In the last post Expertise in Complexity: A Case for Complex Problem Solving and Troubleshooting Skills, I pitched that there is surmounting challenge when it comes to building proficiency in complex jobs involving complex tasks, complex decisions and complex problem solving through training courses. Not only it requires trainers to deliver knowledge, skills and competencies required to solve real-world problems, but also at the same time needs to develop learners with strategies appropriate for that domain. Historically, most of the traditional training models assumed solving all problems in same way. The recent theories have established that different context and different domains requires different approach to solve the problem. Thus solving same problem in two different situations or disciplines may altogether be different (Mayer, 1992; Sternberg & Frensch, 1991). According to Sheckley and Keeton (1999), individuals develop proficiency by working in challenging and supportive environments, self-monitoring, engaging in deliberate practice, and solving ill-defined problems. Current training strategies are not working to build problem solving skills. Traditional pedagogies, such as lecturing and demonstrating solutions to problems, very often result in students being capable of solving “textbook problems,” but unable to apply the knowledge to solve real life problems (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Mayer, 1996; Perkins & Salomon, 1989). Thus, the key to build proficiency through training is by integrating appropriate problems in the training curriculum. Some 40 years ago, several educators started adding real-world experience into the classroom training.
3 Methods to Training Complex Problem Solving and Troubleshooting Skills
To teach general and complex problem solving and troubleshooting, three major philosophies evolved namely: Inquiry Based learning, Case Method and Simulation Based Learning. Scenario based learning Project based learning, and Problem based learning are subsets of a larger class of learning techniques broadly know as inquiry based learning (Buch and Wolff, 2000).
i) Inquiry Based Learning (IBL)
Scenario based learning, Project based learning, and Problem based learning are subsets of a larger class of learning techniques broadly know as inquiry based learning (Buch and Wolff, 2000). In inquiry based learning, learning start with a real-life or close to real-life problem or scenario. Participants are taught how to analyze problem, identify facts about the problem, understand the environment and situation, develop hypotheses about the problem, identify necessary knowledge or skill required to solve the problem and make appropriate judgment about solving the problem. The problem may or may not have a pre-determined outcome.
ii) Case Based Method (CBM)
In second type of method called case method, a complex problem is generally given to the participants in form of assignment or project. The given case generally aligns with learning objectives. Most of the time case may have several correct answers based on the approach or solution. The case based method is used generally to develop larger critical thinking. This method situates the knowledge in real-world contexts (Barnes, Christensen & Hansen, 1994).
iii) Simulation Based Teaching (SBT)
In technical context, especially for teaching troubleshooting, “Simulation based teaching” became very popular philosophy and these were extended beyond technical fields. This methodology gave a great success to issue based teaching by simulating it right within the training class.
Build Reality Check: Core Philosophy to Accelerate Expertise in Complex Problem Solving Skills
In order to deliver real-world experience on complex problem solving, the problem or scenarios need to be built on real-world competencies.There are basically three broader steps involved in integrating problems in training curriculum to develop proficiency in complex problem solving:
- Gather and select the types of problems faced by real-world problem solvers
- Identify and analyze the competencies actually used by real-world problem solvers to solve the selected problems
- Develop a mechanism to transform the competencies to the real-world CPS curriculum
Most of the training design on Problem based learning, scenario based learning and case based approach fails to give results in developing expertise faster. In my experience, the issue right up front at step 1 and 2 rather than at step 3. Reason of failure of any Problem based learning, scenario based learning, case based method or simulation based training does not give the acceleration in expertise is the “unrealistic” or “non-real-world problems”. Without the “reality” involved a well-designed PBL/ SCL/ Simulated or Case based training, end up learning their own rate and develop expertise in much longer time than originally expected. Two core philosophies you need to start adopting while designing a CPS course –no matter what approach you are using to deliver the skills.
#1: Go Real – Select Correct Real-world Problem
Effectiveness of complex problem solving curriculum is determined by selection of the correct problem for teaching real-world troubleshooting to the students (Jonassen and Hung, 2008). However, this seemingly simple statement is not simple to execute. Four studies showed that the correspondence rates between instructors’ objectives and students’ generating learning issues were only about 62% (Coulson & Osborne, 1984; Dolmans, Gijselaers, Schmidt, & van der Meer, 1993; O’Neill, 2000; van Gessel, Nendaz, Vermeulen, Junod, & Vu, 2003). These low correspondence rates signal that the design of problems (or the framework to design those) might have contributed to some ineffective problem based learning implementations in the past. There is another challenge in building proficiency on complex problem solving and complex tasks right during training. Instructional design and trainers are limited in their choice of real-world cases, number of different cases they can teach in a training class and methodology being deployed could be far from the real-world methodology. For example, a manager’s job environment, pressure and ambiguities on the real-job may not be possible to simulate in a training class even though trainer is able to bring real-world issues and challenges he would face. The most fundamental issue is the ability of the educator to “Define Objectives” rather than with the fact that how these objectives are being taught. Since these objectives are taught through the problems, the correct design of the problem is a crucial requirement. The challenge is: How to integrate correct field-specific real-world competencies into a technical training course design targeted to develop complex cognitive and metacognitive skills of participants? My research revealed an important postulation. It has been seen that most of the inquiry based, case based or simulated training generally end up ‘tweaking’ real-world problems to match with objectives rather than matching objectives to real-world problems. This is the real reason your training course meant to deliver expertise on complex problem solving or troubleshooting may not be working.
