Center for Teaching Innovation

Resource library.

  • Getting Started with Establishing Ground Rules
  • Sample group work rubric
  • Problem-Based Learning Clearinghouse of Activities, University of Delaware

Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning  (PBL) is a student-centered approach in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem. This problem is what drives the motivation and the learning. 

Why Use Problem-Based Learning?

Nilson (2010) lists the following learning outcomes that are associated with PBL. A well-designed PBL project provides students with the opportunity to develop skills related to:

  • Working in teams.
  • Managing projects and holding leadership roles.
  • Oral and written communication.
  • Self-awareness and evaluation of group processes.
  • Working independently.
  • Critical thinking and analysis.
  • Explaining concepts.
  • Self-directed learning.
  • Applying course content to real-world examples.
  • Researching and information literacy.
  • Problem solving across disciplines.

Considerations for Using Problem-Based Learning

Rather than teaching relevant material and subsequently having students apply the knowledge to solve problems, the problem is presented first. PBL assignments can be short, or they can be more involved and take a whole semester. PBL is often group-oriented, so it is beneficial to set aside classroom time to prepare students to   work in groups  and to allow them to engage in their PBL project.

Students generally must:

  • Examine and define the problem.
  • Explore what they already know about underlying issues related to it.
  • Determine what they need to learn and where they can acquire the information and tools necessary to solve the problem.
  • Evaluate possible ways to solve the problem.
  • Solve the problem.
  • Report on their findings.

Getting Started with Problem-Based Learning

  • Articulate the learning outcomes of the project. What do you want students to know or be able to do as a result of participating in the assignment?
  • Create the problem. Ideally, this will be a real-world situation that resembles something students may encounter in their future careers or lives. Cases are often the basis of PBL activities. Previously developed PBL activities can be found online through the University of Delaware’s PBL Clearinghouse of Activities .
  • Establish ground rules at the beginning to prepare students to work effectively in groups.
  • Introduce students to group processes and do some warm up exercises to allow them to practice assessing both their own work and that of their peers.
  • Consider having students take on different roles or divide up the work up amongst themselves. Alternatively, the project might require students to assume various perspectives, such as those of government officials, local business owners, etc.
  • Establish how you will evaluate and assess the assignment. Consider making the self and peer assessments a part of the assignment grade.

Nilson, L. B. (2010).  Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors  (2nd ed.).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Teaching Problem-Solving Skills

Many instructors design opportunities for students to solve “problems”. But are their students solving true problems or merely participating in practice exercises? The former stresses critical thinking and decision­ making skills whereas the latter requires only the application of previously learned procedures.

Problem solving is often broadly defined as "the ability to understand the environment, identify complex problems, review related information to develop, evaluate strategies and implement solutions to build the desired outcome" (Fissore, C. et al, 2021). True problem solving is the process of applying a method – not known in advance – to a problem that is subject to a specific set of conditions and that the problem solver has not seen before, in order to obtain a satisfactory solution.

Below you will find some basic principles for teaching problem solving and one model to implement in your classroom teaching.

Principles for teaching problem solving

  • Model a useful problem-solving method . Problem solving can be difficult and sometimes tedious. Show students how to be patient and persistent, and how to follow a structured method, such as Woods’ model described below. Articulate your method as you use it so students see the connections.
  • Teach within a specific context . Teach problem-solving skills in the context in which they will be used by students (e.g., mole fraction calculations in a chemistry course). Use real-life problems in explanations, examples, and exams. Do not teach problem solving as an independent, abstract skill.
  • Help students understand the problem . In order to solve problems, students need to define the end goal. This step is crucial to successful learning of problem-solving skills. If you succeed at helping students answer the questions “what?” and “why?”, finding the answer to “how?” will be easier.
  • Take enough time . When planning a lecture/tutorial, budget enough time for: understanding the problem and defining the goal (both individually and as a class); dealing with questions from you and your students; making, finding, and fixing mistakes; and solving entire problems in a single session.
  • Ask questions and make suggestions . Ask students to predict “what would happen if …” or explain why something happened. This will help them to develop analytical and deductive thinking skills. Also, ask questions and make suggestions about strategies to encourage students to reflect on the problem-solving strategies that they use.
  • Link errors to misconceptions . Use errors as evidence of misconceptions, not carelessness or random guessing. Make an effort to isolate the misconception and correct it, then teach students to do this by themselves. We can all learn from mistakes.

Woods’ problem-solving model

Define the problem.

  • The system . Have students identify the system under study (e.g., a metal bridge subject to certain forces) by interpreting the information provided in the problem statement. Drawing a diagram is a great way to do this.
  • Known(s) and concepts . List what is known about the problem, and identify the knowledge needed to understand (and eventually) solve it.
  • Unknown(s) . Once you have a list of knowns, identifying the unknown(s) becomes simpler. One unknown is generally the answer to the problem, but there may be other unknowns. Be sure that students understand what they are expected to find.
  • Units and symbols . One key aspect in problem solving is teaching students how to select, interpret, and use units and symbols. Emphasize the use of units whenever applicable. Develop a habit of using appropriate units and symbols yourself at all times.
  • Constraints . All problems have some stated or implied constraints. Teach students to look for the words "only", "must", "neglect", or "assume" to help identify the constraints.
  • Criteria for success . Help students consider, from the beginning, what a logical type of answer would be. What characteristics will it possess? For example, a quantitative problem will require an answer in some form of numerical units (e.g., $/kg product, square cm, etc.) while an optimization problem requires an answer in the form of either a numerical maximum or minimum.

Think about it

  • “Let it simmer”.  Use this stage to ponder the problem. Ideally, students will develop a mental image of the problem at hand during this stage.
  • Identify specific pieces of knowledge . Students need to determine by themselves the required background knowledge from illustrations, examples and problems covered in the course.
  • Collect information . Encourage students to collect pertinent information such as conversion factors, constants, and tables needed to solve the problem.

Plan a solution

  • Consider possible strategies . Often, the type of solution will be determined by the type of problem. Some common problem-solving strategies are: compute; simplify; use an equation; make a model, diagram, table, or chart; or work backwards.
  • Choose the best strategy . Help students to choose the best strategy by reminding them again what they are required to find or calculate.

Carry out the plan

  • Be patient . Most problems are not solved quickly or on the first attempt. In other cases, executing the solution may be the easiest step.
  • Be persistent . If a plan does not work immediately, do not let students get discouraged. Encourage them to try a different strategy and keep trying.

Encourage students to reflect. Once a solution has been reached, students should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Does the answer make sense?
  • Does it fit with the criteria established in step 1?
  • Did I answer the question(s)?
  • What did I learn by doing this?
  • Could I have done the problem another way?

If you would like support applying these tips to your own teaching, CTE staff members are here to help.  View the  CTE Support  page to find the most relevant staff member to contact. 

  • Fissore, C., Marchisio, M., Roman, F., & Sacchet, M. (2021). Development of problem solving skills with Maple in higher education. In: Corless, R.M., Gerhard, J., Kotsireas, I.S. (eds) Maple in Mathematics Education and Research. MC 2020. Communications in Computer and Information Science, vol 1414. Springer, Cham.
  • Foshay, R., & Kirkley, J. (1998). Principles for Teaching Problem Solving. TRO Learning Inc., Edina MN.  (PDF) Principles for Teaching Problem Solving (
  • Hayes, J.R. (1989). The Complete Problem Solver. 2nd Edition. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Woods, D.R., Wright, J.D., Hoffman, T.W., Swartman, R.K., Doig, I.D. (1975). Teaching Problem solving Skills.
  • Engineering Education. Vol 1, No. 1. p. 238. Washington, DC: The American Society for Engineering Education.

