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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.