In this second blog post of our series “How to prove & Improve your Soft Skills” we continue our journey through the soft skills that matter the most with a deep dive into problem solving.
In our previous blog post, we explored critical thinking and examples of how to develop and demonstrate it through question-asking.
Reaching our second destination, we follow the same approach for problem solving:
- Define and explain it in the context of real-life situations (the what)
- Identify the value it brings in our academic, vocational, and personal life (the why)
- Explore the ways it can be cultivated in the context of inquiry-based learning (the how) with real-life examples from the 100mentors app!
WHAT is Problem Solving?
Problem solving is when we have a given state (where we are), we have a goal state (where we aspire to be) and what lies in between these states is our problem solving “arena.” Like all worthwhile arenas, we are expecting to encounter several obstacles; finding our way around them is the core of problem solving.
To effectively and efficiently overcome these obstacles and reach our goal state, we must (Falomir & Olteţeanu, 2019):
- be “reasonable:” find and follow accurate connections between the states and the obstacles, and then
- “model” the situation: focus on the things that play a key role and figure out how they work as a whole.
You probably think of problem solving as a skill that is a “must have” to get things done effectively – regardless of the context. However, that was not always the case. Originally, problem solving was a skill associated with the hard qualities of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Technology) education – and it would hardly cross these boundaries.
The connection between STEM education and problem solving remains (e.g., Astuti et al., 2021) but we now see the value of engaging with the process that connects the problem with its solution in all domains. In fact, problem solving in real-life situations suggests a more complex challenge that goes beyond routine tasks and common brain-teasers (Funke et al., 2018).
WHY Problem Solving matters?
Beyond reaching our end goal, the process of problem solving trains us to cope with diverse real-life situations. What is the value of this process in different aspects of our lives?
Academic performance: Problem solving as a skill is positively related to academic performance in secondary education (Gupta et al. 2016), not only to students’ achievements in STEM subjects, but in humanities as well (Csapó & Molnár, 2017)!
Life competencies: The systematic training of our problem solving skill results in the enhancement of various everyday life competencies, such as metacognition, decision making, self-awareness, communication, and collaboration (English & Gainsburg, 2016).
Career advancement: In a highly competitive work environment, a problem solving disposition can help us be adaptive and offer personalized solutions (Carnevale & Smith, 2013) – making our supervisors, our customers, and especially ourselves happy with the result.
HOW to develop & evaluate Problem Solving?
While in STEM education problem solving assessment may be straight-forward, this is not the case for other domains. When it comes to real-life problems, there is no single assessment instrument that captures problem solving competency in a comprehensive way (Funke et al., 2018, p. 41). So, what’s to be done?
There is wide recognition that tasks that require human-to-human input as opposed to tasks that are mechanical or automated, are complex and typically may call on multiple and diverse sets of knowledge, skills, and expertise.(Care et al., 2016, p. 251)
At 100mentors, we utilize the strong connection between questioning and soft skills to enable learners to practice their problem solving skill and provide a way to evaluate their level. Here is how technology and human capital combine to achieve that:
When mentors evaluate learners’ questions in terms of problem solving and share respective feedback on their answers, they challenge learners to find their way from a current situation to a goal and train them to thrive in all fields: studies, work, and personal life.
Plus, they actively participate in the learners’ endeavor to claim the 100mentors’ Learner Certificate on Soft Skills Training!
How does it work?
To evaluate the learner’s problem solving, we integrated an established system for assessment (Fuller & Dawson, 2017). For the problem solving context, we share below our interpretation of each level. To make this truly simple, we suggest examining the question for two main problem solving components:
- Making connections between a given state, a goal state, and the obstacles in between
- Indicating the key elements and a way they can efficiently work together
You can use the table below to reflect on your question as a learner or offer advice on how to improve a question if you are a mentor!
Let’s try out these guidelines in practice with two questions from the 100mentors app. For each question, we make iterations to share tangible examples of related questions that match the rest of the problem solving levels.
Question 1: “How do I learn from my mistakes?”
Topic: Facing life challenges
Education Level: Lifelong Learning/Adult learning
Question 2: “How important are soft skills for our resume?”
Topic: CV creation and soft skills
Education Level: Formal Education – High School
As we also noted for the question evaluation in terms of critical thinking, we may not see eye to eye on the exact level a question belongs to. The learner can see the mentors’ different perspectives and they can share more detailed feedback through their answers, encouraging a dialogue that keeps encouraging problem solving.
When we’re confronted with a problem and we attempt to solve it, some frustration is rather expected (Funke et al., 2018). But who’s better to sympathize with a learner trying to tackle the obstacles than a mentor, who has probably already been through this process themselves? Because, after all, the best way to develop our human skills is to interact with humans.
Did you enjoy our approach to problem solving? Subscribe to our blog so you can be among the first to find out about the what, why, and how for the third and final key soft skill under discussion: creativity!
Astuti, N. H., Rusilowati, A., & Subali, B. (2021). STEM-Based Learning Analysis to Improve Students’ Problem Solving Abilities in Science Subject: a Literature Review. Journal of Innovative Science Education, 9(3), 79–86.
Care, E., Scoular, C., & Griffin, P. (2016). Assessment of Collaborative Problem Solving in Education Environments. Applied Measurement in Education, 29(4), 250–264.
Carnevale, A. P., & Smith, N. (2013). Workplace basics: The skills employees need and employers want. Human Resource Development International, 16(5), 491–501.
Csapó, B., & Molnár, G. (2017). Potential for assessing dynamic problem-solving at the beginning of higher education studies. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(NOV), 2022.
English, L. D., & Gainsburg, J. (2016). Problem Solving in a 21st-Century Mathematics Curriculum. In L. D. English & D. Kirshner (Eds.), Handbook of International Research in Mathematics Education (3rd ed., pp. 313–335).
Falomir, Z., & Olteţeanu, A.-M. (2019). Special issue on problem-solving, creativity and spatial reasoning. Cognitive Systems Research, 58, 31–34.
Fuller, J. S., & Dawson, K. M. (2017). Student Response Systems for Formative Assessment: Literature-based Strategies and Findings from a Middle School Implementation. CONTEMPORARY EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY, 8(4), 370–389.
Funke, J., Fischer, A., & Holt, D. V. (2018). Competencies for Complexity: Problem Solving in the Twenty-First Century. In Educational Assessment in an Information Age (pp. 41–53). Springer International Publishing AG.