Learning Through Problem Solving

Authored by: Cindy E. Hmelo-Silver , Manu Kapur , Miki Hamstra

International Handbook of the Learning Sciences

Print publication date:  April  2018
Online publication date:  April  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138670594
eBook ISBN: 9781315617572
Adobe ISBN:


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Learning through problem solving has long been championed by some in the educational sphere (e.g., Dewey, 1938; Kilpatrick, 1918). The latest re-emergence of learning through problem solving coincides with findings in cognitive and educational sciences research showing that transmission models of learning rarely support transfer and application of previously learned information even when learners demonstrate mastery through relatively immediate recitation “tests” of learning. These findings harken back to Whitehead’s (1929) discussion of the problem of inert knowledge and lack of transfer or application of relevant prior knowledge in new and appropriate contexts. Learning through problem solving can be contrasted with other types of problem solving research in which the focus is on how people solve problems, including activation of known concepts and procedures (see Greeno, Collins, & Resnick, 1996). In learning through problem solving approaches, the focus is in how people construct new knowledge as they engage in solving problems. These kinds of approaches are important in the learning sciences because they are all theoretically guided designs and provide opportunities to study learning as it unfolds in authentic settings as learners engage with meaningful tasks.

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