5 Training Design Methods For Real-World Problem-Solving Skills

5 Training Design Methods For Real-World Problem-Solving Skills

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This article explains how to use 5 problem-centered to design training for real-world problem-solving skills. These methods are – Problem-based learning (PBL), Project-based learning, Scenario-based learning (SBL), Case-based method (CBM), and Simulation-based learning.


Problem-centered training design has proven its effectiveness in equipping learners with real-world problem-solving skills. Problem-centered training design is depicted through several terms with similar basic intents of developing higher-ordered problem-solving skills in employees/learners. This article will explain the 5 most common methods: Problem-based learning (PBL), Project-based learning, Scenario-based learning (SCL), Case-based method (CBM), and Simulation-based learning. Also, two variations namely Problem-based case learning (PBCL) and focussed discussions are explained briefly. To teach general and complex problem solving and troubleshooting, the following 7 methods are used:

1. Problem-Based Learning (PBL) for Training Problem-solving Skills

The first set of three methods is generally called “Inquiry-based learning” (Buch and Wolff, 2000). If we think of Problem-based learning, Scenario-based learning, and Project-based learning as a continuum, then Problem-based learning would fall on the left-hand side of the scale while Scenario-based learning falls somewhere in the middle and Project-Based Learning falls on the right-hand side of the scale. Thomsen et. al (2010) explained that “At one end of the spectrum is problem-based learning where ‘the problem’, which generally has a predetermined outcome, is used to direct the students to both acquire and assimilate the necessary knowledge in the process of solving it. In PBL the solution may be less important than the new knowledge gained during the process.”

The method

Problem-based learning (PBL) is both a teaching method and an approach to the curriculum. It consists of carefully designed problems that challenge students to use problem-solving techniques, self-directed learning strategies, team participation skills, and disciplinary knowledge.

PBL was pioneered in the medical school program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in the late 1960s by Howard Barrows and his colleagues (Neville, 2009).  Advocates of problem-based learning assume problem-solving should be the intellectual focus of curricula (Barrows, 1986, 1996; Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980).

The learning process in PBL starts with solving problems, instead of content. Barrows and Tamblyn (1980, p. 1) explained that learning in PBL “results from the process of working toward the understanding or resolution of a problem so it is important that the problem is encountered first in the learning process.” Howard Barrows (1996) lists the six original characteristics of the problem-based learning model employed in the medical school as follows:

  • Learning is student-centered.
  • Learning occurs in small student groups.
  • Teachers are facilitators or guides.
  • Problems from the original focus and stimulus for learning.
  • Problems are a vehicle for the development of clinical problem-solving skills.
  • New information is acquired through self-directed learning.

In PBL learning, students learn how to analyze a problem, identify relevant facts and generate hypotheses; identify necessary information/knowledge for solving the problem and make reasonable judgments about solving the problem. This approach was much closer to the real-life situation. PBL is also argued as a learning method that can promote the development of critical thinking skills (Serkan & Odabasi, 2009).

The practical side of this approach is that learning starts with a problem. If problem-solving is the primary job of the participants, then starting the training with a problem puts them closer to the reality of their jobs and they instantly start connecting with the content. Moreover, they themselves get involved in the process of learning.

Where applied?

In PBL, learners are not passive information receivers anymore. They are expected to more actively engage in their learning process. Therefore, you should take into account of learner’s motivation, background, and learning habits before you think about employing PBL in the classroom.

Any subject area can be adapted to PBL with a little creativity. While the core problems will vary among disciplines, there are some characteristics of good PBL problems that transcend fields (Duch, Groh, and Allen, 2001):

  • The problem must motivate students to seek out a deeper understanding of concepts.
  • The problem should require students to make reasoned decisions and defend them.
  • The problem should incorporate the content objectives in such a way as to connect it to previous courses/knowledge.
  • If a group project, the problem needs a level of complexity to ensure that the students must work together to solve it.
  • If a multistage project, the initial steps of the problem should be open-ended and engaging to draw students into the problem.

Training Design Tips

  • This approach has its challenges in selecting the correct problem for teaching real-world troubleshooting to the students (Jonassen and Hung, 2008). As I mentioned in my other post, to reap the true benefits of this approach, the problems need to be designed correctly and objectives should be drawn out of the problem rather than problems defined around the objectives.
  • The problem usually has a pre-determined outcome. Therefore it is necessary to ensure that training material clearly states the final outcome expected. But take a note that solution may not be that important but what is important is the “process” of problem-solving and how learner acquires or recognize various knowledge pieces required to solve the problem.
  • A few dry runs of the problem through the pilot group is highly advisable to ensure that problem is understood and the process is validated to ensure that various pieces of knowledge and skills required to solve the problem are well integrated into the problem.
  • Think of a real-world context for the concept under consideration. Develop a storytelling aspect to an end-of-chapter problem, or research an actual case that can be adapted, adding some motivation for students to solve the problem.
  • The problem needs to be introduced in stages so that students will be able to identify learning issues that will lead them to research the targeted concepts.

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About Dr Raman K Attri

Dr Raman K Attri is the world’s #1 authority on the science of speed in professional and organizational settings. He is the world's only professional speaker speaking on the topic of the science of speed. He is the author of 23 multi-genre books. As a performance scientist, he has been recognized as one of the leading ‘Transformational Business Leaders’ of 2022. He was named as one of the ‘Global 500 Leaders’ of 2021, alongside stellar leaders like Oprah Winfrey, Gary Vee, Jim Kwik, and Jay Shetty, to name a few. He has made his space as a true accelerated learning guru, earning over 100 international credentials and degrees, including two doctorates in the learning domain, apart from some of the world’s highest certifications. A corporate business manager, he has been featured and cited in over 125 media features in TV/radio shows, magazines, podcasts, and forums.

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