Team-based complex problem solving: a collective cognition perspective

  • Woei Hung
Research Article


Today, much problem solving is performed by teams, rather than individuals. The complexity of these problems has exceeded the cognitive capacity of any individual and requires a team of members to solve them. The success of solving these complex problems not only relies on individual team members who possess different but complementary expertise, but more importantly, their collective problem solving ability. To better conceptualize large scale complex problem solving, an understanding of collective cognitive components and processes during team-based complex problem solving is necessary. This paper offers a conceptual discussion about complex problem solving from a collective cognition perspective. The types of cognitive processing and cognitive components of team-based problem solving (TBPS) as well as the cognitive states of collective emergent cognitive states and the interactive mechanisms will be discussed. Also, implications from the model for assessing TBPS performance and suggestions for future research will be offered.


Complex problem solving Collective cognition Team performance Assessment 


  1. Akkerman, S., Van den Bossche, P., Admiraal, W., Gijselaers, W., Segers, M., Simons, R. J., et al. (2007). Reconsidering group cognition: From conceptual confusion to a boundary area between cognitive and socio-cultural perspectives? Educational Research Review, 2, 39–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barrows, H. S. (1986). A taxonomy of problem-based learning methods. Medical Education, 20, 481–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bennett, R. E., Jenkins, F., Persky, H., & Weiss, A. (2003). Assessing complex problem solving performances. Assessment in Education, 10(3), 347–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bierhals, R., Schuster, I., Kohler, P., & Badke-Schaub, P. (2007). Shared mental models: Linking team cognition and performance. CoDesign, 3(1), 75–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blumenfeld, P. C., Soloway, E., Marx, R. W., Krajcik, J. S., Guzdial, M., & Palincsar, A. (1991). Motivating project-based learning: Sustaining the doing, supporting the learning. Educational Psychologist, 26(3), 369–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bransford, J. D., & Stein, B. S. (1984). The IDEAL problem solver. New York: W. H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  7. Cannon-Bowers, J. A., & Salas, E. (2001). Reflections on shared cognition. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 22, 195–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clark, A. (1997). Being there: Putting brain, body, and world together again. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  9. Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. (1990). Anchored instruction and its relationship to situated cognition. Educational Researcher, 19(6), 2–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cohen, E. G., Lotan, R. A., Abram, P. L., Scarloss, B. A., & Schultz, S. E. (2002). Can groups learn? Teachers College Record, 104(6), 1045–1068.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cole, M., & Engeström, Y. (2003). A cultural-historical approach to distributed cognition. In G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed cognitions: Psychological and educational considerations (pp. 1–46). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Cooke, N. J., Gorman, J. C., & Winner, J. L. (2007). Team cognition. In F. T. Durso, R. S. Nickerson, S. T. Dumais, S. Lewandowsky, & T. J. Perfect (Eds.), Handbook of applied cognition (2nd ed., pp. 239–268). West Sussex, England: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cooke, N. J., Salas, E., Cannon-Bowers, J. A., & Stout, R. (2000). Measuring team knowledge. Human Factors, 42, 151–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cooke, N. J., Salas, E., Kiekel, P. A., & Bell, B. (2004). Advances in measuring team cognition. In E. Salas & S. M. Fiore (Eds.), Team cognition: Understanding the factors that drive process and performance (pp. 83–106). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cooke, N.J., Stout, R., & Salas, E. (1997). Broadening the measurement of situation awareness through cognitive engineering methods. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 41 th Annual Meeting (pp. 215–219). Santa Monica, CA.Google Scholar
  16. Curseu, P. L., & Rus, D. (2005). The cognitive complexity of groups: A critical look at team cognition research. Cognitie Creier Comportament, 9(4), 681–710.Google Scholar
  17. Curşeu, P., Schalk, R., & Schruijer, S. (2010). The use of cognitive mapping in eliciting and evaluating group cognitions. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40(5), 1258–1291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. DeChurch, L. A., & Mesmer-Magnus, J. R. (2010). The cognitive underpinnings of effective teamwork: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(1), 32–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Derry, S. J. (1989). Strategy and expertise in solving word problems. In C. B. McCormick, G. Miller, & M. Pressley (Eds.), Cognitive strategy research: From basic research to educational applications (pp. 269–302). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Duffy, T. M., & Cunningham, D. J. (1996). Constructivism: Implications for the design and delivery of instruction. In D. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research for educational communications and technology (pp. 170–198). New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  21. Dunbar, K. (1998). Problem solving. In W. Bechtel & G. Graham (Eds.), A companion to cognitive science (pp. 289–298). London: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  22. Endsley, M. R., & Robertson, M. M. (2000). Situation awareness in aircraft maintenance teams. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, 26, 301–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fiore, S. M., Cuevas, H. M., Scielzo, S., & Salas, E. (2002). Training individuals for distributed teams: Problem solving assessment for distributed mission research. Computers in Human Behavior, 18, 729–744.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fiore, S. M., & Salas, E. (2004). Why we need team cognition. In E. Salas & S. M. Fiore (Eds.), Team cognition: Understanding the factors that drive process and performance (pp. 235–248). Washington, DC: American Psychology Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hinsz, V. B., Vollrath, D. A., & Tindale, R. S. (1997). The emerging conceptualization of groups as information processors. Psychological Bulletin, 121(1), 43–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hutchins, E. (1995a). Cognition in the wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  27. Hutchins, E. (1995b). How a cockpit remember its speed. Cognitive Science, 19, 265–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jeong, H., & Chi, M. T. H. (2007). Knowledge convergence and collaborative learning. Instructional Science, 35, 287–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jonassen, D. H. (1997). Instructional design model for well-structured and ill-structured problem-solving learning outcomes. Educational Technology Research and Development, 45(1), 65–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jonassen, D. H. (2000). Toward a design theory of problem solving. Educational Technology Research and Development, 48(4), 63–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Jonassen, D. H., & Hung, W. (2008). All problems are not equal: Implications for PBL. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 2(2), 6–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kearney, E., Gebert, D., & Voelpel, S. C. (2009). When and how diversity benefits teams: The importance of team members’ need for cognition. Academy of Management Journal, 52(3), 581–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Klimoski, R., & Mohammed, S. (1994). Team mental model: Construct or metaphor? Journal of Management, 20, 403–437.Google Scholar
