Problem-based Learning

What type of problem is it? (It might have elements of more than one type.)

What information might you and others need to solve this problem? From whom, or where, might you retrieve, or produce it?

What technologies might help you out? What skills? What specialist knowledge?

What criteria would be used to judge the relevance of this information? How might your criteria differ from those of the other people involved in the problem?

What obstacles might get in the way of finding out this information? Or otherwise making best use of it?

What information might you look to produce, as a way of helping solve, or at least address, the problem? (As in the example of the schoolchildren making some kind of presentation to local businesses, the council, etc.)



The problem is there being a significant variation in the learners’ satisfaction with their teaching/learning experience. How do we try to address this variation.

I think it is probably principally a case/systems analysis and dilemma problem element. Is the problem real or perceived as real based upon the questions we ask in the survey (subjective). Do teachers see it as a problem? Do students?


Feedback from students on their learning experience. Information from customer services staff. Observation reports. Information from teachers of their teaching experiences. Meetings with the staff representatives. Official complaints made by learners about teachers. All subjective. Use questionnaires, interviews with CS staff, focus groups with students, focus groups with teachers. Ask colleagues around the network (within the organisation) for their experiences. Seek out experiences from outside the organisation. What solution have been found.


On-line questionnaires  of current leaners.(Survey Monkey, Constant Contact). Dropout questionnaires to find out why students stopped studying. Clear observation criteria and experienced observers (using Diploma criteria) what constitutes a good lesson (subjective). Video of other teachers’ classes. Always will be personality differences one students perceives the teacher as very good and another in the same class sees the opposite. Skills in designing questions that will provide you with the information.

(how will you know this? This has to involve double-loop learning

“When the error detected and corrected permits the organization to carry on its present policies or achieve its presents objectives, then that error-and-correction process is single-loop learning. Single-loop learning is like a thermostat that learns when it is too hot or too cold and turns the heat on or off. The thermostat can perform this task because it can receive information (the temperature of the room) and take corrective action. Double-loop learning occurs when error is detected and corrected in ways that involve the modification of an organization’s underlying norms, policies and objectives.”). Focus group skills – can the facilitator ask questions to draw out the information – good facilitation skills.


Filters – managers criteria might different from that of teachers and staff reps. Managers criteria will differ within the group. Seniors mangers criteria are different (legal and contractual) considerations. What do students consider to be a good lesson (cultural contexts of Spanish education)? CPD – resistance as not seen as relevant (IWBs), nearing retirement age. Perception by teachers that there is no problem. Is CPD the answer?


Questionnaires, focus groups and information gathering might be seen as imposing a solution from “above”. Need to negotiate and discuss with all stakeholders that there is in fact a problem, and how to go about finding a solution. Danger of colonising the problem as the solution probably lies partly with the individuals and they need to recognise this and respond to it. Teachers’ previous experiences of dealing with under performance becomes part of the collective memory “witch hunts” – create and intersubjective opinion. Teachers question managers’ skills and ability to assess class room practice, especially if they have been out of the classroom for a long time. Are managers up to date with current thoughts, ideas, research and trends in classroom practice?

Did the questions provide the information? Do they need to be redesigned based on the results? Double-loop learning


Workshops from colleagues, CPD, peer observations. The raising of students’ awareness of we (as teachers) believe to be a “good lesson” – explanation of the theory and approach we adopt (cultural differences Spanish students expectation that they bring to the classroom are different). Teachers design own training programme. Mentoring. Both mentor and mentee can learn from each other. Develop intersubjective opinion on a plan of action to solve problem. Get teacher buy in.

The dissemination of information – make students’ comments from surveys available to all staff (as with the Ipsos/Mori research from several years ago). There is need for long-term work to develop new perceptions on the information that has been collected. This is change and this is not easy; it is political. It is all very well learning about what the issues are but we need to change them and this needs to be communicated to all those involved with the issue


The mental processes involved with this activity and my reflection on it show that  problem solving (where the problem is a case/systems analysis and dilemma) is complex and the process of addressing the problem itself will the change the problem environment. What is the impact of the solution on other people?


One Response to Problem-based Learning

  1. Drew Whitworth says:

    This is definitely a complex problem and, as you say, may not even be a problem in the first place. Variations in the perception of quality of anything, or satisfaction with something, are in some ways ‘natural’. But of course it still matters; a restaurant in which half the diners came out thinking they had had a bad meal would still be a restaurant that you would say had issues, even if the other half of the diners expressed themselves satisfied. But as you say – what is the problem? Where is it located? What information do you need to resolve it?

    You also have here a problem that expresses itself in various different ways, which are to do with differing perceptions of value. This is particularly noticeable when you say that some older teachers just do not see the value of CPD. They will be (perhaps consciously, perhaps unconsciously) filtering out the information that is relevant to this end, based on subjective criteria. Appeals to the objective importance of CPD (‘it makes you a better teacher’) are probably unlikely to change their mind but maybe the intersubjective values (‘we all benefit, we are all colleagues’) may have more success. I’m not trying to prescribe solutions, just thinking through how the problem can be perceived in each of the domains of the triadic model. From the intersubjective perspective it is much more relevant to get teachers to design their own training programme rather than impose one from above – as you recognise.

    Understanding the context in which you work is also important, hence the need to think about this in the Spanish setting. As well as gathering information about the ongoing practice in your workplace you can also think about whether there are resources online that might help – accounts of best practice (or published whinges about the incompetence of management!), FB groups, and so on – broadening the community of practice into the online sphere and accessing other realms of information?

    Interesting case – but also a common one, in the sense that we often do have these vaguely formulated but still quite real problems with ‘how things are going at work’ (or in the community, the family, etc.) but are not sure quite what form these problems take or where they are specifically located.


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