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Problem-Oriented Learning

Problems - whether they present themselves as challenges or as opportunities - are at the center of our living experiences, and therefore at the center of our nature as learning beings. At the most basic level a problem is the gap that exists between a current situation and a desired or necessary situation. As such, problems range from simple to complex and from specific to diverse. How a problem is defined (in terms of ranges of complexity and diversity) is contextually and socially dependent, since a given problem may be simple to solve in one situation, while appearing to be impossible to solve in another.

Due to the contextual nature of problems, the skills for problem solving cannot be developed in an abstract or decontextualized manner. Problem conditions - and potential solutions - are determined by the unique, complex, and flexible nature of the context in which the problem is found. Recipes for solving problems are rarely transferable between situations. What is needed, therefore, is the development of human skills (both at the individual and community level) for conceptualizing one's environment as made up of problems, i.e., as affording challenges and opportunities for transcending one's current way of looking at and interacting with the world. Within such a framework, our cognitive and emotive skills must be honed so that we can recognize problems, generate solution strategies to the problem, implement those strategies, and continuously reflect on - and adapt - the strategy implementation.

The ability to recognize and respond to problems - together with several other core competencies (e.g., comprehending, critical and creative thinking, and metacognition) - is among the most important dimensions of thinking and learning. Indeed, it can be argued that problem solving is at the core of the survival of individuals and communities interacting with an increasingly complex external environment.

The Problem-Oriented Learning (POL) focus area of LDI recognizes the consciousness of - and desire to interact with - problems as a ubiquitous element of life. This focus area furthermore recognizes the importance of the development of effective cognitive, metacognitive, and affective strategies for problem solving. As such, POL consists of two strands. The first strand - Problem-Centered Learning (PCL) - is focused on the use of problems as mediating mechanisms for learning and instruction. The second strand - Complex Problem Solving (CPS) - is focused on an inquiry into the nature of problems in our personal, professional, and societal roles, and the importance of understanding the learning needs for constructively interacting with problem situations.

Preliminary conceptualization and inquiry on both strands of the POL project are currently underway at LDI. Interested scholars, practitioners, and funding agencies are invited to contact us by e-mail to <ldi@learndev.org> and to clarify the nature of their interest in this focus area.

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