  34. Kolodner, J. L., Camp, P. J., Crismond, D., Fasse, B., Gray, J., Holbrook, J., et al. (2003). Problem-based learning meets case-based reasoning in the middle-school science classroom: Putting learning by design into practice. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 12, 495–547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kozlowski, S. W. J., & Ilgen, D. R. (2006). Enhancing the effectiveness of work groups and teams. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 7, 77–124.Google Scholar
  36. Lewis, K. (2004). Knowledge and performance in knowledge-worker teams: A longitudinal study of transactive memory systems. Management Science, 50(11), 1519–1533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lewis, K., Belliveau, M., Herndon, B., & Keller, J. (2007). Group cognition, membership change, and performance: Investigating the benefits and detriments of collective knowledge. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 103, 159–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. MacMillan, J., Entin, E. E., & Serfaty, D. (2004). Communications overhead: The hidden cost of team cognition. In E. Salas & S. M. Fiore (Eds.), Team cognition: Understanding the factors that drive process and performance (pp. 61–82). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Newell, A., & Simon, H. A. (1972). Human problem solving. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  40. Norman, G. R., & Schmidt, H. G. (1992). The psychological basis of problem-based learning: A review of the evidence. Academic Medicine, 67(9), 557–565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Nosek, J. T. (2004). Group cognition as a basis for supporting group knowledge creation and sharing. Journal of Knowledge Management, 8(4), 54–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pea, R. D. (2003). Practices of distributed intelligence and designs for education. In Saloman (Ed.), Distributed cognitions: Psychological and educational considerations (pp. 47–87). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Pearsall, M., Ellis, A., & Bell, B. (2010). Building the infrastructure: The effects of role identification behaviors on team cognition development and performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(1), 192–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Peltokorpi, V. (2008). Transactive memory systems. Review of General Psychology, 12(4), 378–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Perkins, D. N. (2003). Person-plus: A distributed view of thinking and learning. In Saloman (Ed.), Distributed cognitions: Psychological and educational considerations (pp. 88–110). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Polya, G. (1957). How to solve it: A new aspect of mathematical method. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Rentsch, J. R., Small, E. E., & Hanges, P. J. (2008). Cognitions in organizations and teams: What is the meaning of cognitive similarity? In B. Smith (Ed.), The people make the place: Exploring dynamic linkages between individuals and organizations. New York, NY: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  48. Resnik, L., Levine, J., & Teasley, S. D. (Eds.). (1991). Perspectives on socially shared cognition. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  49. Rips, L. J. (1998). Reasoning. In W. Bechtel & G. Graham (Eds.), A companion to cognitive science (pp. 299–305). London: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  50. Salas, E., Dickinson, T. L., Converse, S. A., & Tannenbaum, S. I. (1992). Toward an understanding of team performance and training. In R. W. Swezey & E. Salas (Eds.), Teams: Their training and performance (pp. 3–29). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
  51. Salas, E., & Fiore, S. M. (2004). Why team cognition: An overview. In E. Salas & S. M. Fiore (Eds.), Team cognition: Understanding the factors that drive process and performance (pp. 3–8). Washington, DC: American Psychology Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Salas, E., Prince, C., Baker, D. P., & Shrestha, L. (1995). Situation awareness in team performance: Implications for measurement and training. Human Factors, 37(1), 123–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Savelsbergh, C., van der Heijden, B., & Poell, R. (2009). The development and empirical validation of a multidimensional measurement instrument for team learning behaviors. Small Group Research, 40(5), 578–607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Schmidt, H. G. (1983). Problem-based learning: Rationale and description. Medical Education, 17, 11–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Skyttner, L. (2001). General systems theory: Ideas & applications. London: World Scientific.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Stout, R. J., Cannon-Bowers, J. A., Salas, E., & Milanovich, D. M. (1999). Planning, shared mental models, and coordinated performance: An empirical link is established. Human Factors, 41, 61–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sweeney, L. B., & Sterman, J. D. (2000). Bathtub dynamics: Initial results of a systems thinking inventory. System Dynamics Review, 16(4), 249–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Van Bertalanffy, L. (1969). General system theory: Foundations, development, application revised. New York: George Braziller.Google Scholar
  59. van den Bossche, P., Gijselaers, W., Segers, M., Woltjer, G., & Kirschner, P. A. (2011). Team learning: Building shared mental models. Instructional Science, 39, 283–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Vye, N. J., Goldman, S. R., Voss, J. F., Hmelo, C., & Williams, S. (1997). Complex mathematical problem solving by individuals and dyads. Cognition and Instruction, 15(4), 435–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Waller, M. J., Gupta, N., & Giambatista, R. C. (2004). Effects of adaptive behaviors and shared mental models on control crew performance. Management Science, 50, 1534–1544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Wegner, D. M. (1987). Transactive memory: A contemporary analysis of the group mind. In B. Mullen & G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Theories of group behavior (pp. 185–208). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wood, P. K. (1983). Inquiring systems and problem structure: Implications for cognitive development. Human Development, 26, 249–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Association for Educational Communications and Technology 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instructional Design and Technology, Department of Teaching and LearningUniversity of North DakotaGrand ForksUSA

Personalised recommendations