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Benefits of Problem-Solving in the K-12 Classroom

Posted October 5, 2022 by Miranda Marshall

problem solving in learning

From solving complex algebra problems to investigating scientific theories, to making inferences about written texts, problem-solving is central to every subject explored in school. Even beyond the classroom, problem-solving is ranked among the most important skills for students to demonstrate on their resumes, with 82.9% of employers considering it a highly valued attribute. On an even broader scale, students who learn how to apply their problem-solving skills to the issues they notice in their communities – or even globally –  have the tools they need to change the future and leave a lasting impact on the world around them.

Problem-solving can be taught in any content area and can even combine cross-curricular concepts to connect learning from all subjects. On top of building transferrable skills for higher education and beyond, read on to learn more about five amazing benefits students will gain from the inclusion of problem-based learning in their education:

  • Problem-solving is inherently student-centered.

Student-centered learning refers to methods of teaching that recognize and cater to students’ individual needs. Students learn at varying paces, have their own unique strengths, and even further, have their own interests and motivations – and a student-centered approach recognizes this diversity within classrooms by giving students some degree of control over their learning and making them active participants in the learning process.

Incorporating problem-solving into your curriculum is a great way to make learning more student-centered, as it requires students to engage with topics by asking questions and thinking critically about explanations and solutions, rather than expecting them to absorb information in a lecture format or through wrote memorization.

  • Increases confidence and achievement across all school subjects.

As with any skill, the more students practice problem-solving, the more comfortable they become with the type of critical and analytical thinking that will carry over into other areas of their academic careers. By learning how to approach concepts they are unfamiliar with or questions they do not know the answers to, students develop a greater sense of self-confidence in their ability to apply problem-solving techniques to other subject areas, and even outside of school in their day-to-day lives.

The goal in teaching problem-solving is for it to become second nature, and for students to routinely express their curiosity, explore innovative solutions, and analyze the world around them to draw their own conclusions.

  • Encourages collaboration and teamwork.

Since problem-solving often involves working cooperatively in teams, students build a number of important interpersonal skills alongside problem-solving skills. Effective teamwork requires clear communication, a sense of personal responsibility, empathy and understanding for teammates, and goal setting and organization – all of which are important throughout higher education and in the workplace as well.

  • Increases metacognitive skills.

Metacognition is often described as “thinking about thinking” because it refers to a person’s ability to analyze and understand their own thought processes. When making decisions, metacognition allows problem-solvers to consider the outcomes of multiple plans of action and determine which one will yield the best results.

Higher metacognitive skills have also widely been linked to improved learning outcomes and improved studying strategies. Metacognitive students are able to reflect on their learning experiences to understand themselves and the world around them better.

  • Helps with long-term knowledge retention.

Students who learn problem-solving skills may see an improved ability to retain and recall information. Specifically, being asked to explain how they reached their conclusions at the time of learning, by sharing their ideas and facts they have researched, helps reinforce their understanding of the subject matter.

Problem-solving scenarios in which students participate in small-group discussions can be especially beneficial, as this discussion gives students the opportunity to both ask and answer questions about the new concepts they’re exploring.

At all grade levels, students can see tremendous gains in their academic performance and emotional intelligence when problem-solving is thoughtfully planned into their learning.

Interested in helping your students build problem-solving skills, but aren’t sure where to start? Future Problem Solving Problem International (FPSPI) is an amazing academic competition for students of all ages, all around the world, that includes helpful resources for educators to implement in their own classrooms!

Learn more about this year’s competition season from this recorded webinar: and/or email [email protected] to get started!

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6 strategies to instill problem-solving skills in students.

Critical Thinking In Students: 6 Top Strategies

Why Developing Problem-Solving Skills Is Important

Problem-solving is defined as the ability to quickly solve any given problem with ease. This requires convergent and divergent thinking skills. Convergent thinking is a process aimed to deduce a concrete solution to a problem. And, the process of exploring all the possible solutions to analyze and generate creative ideas is called divergent thinking.

People with good problem-solving skills are indeed an asset to society. Problem-solving also plays a vital role in child development. These skillsets are much sought-after in this competitive world and are therefore imperative for general life and workplace success .

Problem-solving is an important 21st-century skill because it determines one’s personal development, employment prospects, and overall contribution to society.

6 Practical Ways To Foster Critical Thinking In Students

1. promote skill building through self-directed learning .

Research [1] proved that self-directed learning promotes critical thinking in students as it allows them to fully explore their creative and imaginative sides. It fosters the ability of independent thinking in students and eventually promotes a sense of self-actualization in them. Today, the principle of autonomous learning is applied in most visionary schooling platforms because it is the most credible way to inculcate this new-age skill in young learners.

This methodology perfectly suits middle and high school students because they enjoy the process of discovery learning and are capable of drawing conclusions in the light of facts.

As a parent, you need to be a facilitator in this process and understand the importance of problem-solving skills in kids. The simplest way to do this is to allow some independent thinking time after the instructional delivery and encourage multiple original ideas by promoting divergent thinking. All this fosters advanced reasoning abilities in students and promotes critical thinking for advanced problem-solving.

Top educators from great-quality accredited online schools make use of these strategies, along with several other eLearning skills , and guide the learners throughout the process of gathering, prioritizing, interpreting, and concluding information.

2. Encourage Brainstorming In A Non-Judgmental Environment

Problem-solving in child development is a game-changer for success later in life. So, try to create the right atmosphere for kids at home to nurture this core competency.

A non-judgmental environment is always free from negative criticism and sarcasm. Allow children to voice opinions freely and make sure there is enough positive reinforcement for all genuine attempts.

Individual brainstorming is the best to craft creative solutions for less complex issues because it allows individuals to break free from regular, conventional ideas while interacting in a more positive environment.

Support your kid for more and more lateral/parallel thinking and appreciate all out-of-box/innovative responses.

3. Strengthen The Components Of Problem-Solving 

Another way to foster problem-solving skills in learners is by strengthening the decision-making component of the problem-solving process. Decision-making skills are imperative to solve problems because they help to weigh the advantages and disadvantages before reaching a conclusion.

Encourage kids to make choices between possible alternatives and make this fun by trying out everyday basic choices like food, books, movies, sports, etc. Make sure you allow kids to take charge of these decisions and intervene with your logical and valid inputs. Remember that it is essential to understand the importance of problem-solving skills in kids. So, try to create enough such opportunities for young learners.

These practices will develop habits of analyzing situations from multiple dimensions and eventually, children will learn to research and preempt the repercussions of their individual choices.

4. Use The Best Techniques Of Some Researched Theories

Some great psychological theories can be easily applied in real-life situations. As a parent, you can foster these relevant problem-solving skills in the child by incorporating some components of popular theories.

Let me explain this through some examples:

Use the theory of "psychological distancing" [2] to disconnect children from their emotions while solving the problem. It will help them see the bigger picture of the issue by viewing it from a wider perspective. This strategy eliminates the chances of biases and selective understanding based on personal preferences and therefore, helps in viewing issues through multiple perspectives.

Another helpful strategy can be the "heuristic framework" [3], which can help foster advanced thinking abilities by breaking information into smaller and more comprehensive parts. With middle and high schoolers, you can try its component of backward planning effectively. This strategy can be mindfully implemented in any day-to-day situation, like planning for a get-together or estimating monthly expenses for budget planning. Encourage responses in a way that starts from the most distant challenges like month-end crunch/emergency funds, etc., and look for these solutions before planning the immediate requirements.

