up the problem: explanation of methodology of solving problem and the way of arriving at the solution
    Consider the reasons in a case of failure

Progressing through the different stages in problem solving may lead learners to build their personal strategy (approach).

Identifying the criteria against which to judge the standard or quality of outcomes is a very important step in developing problem solving skills. Personal desired outcomes will vary from problem to problem and may include those, which are typical study problems (piece of coursework requiring a solution by a specific deadline) and other more personal ones, related to study work (getting a high mark/grade; reducing anxiety). In every case you can suggest that your learners define criteria to judge desired outcomes.

Planning and monitoring of problem solving skills development includes knowledge about which methods can be used for solving problems, factors that may affect plans and monitoring procedures. The factors are: time, other commitments and pressures, other people, changing priorities, inefficient and insufficient problem solving techniques, access to resources.

Monitoring progress requires:

*identification of ways to tackle the problem, identification and the use of those most likely to be effective
*obtaining the resources needed
*critically reflecting on problem solving procedure (using feedback, checking results, noting choices made and judging effectiveness)
*adaptation of strategies if needed

Collecting evidence/information in useful ways requires:

reviewing the information related to the problem solving
considering confused or contradictory information
recording information
Reviewing of information means looking for answers to different questions. Every answer could lead to additional questions.

By looking for ways to resolve problems your learners could collect confusing and/or contradictory information. There are several strategies of dealing with such information. You can use the following checklist.

Possible strategies for dealing with confusing and/or contradictory information

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The adult educator can encourage students to:

    *describe the process they follow
    *provide clear reason for decisions, justifying and evaluating both the process and the solutions
    *describe and evaluate other useful techniques they didn’t use
    * identify appropriate evidence
    *explain the way they are going to present their information.

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