Simple ways to improve your problem-solving skills

Simple ways to improve your problem-solving skills

19 Jan 2023

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Problem solving has become one of the key soft skills that employers look for and one that is important to be able to demonstrate when looking for a promotion or a new career position. In this CPD article, we look at a few simple techniques to use, including its importance in learning, and how to improve your problem-solving skills.

What is problem solving?

Problem solving is the ability to identify problems and implement the best possible solutions to overcome that particular situation. We all use Real World Problem Solving (RWPS) in our everyday lives and it is important that we use these transferable skills in our professional lives.

For example, we all overcome problems, which become second nature to us, the train is late, the bus has broken down and we have to figure out how to still get to a certain location, or work, on time. By improving our problem-solving skills, we can learn to become more efficient and confident in our decision making.

While problem solving is something we all unconsciously do, to improve our skills, it’s important to break down the process into some key stages and points. By knowing what each stage is while we are problem solving, we can then focus on what we need to improve personally and professionally in order to achieve any specific learning outcomes.

Stages to effective problem solving 

  • Identify the problem
  • Clarify what the problem is
  • Define what your goals are
  • Develop a plan
  • Execute that plan
  • Evaluate the results
  • Continuously Improve

Why is problem solving important in learning?

From our earliest years, we problem solve. As children, one of the first toys we get is where we put a shaped block into the correct hole. A simple but an important first step in problem solving. We learn that only the ones that match will fit, usually by trial and error and by identifying corresponding shapes. Problem solving is important in learning as it is a transferable skill. Outside the classroom, it can help us in our everyday lives.

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which real life complex problems are used so learners can recall information and use its application in future problems. It encourages learners to be self-directed, gather information about the problem, identify what they need to solve the problem and then be able to evaluate the project so they can change outcomes in the future.

This is different to traditional learning, where learners have been given the information they need to know, asked to memorise that information and then use that information to solve a problem. Problem-Based Learning put the learners in charge, allowing them to all use creativity in their problem solving or ‘thinking outside the box’. It has a number of advantages including:

 

  1. Long Term Knowledge Retention: Learners in a problem-based learning group, through their own interaction with the problem and observation of others can be beneficial. Problem Based Learning helps long term knowledge retention as learners are encouraged to participate so everyone has their say. Participants are open to question, answer and discuss the problem freely.
  2. Teamwork and Communication: Problem focused learning can promote communication and team work skills. When learners work in groups, the ideas of all those involved need to be considered. In order to ensure that an idea is understood by other members of the group, the development of communication skills is essential.
  3. Development of Transferable skills: When learners use real life problems, they can then retain that information to use in their own lives in the real world. These problem solving skills will enhance the development of their critical thinking and analytical skills.
  4. Engagement: Problem based learning uses real world examples. In a classroom environment, it can make use of other learning devices such as videos, podcasts and magazine cuttings. Using items other than books encourages all learners to participate and is a ‘break’ from book learning.
Importance of problem based learning

How can I improve my problem-solving skills?

We all problem solve daily without even thinking about it. But, we can still make a conscious effort to work on and improve these fundamental skills. Here are some key ways you can try to develop your problem-solving abilities.

Gamification or Game based learning: Most of us have games on our phones, Sudoku, Crosswords, or Tetris like games against the clock. Making learning more enjoyable through interactive or fun game-like elements can ensure gaining new skills is easier and help to increase memory. (Learn more in our previous article.)

Sport: Do you play sport or manage your local five-a-side team? You may not be aware but whether you’re in the thick of it or watching from the side lines, you’re trying to figure out how to break down the other side’s defence. Sport can therefore be a form of problem solving when used properly as a learning tool.

Be Creative: In order to think creatively and problem solve we need to be creative, whether that’s through making music, arts and crafts, or even woodworking. Each of these will bring its own dilemma in order for you to make what you’re doing as best you can. Ensure you give yourself the opportunity for creative time.

Write Down Your Ideas: Having a notebook or journal to write down your ideas is a great way to get inspiration. Drawings, doodles and mind maps all play a part in helping to build a complete picture of a problem and a solution. Coming up with a solution for one problem this way will, in the future, enable you to look back at how you solved the problem.

Meditate or Reflect: It’s always a good idea to reflect and learn from a situation so we can prepare for the next step. Ask yourself what you learned, what you would have changed and how you would deal with the situation if it arose again.

Find a CPD course on problem solving: Making an active choice to improve our problem-solving skills is the first step. Enrolling in a CPD course will keep us on track in a structured way to enhance and grow our skills both personally and professionally. Whether you are a complete beginner or have previous learning you have acquired, there will be a course to suit any interests and abilities.

Simple problem-solving techniques to use

When we move into the professional environment, there may be specific knowledge needed for a particular industry, however, there are also universal problem-solving skills which will help us all in some capacity. Honing these types of skills will be beneficial to both the employee and the organisation. With that said, there are numerous simple problem solving techniques you can use such as:

Defining a problem

Understanding a problem through research leads to better outcomes. Why did this happen? What can I do so it does not reoccur? In order to know how or why something breaks or doesn’t work, we need to know how it works. Researching and learning as much about the product or situation as possible, will help you get a clear understanding of what you want to achieve.

Brainstorming

Using teamwork and communication skills to look at both practical and creative ways to alleviate the problem, ensuring everyone can contribute. This will also help you develop your emotional intelligence as if you’re working in a team, everyone’s view point and thoughts need to be considered. (Learn How to run an effective Brainstorming session).

Best problem-solving techniques and strategies to use

Analysing the situation

The ability to use analytical skills is extremely important. The ability to look at both the potential good or bad outcomes, costs to budget and future implications is one any organisation will benefit from. Looking at data or information can help you focus on the important aspects of a project, not just what you personally think is important.

Deciding on a course of action

When all the possible outcomes have been identified, it is important that you can then take the next step to proceed. Using judgement from possible results, costs and feedback from colleagues, leading to a, hopefully, positive outcome.

Resilience

The ability to reassess the situation and being able to adapt is crucial. If the first idea doesn’t work, it’s essential to try the next option to complete the task. Something is learned with each attempt and this new information is brought forward to the next attempt.

Managing relationships and emotions

When working within a team to solve problems, it’s important that you recognise your own emotions and those of team members that may affect the task at hand. Applying emotional intelligence will enable all the team to think more clearly and remove unconscious bias.

Problem solving is an integral part of our lives and making an active choice to enhance and improve our skills will be of benefit both our personal and professional lives. Problem-solving skills are one of the leading soft skills organisations look for in an employee and is increasingly important in the workplace. Making a decision to improve your problem solving skills will make you stand out from the competition and is a valuable tool to have.

Where to find CPD courses to improve my problem solving

Within the CPD Courses Catalogue, there are thousands of certified CPD courses and training to help professionals gain the necessary skills needed in their industry, including problem solving. If you would like to find out more about a particular CPD course listed on our website, you can click on each course and there is an enquiry form that will be sent directly to the relevant CPD provider. 

For some useful tips to improve your problem solving, please read our previous article.

How to become a CPD accredited training provider

We hope this article was helpful. Established in 1996, The CPD Certification Service is the world’s leading and largest CPD accreditation organisation working across all industry sectors. If you provide training courses, workshops, eLearning and virtual events that may be suitable for Continuing Professional Development, please contact our team to discuss in more detail.

Alternatively, if you are looking for a free online CPD record tool to help manage, track and log your ongoing learning, as well as store your personal training records and attendance certificates in one simple place, please go to the myCPD Portal page.

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