5. Be A Positive Role Model

As parents, we can also foster problem-solving skills through numerous informal interactions and behaviors. Our own approach toward solving problems largely influences our children's abilities because there is a powerful impact on the family atmosphere and parenting in the critical habit formation stages.

Look for opportunities to involve children in problematic situations and create some hypothetical ones if you do not have real ones. Involve children in discussions that need deep thinking; for example, preparations for extreme weather change or changing some business strategies (like hoarding raw material) to bring down the investments of a family business.

Be a structured and organized problem solver yourself and present your thoughts in the most logical and sequential manner. Support children's efforts throughout and share your input about their dilemmas. The importance of problem-solving skills in kids is evident. So, try to be an ideal role model for kids all the time.

6. Observe, Facilitate, And Share Feedback

Last but not least, be a guide and mentor for your students at all times. Observe them and be ready to intervene as and when it is required. Avoid interrupting and criticizing directly at any point in time because these competencies are best developed in a positive learning environment .

So, make sure you share enough positive feedback and facilitate this process throughout. However, do not give any direct answers to make the task easy for children. Instead, guide them through the pathway that can lead to possible and relevant solutions. Encourage multiple solutions and prejudice-free opinions and allow enough time for kids to derive conclusions. Re-explain the steps of the process (identifying, analyzing, solving, and reviewing, etc.) repeatedly, and motivate children for more and more divergent thinking.

Problem-solving skills are an asset for our kids in all stages of life. So, put your best foot forward and support your child in and out to acquire these 21st-century relevant skillsets for a tremendously successful and happy life ahead!


[1] Self-Directed Learning Strategy: A Tool for Promoting Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills among Social Studies Students

[2] Construal-Level Theory of Psychological Distance

[3] 7.3 Problem-Solving

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Problem Solving in the Classroom

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The definition of a problem is   an undesirable condition, situation, or difficult question that needs to be answered . Some problems are common, with known solutions and answers, and are easily resolved. At other times the answer can only be found through problem solving techniques involving debate, discussion, testing and research. Effective problem-solving is the ability to identify and solve problems through the systematic application and use of appropriate skills.

Problems are a fact of life, something we all encounter from time to time. Problems may be small, sometimes they are large and at times the problem is a matter of life and death and at other times just a matter of choices. As teachers, we are well placed to support and encourage pupils to develop the necessary skills needed to tackle problems and the undesirable conditions and situations they may encounter both in and outside the school environment.

In problem-solving we consider what we know about a given problem or situation and determine the things we do not know about it – with a satisfactory solution, hopefully, lying somewhere in the void between the two. Problem solving can easy when you know how to approach it effectively.

The process of problem-solving in the classroom involves four basic stages:

Problem identification

Information gathering and the acquisition of new knowledge

Debate and discussion

Decision making

In life and the wider world, problem solving, by and large, is nearly always a collaborative process involving questioning, deep thinking, hypothesising, gathering of facts and information, and by challenging and testing predictions, viewpoints and opinions. But before a solution can be found, the problem must be understood. This may sound rather obvious but requires careful thought. Students must understand the problem; it must be adequately communicated by the teacher.

In addition, problem solving involves both analytical and creative skills with the following set seen as key to achieving a satisfactory outcome:

Analytical ability

Lateral thinking

Logical reasoning

To some problems, there is only one suitable solution, to others there may be several. Students should be encouraged to express their views about the problem even when others do not agree and have an opposing view. The experience students gain from debate and discussion aids the learning process and is invaluable to both their successes and their failures.

Finally, problem solving can also be considered a valuable learning opportunity. It allows students to see things differently and learn the importance of structure and organisation, the benefit of questioning and debate, and to do things in a different way. And, that while quick fixes may suffice, better, more effective solutions may exist.

Center for Teaching

Teaching problem solving.

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Tips and Techniques

Expert vs. novice problem solvers, communicate.

  • Have students  identify specific problems, difficulties, or confusions . Don’t waste time working through problems that students already understand.
  • If students are unable to articulate their concerns, determine where they are having trouble by  asking them to identify the specific concepts or principles associated with the problem.
  • In a one-on-one tutoring session, ask the student to  work his/her problem out loud . This slows down the thinking process, making it more accurate and allowing you to access understanding.
  • When working with larger groups you can ask students to provide a written “two-column solution.” Have students write up their solution to a problem by putting all their calculations in one column and all of their reasoning (in complete sentences) in the other column. This helps them to think critically about their own problem solving and helps you to more easily identify where they may be having problems. Two-Column Solution (Math) Two-Column Solution (Physics)

Encourage Independence

  • Model the problem solving process rather than just giving students the answer. As you work through the problem, consider how a novice might struggle with the concepts and make your thinking clear
  • Have students work through problems on their own. Ask directing questions or give helpful suggestions, but  provide only minimal assistance and only when needed to overcome obstacles.
  • Don’t fear  group work ! Students can frequently help each other, and talking about a problem helps them think more critically about the steps needed to solve the problem. Additionally, group work helps students realize that problems often have multiple solution strategies, some that might be more effective than others

Be sensitive

  • Frequently, when working problems, students are unsure of themselves. This lack of confidence may hamper their learning. It is important to recognize this when students come to us for help, and to give each student some feeling of mastery. Do this by providing  positive reinforcement to let students know when they have mastered a new concept or skill.

Encourage Thoroughness and Patience

  • Try to communicate that  the process is more important than the answer so that the student learns that it is OK to not have an instant solution. This is learned through your acceptance of his/her pace of doing things, through your refusal to let anxiety pressure you into giving the right answer, and through your example of problem solving through a step-by step process.

Experts (teachers) in a particular field are often so fluent in solving problems from that field that they can find it difficult to articulate the problem solving principles and strategies they use to novices (students) in their field because these principles and strategies are second nature to the expert. To teach students problem solving skills,  a teacher should be aware of principles and strategies of good problem solving in his or her discipline .

The mathematician George Polya captured the problem solving principles and strategies he used in his discipline in the book  How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (Princeton University Press, 1957). The book includes  a summary of Polya’s problem solving heuristic as well as advice on the teaching of problem solving.

problem solving in learning

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Original research article, the problem-solving method: efficacy for learning and motivation in the field of physical education.

problem solving in learning

  • 1 High Institute of Sport and Physical Education of Sfax, University of Sfax, Sfax, Tunisia
  • 2 Research Unit of the National Sports Observatory (ONS), Tunis, Tunisia
  • 3 Research Laboratory: Education, Motricity, Sport and Health, EM2S, LR19JS01, University of Sfax, Sfax, Tunisia
  • 4 Department of Neuroscience, Rehabilitation, Ophthalmology, Genetics, Maternal and Child Health (DINOGMI), University of Genoa, Genoa, Italy
  • 5 Centre for Intelligent Healthcare, Coventry University, Coventry, United Kingdom
  • 6 Laboratory for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
  • 7 High Institute of Sport and Physical Education of Ksar Saîd, University Manouba, UMA, Manouba, Tunisia

Background: In pursuit of quality teaching and learning, teachers seek the best method to provide their students with a positive educational atmosphere and the most appropriate learning conditions.

Objectives: The purpose of this study is to compare the effects of the problem-solving method vs. the traditional method on motivation and learning during physical education courses.