#2: Get Your Hands Dirty – Choose Real-world Environment
The design of environments for learning is very important to teach complex skills. Such an environment can be created using several techniques which could foster collaboration, discussion, and reflection (NRC, 2000). However, my research reveals that trainers and instructional designers tend to ‘replicate’ or tend to ‘simulate’ the real-world environment in classroom to certain degree. I have seen trainers teaching a project management course with “some” real-world scenarios in classroom settings. But a project manager’s job does not happen in classroom environment. A car mechanic’s real job is in the car service workshop rather than bringing workshop to the classroom. The way I see is that the issue might be the way analysis / design phase of training curriculum lead to use of ‘simulated’ environment. If something can be simulated, question is why not use the real-world environment itself? Or why not create the uncontrolled real-world environment as-it in the controlled conditions? The actual long lasting learning that can accelerate the expertise happens in reality, not in controlled conditions. Admittedly some environments has to be simulated due to one-time thingy, cost and risks. But point is to simulate the reality closer to the reality, and making sure environment reflects the uncontrolled conditions to the learner in which he is actually supposed to work.
6 Tips to Design Complex Problem Solving Training That can Accelerate Expertise
- Are your objectives drawn from the real-world or meets the real-world on-the-job requirements? Or these are simply training objectives? Bridge the gap and start working on job objectives rather than training objectives.
- Do not tweak the real-world cases to suit your content or objectives. Rather have your objectives developed based on real-world problems
- Never done a ‘reality check’ analysis in your curriculum analysis phase? Now you know you need it if you need to accelerate complex problem solving expertise
- When you decide to simulated or replicate the real-world environment, you look for real-world conditions as opposed to the controlled conditions.
- Ask yourself a question: what can accelerate the expertise – a real-world scene or a simulated scene? If something can be simulated, then why not leverage the real-world to teach the same.
- Get your hands dirty in real world as a trainer rather than doing a clean job in the classroom or even thinking of making it as close as real-world.
In summary, once again: GO REALLY “REAL” – CORE PHILOSOPHY TO ACCELERATE EXPERTISE IN COMPLEX PROBLEM SOLVING & TROUBLESHOOTING SKILLS. Stay tuned for practical tools and techniques in subsequent posts.
- Barnes, L.B., Christensen, C.R., Hansen, A. J., Teaching and the case method. Boston: Harvard Business School Press; 1994
- Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18, 32–42.
- Buch, N.J., and Wolff, T.F., (2000) “Classroom teaching through inquiry,” Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice,vol. 126, no. 3, pp. 105-109,
- Coulson, R. L., & Osborne, C. E. (1984). Insuring curricular content in a student directed problem-based learning program. In H. G. Schmidt & M. L. de Volder (Eds.), Tutorial in problem-based learning: A new direction in teaching the health professions (pp. 225–229). Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum
- Dolmans, D. H. J. M., Gijselaers,W. H., Schmidt, H. G., & van der Meer, S. B. (1993). Problem effectiveness in a course using problem-based learning. Academic Medicine, 68(3), 207–213.
- Jonassen, D. H., & Hung, W. (2008). All Problems are Not Equal: Implications for Problem-Based Learning. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 2(2).
- Mayer, R. E. (1992). Thinking, problem solving, cognition (2nd ed). New York: Freeman
- Mayer, R. E. (1996). Learning strategies for making sense out of expository text: the SOI model for guiding three cognitive processes in knowledge construction. Educational Psychology Review, 8, 357–371.
- O’Neill, P. A. (2000). The role of basic sciences in a problem-based learning clinical curriculum. Medical Education, 34, 608–613.
- Perkins D N, Salomon G 1989 Are cognitive skills context bound? Educational Researcher 18 (1): 16-25.
- Sternberg, R. J., & Frensch, P. A. (Eds.). (1991). Complex problem solving: Principles and mechanisms. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Van Gessel, E., Nendaz, M. R., Vermeulen, B., Junod, A., & Vu, N. V. (2003). Basic science development of clinical reasoning from the basic sciences to the clerkships: A longitudinal assessment of medical students’ needs and self-perception after a transitional learning unit. Medical Education, 37, 966–974.
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