PTG Instructor Resources

Taking the Problem-Solving Approach

By Kathy Maxwell posted 05-12-2015 13:13

I've been reading and learning a lot lately about how to maximize workplace learning. The question is how to effectively train people in the skills and knowledge they need to perform well at their jobs. So many training factors affect the outcomes: time, location, content, methods, audience readiness, follow-up, technology, etc.

I really like the problem-solving approach to presenting new knowledge and skills. The instructor has to put a little thought and planning into organizing the setting so that learners have what they need to discover the answer, but I've found that the retention rate is higher and students more able to apply what they learned to other problems. If you decide to try using the problem-solving approach in a technical session or class, the following steps can help.

Determine the problem
- tell it like a story or show a visual. Don't make the problem too complicated or unsolvable. Be sure to only relate the problem, not the cause or solution. For example, tell the group that there is a lot of extra noise when you play in a certain range. Match the problem to the amount of time you have available. Be sure the group has time to come up with possible solutions.
Provide content - these are the resources students will need to solve the problem. It may be written material, other visuals, technical experts, hands-on models or jigs, etc. Do not lecture or provide too much material. Ask students how they go about finding out the information they need to solve technical problems they've had in their work. Have students ask you questions to learn more about what they need to know to solve this particular problem. Students will also learn from each other as they share their experiences.
Provide clues - as you work through the session, you may need to add more information to the discussion. It could be in the form of tests or procedures that may have already been used to try to solve the problem. You may also ask leading questions to help learners focus on the problem. You will also use these clues and questions to guide the process and keep on task.
Summarize the solutions - list everything students have come up with to solve the problem. There may be one obvious answer, or several options. If this is a real-life scenario, tell the group how you solved the problem. Be sure to correct any misinformation or inappropriate solutions.

As you've probably figured out, it's great to hear new information about a specific topic, but the ability to analyze a problem and discover options for solving the problem is a skill that you can carry over to any situation.

If you are game for some other similar learning strategies, here are a couple of other ideas.
Trial-and-Error - here you use experimentation and observation to learn. It requires time and patience and you wouldn't want to use it if an error could be dangerous. You learn as much from your mistakes as you do from your successes (as long as you don't repeat your mistakes.) Some of my cooking projects are good examples of trial-and-error learning. I haven't blown anything up yet, but some dishes have gone straight to the trash and not the dinner table.
Socratic Method - a form of inquiry and discussion between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas. It's sometimes described as a argument to get someone to change their mind, but in an education setting is used to help a student discover what you want them to learn, or understand it better. You will need to plan out your questions so that they lead the discussion towards your goal. Here's a good example of the Socratic Method to teach a math subject.