Methods: Fifty-three students ( M age 15 ± 0.1 years), in their 1st year of the Tunisian secondary education system, voluntarily participated in this study, and randomly assigned to a control or experimental group. Participants in the control group were taught using the traditional methods, whereas participants in the experimental group were taught using the problem-solving method. Both groups took part in a 10-hour experiment over 5 weeks. To measure students' situational motivation, a questionnaire was used to evaluate intrinsic motivation, identified regulation, external regulation, and amotivation during the first (T0) and the last sessions (T2). Additionally, the degree of students' learning was determined via video analyses, recorded at T0, the fifth (T1), and T2.

Results: Motivational dimensions, including identified regulation and intrinsic motivation, were significantly greater (all p < 0.001) in the experimental vs. the control group. The students' motor engagement in learning situations, during which the learner, despite a degree of difficulty performs the motor activity with sufficient success, increased only in the experimental group ( p < 0.001). The waiting time in the experimental group decreased significantly at T1 and T2 vs. T0 (all p < 0.001), with lower values recorded in the experimental vs. the control group at the three-time points (all p < 0.001).

Conclusions: The problem-solving method is an efficient strategy for motor skills and performance enhancement, as well as motivation development during physical education courses.

1. Introduction

The education of children is a sensitive and poignant subject, where the wellbeing of the child in the school environment is a key issue ( Ergül and Kargin, 2014 ). For this, numerous research has sought to find solutions to the problems of the traditional method, which focuses on the teacher as an instructor, giver of knowledge, arbiter of truth, and ultimate evaluator of learning ( Ergül and Kargin, 2014 ; Cunningham and Sood, 2018 ). From this perspective, a teachers' job is to present students with a designated body of knowledge in a predetermined order ( Arvind and Kusum, 2017 ). For them, learners are seen as people with “knowledge gaps” that need to be filled with information. In this method, teaching is conceived as the act of transmitting knowledge from point A (responsible for the teacher) to point B (responsible for the students; Arvind and Kusum, 2017 ). According to Novak (2010) , in the traditional method, the teacher is the one who provokes the learning.

The traditional method focuses on lecture-based teaching as the center of instruction, emphasizing delivery of program and concept ( Johnson, 2010 ; Ilkiw et al., 2017 ; Dickinson et al., 2018 ). The student listens and takes notes, passively accepts and receives from the teacher undifferentiated and identical knowledge ( Bi et al., 2019 ). Course content and delivery are considered most important, and learners acquire knowledge through exercise and practice ( Johnson et al., 1998 ). In the traditional method, academic achievement is seen as the ability of students to demonstrate, replicate, or convey this designated body of knowledge to the teacher. It is based on a transmissive model, the teacher contenting themselves with exchanging and transmitting information to the learner. Here, only the “knowledge” and “teacher” poles of the pedagogical triangle are solicited. The teacher teaches the students, who play the role of the spectator. They receive information without participating in its creation ( Perrenoud, 2003 ). For this, researchers invented a new student-centered method with effects on improving students' graphic interpretation skills and conceptual understanding of kinematic motion represent an area of contemporary interest ( Tebabal and Kahssay, 2011 ). Indeed, in order to facilitate the process of knowledge transfer, teachers should use appropriate methods targeted to specific objectives of the school curricula.

For instance, it has been emphasized that the effectiveness of any educational process as a whole relies on the crucial role of using a well-designed pedagogical (teaching and/or learning) strategy ( Kolesnikova, 2016 ).

Alternate to a traditional method of teaching, Ergül and Kargin (2014 ), proposed the problem-solving method, which represents one of the most common student-centered learning strategies. Indeed, this method allows students to participate in the learning environment, giving them the responsibility for their own acquisition of knowledge, as well as the opportunity for the understanding and structuring of diverse information.

For Cunningham and Sood (2018) , the problem-solving method may be considered a fundamental tool for the acquisition of new knowledge, notably learning transfer. Moreover, the problem-solving method is purportedly efficient for the development of manual skills and experiential learning ( Ergül and Kargin, 2014 ), as well as the optimization of thinking ability. Additionally, the problem-solving method allows learners to participate in the learning environment, while giving them responsibility for their learning and making them understand and structure the information ( Pohan et al., 2020 ). In this context, Ali (2019) reported that, when faced with an obstacle, the student will have to invoke his/her knowledge and use his/her abilities to “break the deadlock.” He/she will therefore make the most of his/her potential, but also share and exchange with his/her colleagues ( Ali, 2019 ). Throughout the process, the student will learn new concepts and skills. The role of the teacher is paramount at the beginning of the activity, since activities will be created based on problematic situations according to the subject and the program. However, on the day of the activity, it does not have the main role, and the teacher will guide learners in difficulty and will allow them to manage themselves most of the time ( Ali, 2019 ).

The problem-solving method encourages group discussion and teamwork ( Fidan and Tuncel, 2019 ). Additionally, in this pedagogical approach, the role of the teacher is a facilitator of learning, and they take on a much more interactive and less rebarbative role ( Garrett, 2008 ).

For the teaching method to be effective, teaching should consist of an ongoing process of making desirable changes among learners using appropriate methods ( Ayeni, 2011 ; Norboev, 2021 ). To bring about positive changes in students, the methods used by teachers should be the best for the subject to be taught ( Adunola et al., 2012 ). Further, suggests that teaching methods work effectively, especially if they meet the needs of learners since each learner interprets and answers questions in a unique way. Improving problem-solving skills is a primary educational goal, as is the ability to use reasoning. To acquire this skill, students must solve problems to learn mathematics and problem-solving ( Hu, 2010 ); this encourages the students to actively participate and contribute to the activities suggested by the teacher. Without sufficient motivation, learning goals can no longer be optimally achieved, although learners may have exceptional abilities. The method of teaching employed by the teachers is decisive to achieve motivational consequences in physical education students ( Leo et al., 2022 ). Pérez-Jorge et al. (2021 ) posited that given we now live in a technological society in which children are used to receiving a large amount of stimuli, gaining and maintaining their attention and keeping them motivated at school becomes a challenge for teachers.

Fenouillet (2012) stated that academic motivation is linked to resources and methods that improve attention for school learning. Furthermore, Rolland (2009) and Bessa et al. (2021) reported a link between a learner's motivational dynamics and classroom activities. The models of learning situations, where the student is the main actor, directly refers to active teaching methods, and that there is a strong link between motivation and active teaching ( Rossa et al., 2021 ). In the same context, previous reports assert that the motivation of students in physical education is an important factor since the intra-individual motivation toward this discipline is recognized as a major determinant of physical activity for students ( Standage et al., 2012 ; Luo, 2019 ; Leo et al., 2022 ). Further, extensive research on the effectiveness of teaching methods shows that the quality of teaching often influences the performance of learners ( Norboev, 2021 ). Ayeni (2011) reported that education is a process that allows students to make changes desirable to achieve specific results. Thus, the consistency of teaching methods with student needs and learning influences student achievement. This has led several researchers to explore the impact of different teaching strategies, ranging from traditional methods to active learning techniques that can be used such as the problem-solving method ( Skinner, 1985 ; Darling-Hammond et al., 2020 ).

