Educational Psychology Review

, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 693–715 | Cite as

Towards a Theory of When and How Problem Solving Followed by Instruction Supports Learning

  • Katharina LoiblEmail author
  • Ido Roll
  • Nikol Rummel
Review Article


Recently, there has been a growing interest in learning approaches that combine two phases: an initial problem-solving phase followed by an instruction phase (PS-I). Two often cited examples of instructional approaches following the PS-I scheme include Productive Failure and Invention. Despite the growing interest in PS-I approaches, to the best of our knowledge, there has not yet been a comprehensive attempt to summarize the features that define PS-I and to explain the patterns of results. Therefore, the first goal of this paper is to map the landscape of different PS-I implementations, to identify commonalities and differences in designs, and to associate the identified design features with patterns in the learning outcomes. The review shows that PS-I fosters learning only if specific design features (namely contrasting cases or building instruction on student solutions) are implemented. The second goal is to identify a set of interconnected cognitive mechanisms that may account for these outcomes. Empirical evidence from PS-I literature is associated with these mechanisms and supports an initial theory of PS-I. Finally, positive and negative effects of PS-I are explained using the suggested mechanisms.


Contrasting cases Invention Learning mechanisms Problem solving Productive Failure Student solutions Compare and contrast 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Education FreiburgFreiburgGermany
  2. 2.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  3. 3.Ruhr-Universität BochumBochumGermany

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