Educational Technology Research and Development

, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 63-85

First online:

Toward a design theory of problem solving

  • David H. JonassenAffiliated withUniversity of Missouri

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Problem solving is generally regarded as the most important cognitive activity in everyday and professional contexts. Most people are required to and rewarded for solving problems. However, learning to solve problems is too seldom required in formal educational settings, in part, because our understanding of its processes is limited. Instructional-design research and theory has devoted too little attention to the study of problem-solving processes. In this article, I describe differences among problems in terms of their structuredness, domain specificity (abstractness), and complexity. Then, I briefly describe a variety of individual differences (factors internal to the problem solver) that affect problem solving. Finally, I articulate a typology of problems, each type of which engages different cognitive, affective, and conative processes and therefore necessitates different instructional support. The purpose of this paper is to propose a metatheory of problem solving in order to initiate dialogue and research rather than offering a definitive answer regarding its processes.