In the context of innovation, Blázquez (2016 ) emphasizes the importance of adopting active methods and implementing them as the main element promoting the development of skills, motivation and active participation. Pedagogical models are part of the active methods which, together with model-based practice, replace traditional teaching ( Hastie and Casey, 2014 ; Casey et al., 2021 ). Thus, many studies have identified pedagogical models as the most effective way to place students at the center of the teaching-learning process ( Metzler, 2017 ), making it possible to assess the impact of physical education on learning students ( Casey, 2014 ; Rivera-Pérez et al., 2020 ; Manninen and Campbell, 2021 ). Since each model is designed to focus on a specific program objective, each model has limitations when implemented in isolation ( Bunker and Thorpe, 1982 ; Rivera-Pérez et al., 2020 ). Therefore, focusing on developing students' social and emotional skills and capacities could help them avoid failure in physical education ( Ang and Penney, 2013 ). Thus, the current emergence of new pedagogical models goes with their hybridization with different methods, which is a wave of combinations proposed today as an innovative pedagogical strategy. The incorporation of this type of method in the current education system is becoming increasingly important because it gives students a greater role, participation, autonomy and self-regulation, and above all it improves their motivation ( Puigarnau et al., 2016 ). The teaching model of personal and social responsibility, for example, is closely related to the sports education model because both share certain approaches to responsibility ( Siedentop et al., 2011 ). One of the first studies to use these two models together was Rugby ( Gordon and Doyle, 2015 ), which found significant improvements in student behavior. Also, the recent study by Menendez and Fernandez-Rio (2017) on educational kickboxing.

Previous studies have indicated that hybridization can increase play, problem solving performance and motor skills ( Menendez and Fernandez-Rio, 2017 ; Ward et al., 2021 ) and generate positive psychosocial consequences, such as pleasure, intention to be physically active and responsibility ( Dyson and Grineski, 2001 ; Menendez and Fernandez-Rio, 2017 ).

But despite all these research results, the picture remains unclear, and it remains unknown which method is more effective in improving students' learning and motivation. Given the lack of published evidence on this topic, the aim of this study was to compare the effects of problem-solving vs. the traditional method on students' motivation and learning.

We hypothesized would that the problem-solving method would be more effective in improving students' motivation and learning better than the traditional method.

2. Materials and method

2.1. participants.

Fifty-three students, aged 15–16 ( M age 15 ± 0.1 years), in their 1st year of the Tunisian secondary education system, voluntarily participated in this study. All participants were randomly chosen. Repeating students, those who practice handball activity in civil/competitive/amateur clubs or in the high school sports association, and students who were absent, even for one session, were excluded. The first class consisted of 30 students (16 boys and 14 girls), who represented the experimental group and followed basic courses on a learning method by solving problems. The second class consisted of 23 students (10 boys and 13 girls), who represented the control group and followed the traditional teaching method. The total duration was spread over 5 weeks, or two sessions per week and each session lasted 50 min.

University research ethics board approval (CPPSUD: 0295/2021) was obtained before recruiting participants who were subsequently informed of the nature, objective, methodology, and constraints. Teacher, school director, parental/guardian, and child informed consent was obtained prior to participation in the study.

2.2. Procedure

Before the start of the experiment, the participants were familiarized with the equipment and the experimental protocol in order to ensure a good learning climate. For this and to mitigate the impact of the observer and the cameras on the students, the two researchers were involved prior to the data collection in a week of familiarization by making test recordings with the classes concerned.

An approach of a teaching cycle consisting of 10 sessions spread over 5 weeks, amounting to two sessions per week. Physical education classes were held in the morning from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., with a single goal for each session that lasted 50 min. The cyclic programs were produced by the teacher responsible for carrying out the experiment with 18 years of service. To do this, the students had the same lessons with the same objectives, only pedagogy that differs: the experimental group worked using problem-solving pedagogy, while the control group was confronted with traditional pedagogy. The sessions took place in a handball field 40 m long and 20 m wide. Examples of training sessions using the problem-solving pedagogy and the traditional pedagogy are presented in Table 1 . In addition, a motivation questionnaire, the Situational Motivation Scale (SIMS; Guay et al., 2000 ), was administered to learners at the end of the session (i.e., in the beginning, and end of the cycle). Each student answered the questions alone and according to their own ideas. This questionnaire was taken in a classroom to prevent students from acting abnormally during the study. It lasted for a maximum of 10 min.

Table 1 . Example of activities for the different sessions.

Two diametrically opposed cameras were installed so to film all the movements and behaviors of each student and teacher during the three sessions [(i) test at the start of the cycle (T0), (ii) in the middle of the cycle (T1), and (iii) test at the end of the cycle (T2)]. These sessions had the same content and each consisted of four phases: the getting started, the warm-up, the work up (which consisted of three situations: first, the work was goes up the ball to two to score in the goal following a shot. Second, the same principle as the previous situation but in the presence of a defender. Finally, third, a match 7 ≠ 7), and the cooling down These recordings were analyzed using a Learning Time Analysis System grid (LTAS; Brunelle et al., 1988 ). This made it possible to measure individual learning by coding observable variables of the behavior of learners in a learning situation.

2.3. Data collection and analysis

2.3.1. the motivation questionnaire.

In this study, in order to measure the situational motivation of students, the situational motivation scale (SIMS; Guay et al., 2000 ), which used. This questionnaire assesses intrinsic motivation, identified regulation, external regulation and amotivation. SIMS has demonstrated good reliability and factor validity in the context of physical education in adolescents ( Lonsdale et al., 2011 ). The participants received exact instructions from the researchers in accordance with written instructions on how to conduct the data collection. Participants completed the SIMS anonymously at the start of a physical education class. All students had the opportunity to write down their answers without being observed and to ask questions if anything was unclear. To minimize the tendency to give socially desirable answers, they were asked to answer as honestly as possible, with the confidence that the teacher would not be able to read their answers and that their grades would not be affected by how they responded. The SIMS questionnaire was filled at T0 and T2. This scale is made up of 16 items divided into four dimensions: intrinsic motivation, identified regulation, external regulation and amotivation. Each item is rated on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (which is the weakest factor) “not at all” to 7 (which is the strongest factor) “exactly matches.”

In order to assess the internal consistency of the scales, a Cronbach alpha test was conducted ( Cronbach, 1951 ). The internal consistency of the scales was acceptable with reliability coefficients ranging from 0.719 to 0.87. The coefficient of reliability was 0.8.

In the present study, Cronbach's alphas were: intrinsic motivation = 0.790; regulation identified = 0.870; external regulation = 0.749; and amotivation = 0.719.

2.3.2. Camcorders

The audio-visual data collection was conducted using two Sony camcorders (Model; Handcam 4K) with a wireless microphone with a DJ transmitter-receiver (VHF 10HL F4 Micro HF) with a range of 80 m ( Maddeh et al., 2020 ). The collection took place over a period of 5 weeks, with three captures for each class (three sessions of 50 min for each at T0, T1, and T2). Two researchers were trained in the procedures and video capture techniques. The cameras were positioned diagonally, in order to film all the behavior of the students and teacher on the set.

2.3.3. The Learning Time Analysis System (LTAS)

To measure the degree of student learning, the analysis of videos recorded using the LTAS grid by Brunelle et al. (1988) was used, at T0, T1, and T2. This observation system with predetermined categories uses the technique of observation by small intervals (i.e., 6 s) and allows to measure individual learning by coding observable variables of their behaviors when they have been in a learning situation. This grid also permits the specification of the quantity and quality with which the participants engaged in the requested work and was graded, broadly, on two characteristics: the type of situation offered to the group by the teacher and the behavior of the target participant. The situation offered to the group was subdivided into three parts: preparatory situations; knowledge development situations, and motor development situations.

The observations and coding of behaviors are carried out “at intervals.” This technique is used extensively in research on behavior analysis. The coder observes the teaching situation and a particular student during each interval ( Brunelle et al., 1988 ). It then makes a decision concerning the characteristic of the observed behavior. The 6-s observation interval is followed by a coding interval of 6 s too. A cassette tape recorder is used to regulate the observation and recording intervals. It is recorded for this purpose with the indices “observe” and “code” at the start of each 6-s period. During each coding unit, the observer answered the following questions: What is the type of situation in which the class group finds itself? If the class group is in a learning situation proper, in what form of commitment does the observed student find himself? The abbreviations representing the various categories of behavior have been entered in the spaces which correspond to them. The coder was asked to enter a hyphen instead of the abbreviation when the same categories of behavior follow one another in consecutive intervals ( Brunelle et al., 1988 ).

During the preparatory period, the following behaviors were identified and analyzed:

- Deviant behavior: The student adopts a behavior incompatible with a listening attitude or with the smooth running of the preparatory situations.

- Waiting time: The student is waiting without listening or observing.

- Organized during: The student is involved in a complementary activity that does not represent a contribution to learning (e.g., regaining his place in a line, fetching a ball that has just left the field, replacing a piece of equipment).

During the motor development situations, the following behaviors were identified and analyzed:

- Motor engagement 1: The participant performs the motor activity with such easy that it can be inferred that their actions have little chance to engage in a learning process.

- Motor engagement 2: The participant-despite a certain degree of difficulty, performs the motor activity with sufficient success, which makes it possible to infer that they are in the process of learning.

- Motor engagement 3: The participant performs the motor activity with such difficulty that their efforts have very little chance of being part of a learning process.

2.4. Statistical analysis

Statistical tests were performed using statistical software 26.0 for windows (SPSS, Inc, Chicago, IL, USA). Data are presented in text and tables as means ± standard deviations and in figures as means and standard errors. Once the normal distribution of data was confirmed by the Shapiro-Wilk W -test, parametric tests were performed. Analysis of the results was performed using a mixed 2-way analysis of variance (ANOVA): Groups × Time with repeated measures.

For the learning parameters, the ANOVA took the following form: 2 Groups (Control Group vs. Experimental Group) × 3 Times (T0, T1, and T2).

For the dimensions of motivation, the ANOVA took the following form: 2 Groups (Control Group vs. Experimental Group) × 2 Time (T0 vs. T2).

In instances where the ANOVA showed a significant effect, a Bonferroni post-hoc test was applied in order to compare the experimental data in pairs, otherwise by an independent or paired Student's T -test. Effect sizes were calculated as partial eta-squared η p 2 to estimate the meaningfulness of significant findings, where η p 2 values of 0.01, 0.06, and 0.13 represent small, moderate, and large effect sizes, respectively ( Lakens, 2013 ). All observed differences were considered statistically significant for a probability threshold lower than p < 0.05.

Table 2 shows the results of learning variables during the preparatory and the development learning periods at T0, T1, and T2, in the control group and the experimental group.

Table 2 . Comparison of learning variables using two teaching methods in physical education.

The analysis of variance of two factors with repeated measures showed a significant effect of group, learning, and group learning interaction for the deviant behavior. The post-hoc test revealed significantly less frequent deviant behaviors in the experimental than in the control group at T0, T1, and T2 (all p < 0.001). Additionally, the deviant behavior decreased significantly at T1 and T2 compared to T0 for both groups (all p < 0.001).

For appropriate engagement, there were no significant group effect, a significant learning effect, and a significant group learning interaction effect. The post-hoc test revealed that compared to T0, Appropriate engagement recorded at T1 and T2 increased significantly ( p = 0.032; p = 0.031, respectively) in the experimental group, whilst it decreased significantly in the control group ( p < 0.001). Additionally, Appropriate engagement was higher in the experimental vs. control group at T1 and T2 (all p < 0.001).

For waiting time, a significant interaction in terms of group effect, learning, and group learning was found. The post-hoc test revealed that waiting time was higher at T1 and T2 vs. T0 (all p < 0.001) in the control group. In addition, waiting time in the experimental group decreased significantly at T1 and T2 vs. T0 (all p < 0.001), with higher values recorded at T2 vs. T1 ( p = 0.025). Additionally, lower values were recorded in the experimental group vs. the control group at the three-time points (all p < 0.001).

For Motor engagement 2, a significant group, learning, and group-learning interaction effect was noted. The post-hoc test revealed that Motor engagement 2 increased significantly in both groups at T1 ( p < 0.0001) and T2 ( p < 0.0001) vs. T0 ( p = 0.045), with significantly higher values recorded in the experimental group at T1 and T2.

Regarding Motor engagement 3, a non-significant group effect was reported. Contrariwise, a significant learning effect and group learning interaction was reported ( Table 1 ). The post-hoc test revealed a significant decrease in the control group and the experimental group at T1 ( p = 0.294) at T2 ( p = 0.294) vs. T0 ( p = 0.0543). In addition, a non-significant difference between the two groups was found.

A significant group and learning effect was noted for the organized during, and a non-significant group learning interaction. For organized during, the paired Student T -test showed a significant decrease in the control group and the experimental group (all p < 0.001). The independent Student T -test revealed a non-significant difference between groups at the three-time points.

Results of the motivational dimensions in the control group and the experimental group recorded at T0 and T2 are presented in Table 3 .

Table 3 . Comparison of the four motivational dimensions in two teaching methods in physical education.

For intrinsic motivation, a significant group effect and group learning interaction and also a non-significant learning effect was found. The post-hoc test indicated that the intrinsic motivation decreased significantly in the control group ( p = 0.029), whilst it increased in the experimental group ( p = 0.04). Additionally, the intrinsic motivation of the experimental group was higher at T0 ( p = 0.026) and T2 ( p < 0.001) compared to that of the control group.

For the identified regulation, a significant group effect, a non-significant learning effect and group learning interaction were reported. The paired Student's T -test revealed that from T0 to T1, the identified motivation increased significantly only in the experimental group ( p = 0.022), while it remained unchanged in the control group. The independent Student's T -test revealed that the identified regulation recorded in the experimental group at T0 ( p = 0.012) and T2 ( p < 0.001) was higher compared to that of the control group.

The external regulation presents a significant group effect. In addition, a non-significant learning effect and group learning interaction were reported. The paired Student's T -test showed that the external regulation decreased significantly in the experimental group ( p = 0.038), whereas it remained unchanged in the control group. Further, the independent Student's T -test revealed that the external regulation recorded at T2 was higher in the control group vs. the experimental group ( p < 0.001).

Relating to amotivation, results showed a significant group effect. Furthermore, a non-significant learning effect and group learning interaction were reported. The paired Student's T -test showed that, from T0 to T2, amotivation decreased significantly in the experimental group ( p = 0.011) and did not change in the control group. The independent Student T -test revealed that amotivation recorded at T2 was lower in the experimental compared to the control group ( p = 0.002).

4. Discussion

The main purpose of this study was to compare the effects of the problem-solving vs. traditional method on motivation and learning during physical education courses. The results revealed that the problem-solving method is more effective than the traditional method in increasing students' motivation and improving their learning. Moreover, the results showed that mean wait times and deviant behaviors decreased using the problem-solving method. Interestingly, the average time spent on appropriate engagement increased using the problem-solving method compared to the traditional method. When using the traditional method, the average wait times increased and, as a result, the time spent on appropriate engagement decreased. Then, following the decrease in deviant behaviors and waiting times, an increase in the time spent warming up was evident (i.e., appropriate engagement). Indeed, there was an improvement in engagement time using the problem-solving method and a decrease using the traditional method. On the other hand, there was a decrease in motor engagement 3 in favor of motor engagement 2. Indeed, it has been shown that the problem-solving method has been used in the learning process and allows for its improvement ( Docktor et al., 2015 ). In addition, it could also produce better quality solutions and has higher scores on conceptual and problem-solving measures. It is also a good method for the learning process to enhance students' academic performance ( Docktor et al., 2015 ; Ali, 2019 ). In contrast, the traditional method limits the ability of teachers to reach and engage all students ( Cook and Artino, 2016 ). Furthermore, it produces passive learning with an understanding of basic knowledge which is characterized by its weakness ( Goldstein, 2016 ). Taken together, it appears that the problem-solving method promotes and improves learning more than the traditional method.

It should be acknowledged that other factors, such as motivation, could influence learning. In this context, our results showed that the method of problem-solving could improve the motivation of the learners. This motivation includes several variables that change depending on the situation, namely the intrinsic motivation that pushes the learner to engage in an activity for the interest and pleasure linked to the practice of the latter ( Komarraju et al., 2009 ; Guiffrida et al., 2013 ; Chedru, 2015 ). The student, therefore, likes to learn through problem-solving and neglects that of the traditional method. These results are concordant with others ( Deci and Ryan, 1985 ; Chedru, 2015 ; Ryan and Deci, 2020 ). Regarding the three forms of extrinsic motivation: first, extrinsic motivation by an identified regulation which manifests itself in a high degree of self-determination where the learner engages in the activity because it is important for him ( Deci and Ryan, 1985 ; Chedru, 2015 ). This explains the significant difference between the two groups. Then, the motivation by external regulation which is characterized by a low degree of self-determination such as the behavior of the learner is manipulated by external circumstances such as obtaining rewards or the removal of sanctions ( Deci and Ryan, 1985 ; Chedru, 2015 ). For this, the means of this variable decreased for the experimental group which is intrinsically motivated. He does not need any reward to work and is not afraid of punishment because he is self-confident. Third, amotivation is at the opposite end of the self-determination continuum. Unmotivated students are the most likely to feel negative emotions ( Ratelle et al., 2007 ; David, 2010 ), to have low self-esteem ( Deci and Ryan, 1995 ), and who attempts to abandon their studies ( Vallerand et al., 1997 ; Blanchard et al., 2005 ). So, more students are motivated by external regulation or demotivated, less interest they show and less effort they make, and more likely they are to fail ( Grolnick et al., 1991 ; Miserandino, 1996 ; Guay et al., 2000 ; Blanchard et al., 2005 ).

It is worth noting that there is a close link between motivation and learning ( Bessa et al., 2021 ; Rossa et al., 2021 ). Indeed, when the learner's motivation is high, so will his learning. However, all this depends on the method used ( Norboev, 2021 ). For example, the method of problem-solving increase motivation more than the traditional method, as evidenced by several researchers ( Parish and Treasure, 2003 ; Artino and Stephens, 2009 ; Kim and Frick, 2011 ; Lemos and Veríssimo, 2014 ).

Given the effectiveness of the problem-solving method in improving students' learning and motivation, it should be used during physical education teaching. This could be achieved through the organization of comprehensive training programs, seminars, and workshops for teachers so to master and subsequently be able to use the problem-solving method during physical education lessons.

Despite its novelty, the present study suffers from a few limitations that should be acknowledged. First, a future study, consisting of a group taught using the mixed method would preferable so to better elucidate the true impact of this teaching and learning method. Second, no gender and/or age group comparisons were performed. This issue should be addressed in future investigations. Finally, the number of participants is limited. This may be due to working in a secondary school where the number of students in a class is limited to 30 students. Additionally, the number of participants fell to 53 after excluding certain students (exempted, absent for a session, exercising in civil clubs or member of the school association). Therefore, to account for classes of finite size, a cluster-based trial would be beneficial in the future. Moreover, future studies investigating the effect of the active method in reducing some behaviors (e.g., disruptive behaviors) and for the improvement of pupils' attention are warranted.

5. Conclusion

There was an improvement in student learning in favor of the problem-solving method. Additionally, we found that the motivation of learners who were taught using the problem-solving method was better than that of learners who were educated by the traditional method.

Data availability statement

The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.

Ethics statement

University Research Ethics Board approval was obtained before recruiting participants who were subsequently informed of the nature, objective, methodology, and constraints. Teacher, school director, parental/guardian, and child informed consent was obtained prior to participation in the study. In addition, exclusion criteria included; the practice of handball activity in civil/competitive/amateur clubs or in the high school sports association. Written informed consent to participate in this study was provided by the participants' legal guardian/next of kin.

Author contributions

All authors listed have made a substantial, direct, and intellectual contribution to the work and approved it for publication.


Special thanks for all students and physical education teaching staff from the 15 November 1955 Secondary School, who generously shared their time, experience, and materials for the proposes of this study.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

The reviewer MJ declared a shared affiliation, with no collaboration, with the authors GE, NS, LM, and KT to the handling editor at the time of review.

Publisher's note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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Keywords: problem-solving method, traditional method, motivation, learning, students

Citation: Ezeddine G, Souissi N, Masmoudi L, Trabelsi K, Puce L, Clark CCT, Bragazzi NL and Mrayah M (2023) The problem-solving method: Efficacy for learning and motivation in the field of physical education. Front. Psychol. 13:1041252. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.1041252

Received: 10 September 2022; Accepted: 15 December 2022; Published: 25 January 2023.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2023 Ezeddine, Souissi, Masmoudi, Trabelsi, Puce, Clark, Bragazzi and Mrayah. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

This article is part of the Research Topic

Psychological Factors in Physical Education and Sport, volume II

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Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which complex real-world problems are used as the vehicle to promote student learning of concepts and principles as opposed to direct presentation of facts and concepts. In addition to course content, PBL can promote the development of critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and communication skills. It can also provide opportunities for working in groups, finding and evaluating research materials, and life-long learning (Duch et al, 2001).

PBL can be incorporated into any learning situation. In the strictest definition of PBL, the approach is used over the entire semester as the primary method of teaching. However, broader definitions and uses range from including PBL in lab and design classes, to using it simply to start a single discussion. PBL can also be used to create assessment items. The main thread connecting these various uses is the real-world problem.

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

The problems can come from a variety of sources: newspapers, magazines, journals, books, textbooks, and television/ movies. Some are in such form that they can be used with little editing; however, others need to be rewritten to be of use. The following guidelines from The Power of Problem-Based Learning (Duch et al, 2001) are written for creating PBL problems for a class centered around the method; however, the general ideas can be applied in simpler uses of PBL:

  • Choose a central idea, concept, or principle that is always taught in a given course, and then think of a typical end-of-chapter problem, assignment, or homework that is usually assigned to students to help them learn that concept. List the learning objectives that students should meet when they work through 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. More complex problems will challenge students to go beyond simple plug-and-chug to solve it. Look at magazines, newspapers, and articles for ideas on the story line. Some PBL practitioners talk to professionals in the field, searching for ideas of realistic applications of the concept being taught.
  • What will the first page (or stage) look like? What open-ended questions can be asked? What learning issues will be identified?
  • How will the problem be structured?
  • How long will the problem be? How many class periods will it take to complete?
  • Will students be given information in subsequent pages (or stages) as they work through the problem?
  • What resources will the students need?
  • What end product will the students produce at the completion of the problem?
  • Write a teacher's guide detailing the instructional plans on using the problem in the course. If the course is a medium- to large-size class, a combination of mini-lectures, whole-class discussions, and small group work with regular reporting may be necessary. The teacher's guide can indicate plans or options for cycling through the pages of the problem interspersing the various modes of learning.
  • The final step is to identify key resources for students. Students need to learn to identify and utilize learning resources on their own, but it can be helpful if the instructor indicates a few good sources to get them started. Many students will want to limit their research to the Internet, so it will be important to guide them toward the library as well.

The method for distributing a PBL problem falls under three closely related teaching techniques: case studies, role-plays, and simulations. Case studies are presented to students in written form. Role-plays have students improvise scenes based on character descriptions given. Today, simulations often involve computer-based programs. Regardless of which technique is used, the heart of the method remains the same: the real-world problem.

Where can I learn more?

  • PBL through the Institute for Transforming Undergraduate Education at the University of Delaware
  • Duch, B. J., Groh, S. E, & Allen, D. E. (Eds.). (2001). The power of problem-based learning . Sterling, VA: Stylus.
  • Grasha, A. F. (1996). Teaching with style: A practical guide to enhancing learning by understanding teaching and learning styles. Pittsburgh: Alliance Publishers.

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Teaching problem solving

Strategies for teaching problem solving apply across disciplines and instructional contexts. First, introduce the problem and explain how people in your discipline generally make sense of the given information. Then, explain how to apply these approaches to solve the problem.

Introducing the problem

Explaining how people in your discipline understand and interpret these types of problems can help students develop the skills they need to understand the problem (and find a solution). After introducing how you would go about solving a problem, you could then ask students to:

  • frame the problem in their own words
  • define key terms and concepts
  • determine statements that accurately represent the givens of a problem
  • identify analogous problems
  • determine what information is needed to solve the problem

Working on solutions

In the solution phase, one develops and then implements a coherent plan for solving the problem. As you help students with this phase, you might ask them to:

  • identify the general model or procedure they have in mind for solving the problem
  • set sub-goals for solving the problem
  • identify necessary operations and steps
  • draw conclusions
  • carry out necessary operations

You can help students tackle a problem effectively by asking them to:

  • systematically explain each step and its rationale
  • explain how they would approach solving the problem
  • help you solve the problem by posing questions at key points in the process
  • work together in small groups (3 to 5 students) to solve the problem and then have the solution presented to the rest of the class (either by you or by a student in the group)

In all cases, the more you get the students to articulate their own understandings of the problem and potential solutions, the more you can help them develop their expertise in approaching problems in your discipline.

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What Is Problem-Solving Method in Teaching-Learning? What are the Characteristics of the Method and Importance in Education

Problem-solving in teaching-learning refers to an instructional approach that involves posing open-ended questions or presenting challenges to students, enabling them to apply their knowledge, skills, and creativity to find solutions.


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Effective problem-solving often requires collaboration and communication among peers.

In education, the problem-solving method is a crucial approach that fosters critical thinking, creativity, and analytical skills among learners. It encourages students to actively engage in the learning process by identifying, analyzing, and solving real-world problems. This essay explores the problem-solving method in teaching-learning and highlights its significance in education. By delving into its definition, key characteristics, and benefits, we can gain a comprehensive understanding of why this method holds such importance.

Table of contents

Definition of the problem-solving method, key characteristics of the problem-solving method, development of critical thinking skills, fostering creativity and innovation, practical application of knowledge, collaboration and communication skills, confidence and resilience, preparation for the future.

To comprehend the significance of the problem-solving method in education, it is vital to define the term. Problem-solving in teaching-learning refers to an instructional approach that involves posing open-ended questions or presenting challenges to students, enabling them to apply their knowledge, skills, and creativity to find solutions. This method focuses on developing students’ higher-order thinking skills, such as critical thinking, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

The problem-solving method encompasses several distinctive characteristics that differentiate it from traditional teaching approaches. These characteristics include:

  • Active Learning: The problem-solving method shifts the role of learners from passive recipients of information to active participants in the learning process. Students engage in hands-on activities, collaborate with peers, and explore multiple avenues to solve problems, thus enhancing their understanding and retention of knowledge.
  • Real-World Relevance: The problems presented in the problem-solving method are often authentic and relatable to real-life situations. By addressing practical challenges, students develop problem-solving skills that can be applied beyond the classroom, preparing them for future endeavors.
  • Inquiry-Based Approach: This method promotes inquiry-based learning, encouraging students to ask questions, gather information, analyze data, and draw conclusions. Students become investigators and problem-solvers, acquiring a deeper understanding of concepts and fostering a sense of ownership over their learning.
  • Multidisciplinary Nature: Problem-solving transcends disciplinary boundaries, allowing students to integrate knowledge from various subjects and apply it to find solutions. This interdisciplinary approach nurtures holistic learning, as students recognize the interconnectedness of different fields of study.

The Importance of the Problem-Solving Method in Education

The problem-solving method holds immense importance in education for several compelling reasons:

Critical thinking is a vital skill in the 21st century, as it enables individuals to analyze complex problems, evaluate evidence, and make informed decisions. The problem-solving method cultivates critical thinking by challenging students to think deeply, identify patterns, analyze data, consider alternative perspectives, and evaluate the effectiveness of their solutions. These skills are invaluable for success in academic, professional, and personal spheres.

Problem-solving nurtures students’ creativity and fosters innovative thinking. By presenting open-ended problems, this method encourages students to think outside the box, explore unconventional approaches, and develop novel solutions. In an increasingly dynamic world, creativity and innovation are essential for adapting to change and addressing emerging challenges.

Traditional teaching methods often focus on rote memorization and recall of facts, which may not always translate to practical application. The problem-solving method bridges this gap by providing opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and skills in real-life contexts. This application-oriented approach enhances understanding, retention, and transferability of knowledge, making education more relevant and meaningful.

Effective problem-solving often requires collaboration and communication among peers. The problem-solving method encourages students to work in teams, share ideas, and engage in constructive discussions. Through collaborative problem-solving, students develop essential skills such as effective communication, teamwork, negotiation, and leadership, which are crucial for success in professional settings.

Engaging in problem-solving challenges empowers students to overcome obstacles, persevere in the face of setbacks, and build confidence in their abilities.

Engaging in problem-solving challenges empowers students to overcome obstacles, persevere in the face of setbacks, and build confidence in their abilities. By experiencing the satisfaction of solving complex problems, students develop resilience, adaptability, and a growth mindset. These qualities contribute to their overall academic success and lifelong learning.

The problem-solving method equips students with the skills necessary to thrive in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world. In the digital age, where automation and artificial intelligence are reshaping industries, problem-solving abilities that involve critical thinking, creativity, and adaptability become indispensable. By honing these skills, students are better prepared for higher education, careers, and lifelong learning.

The problem-solving method in teaching-learning offers a dynamic and effective approach to education. By engaging students in active learning, fostering critical thinking, promoting creativity, and encouraging collaboration, this method equips learners with essential skills for success in the 21st century. The problem-solving method’s emphasis on real-world relevance and practical application of knowledge enhances the educational experience and prepares students for future challenges. It is crucial for educators and institutions to recognize the significance of this method and integrate it into their teaching practices to nurture well-rounded, adaptable, and creative learners.

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