Theory Name: Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS)
Authors (Last, First): Nelson, Laurie M.
Associate Learning Theory:
Social learning: collaborative problem-solving
This theory focuses on developing content knowledge in complex domains,
problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and collaboration skills.
The theory offers a comprehensive set of instructional methods and
guidelines for problem-solving and collaborative learning. Specifically,
the theory addresses four types of collaborative environments guidelines
including instructor-implemented, learner implemented, instructor-
and learner-implemented, and interactive methods. Also nine process
activities are provided as instructional strategies which apply to
particular phases and process during the learning event.
Specification of Theory
(a) Goals and preconditions
Primary goal of the theory is to develop content knowledge in complex
domains, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and collaboration
1) Maximize the natural collaborative process of learners; 2) Create
learning environments which are situated, learner-centered, integrated,
and collaborative, versus ones which are decontextualized, isolated
and competitive; 3) Develop authentic, relevant learning experience
with regard to the content to be learned and the process by which it
is learned; 4) Allow students to learn by doing as active participants
in their own learning processes; 5) Foster the development of critical
thinking and problem-solving skills; 6) Encourage the exploration and
analysis of content from multiple perspectives; 7) Acknowledge the
importance of rich social contexts for learning; 8) Cultivate supportive,
respectful relationships among learners, as well as between learners
and the instructor; 9) Develop a desire for life-long learning and
the skills to sustain it. (Nelson, 1999, pp. 245-246)
(c) Condition of learning
1) Type of Content: Heuristic tasks made up of a complex system of knowledge
and skills & Conceptual understandings and cognitive strategies
including critical thinking, learning strategies, and metacognitive
skills. 2) Learning Environment encourages an open exchange of ideas
and information during collaboration, experimentation, and inquiry
based learning with provided well-conceived problem or project scenario.
3) Self-directed learner and Instructor's coaching for group discussion
and just-in-time instruction.
(d) Required media
Computer based programs or multimedia to support problem presentation
and scaffold cognitive process including knowledge-representation,
knowledge-modeling, information- gathering, and problem solving performance
(e) Role of facilitator
Facilitator can be instructor or computer-based tools (e.g., database,
multimedia, Internet). Facilitator should take the instructional roles
including modeling, coaching, and scaffolding.
(f) Instructional strategies
Process activities throughout the entire learning event as follows:
1) Instructor and learners build their readiness to engage in collaborative
2) Either the instructor or the learners form small, heterogeneous work
groups, and then the groups engage in norming processes.
3) Group engage in a preliminary process to define the problem they will
4) Each group defines what roles are necessary to accomplish the design
plan and then assigns them.
5) The group engages in the primary, iterative CPS process
6) Groups begin to finalize their solutions or projects
7) The instructor and learners engage in activities to help them reflect
and synthesize their experiences
8) The instructor and the learners assess their products and processes
9) The instructor and learners develop an activity to bring closure to
the learning event.
(g) Assessment method
Evaluation of learners should be taking place during the entire learning
experience, taking a variety of forms, both informal and formal (e.g.,
group conversation, observations of the groups at work, assessment
of individual progress reports, and reports from each group’s
formative evaluation and usability tests). Evaluation focuses on (1)
learning gains (content knowledge and skills, group-process skills,
and metacognitive strategies), (2) the solutions or projects developed
by each group, and (3) group processes of each team. The final grade
should be a combination of assessments of the group project and individual
Formative Research & Application
(a) Tested context: K-12; Higher Ed. (Bruffee, 1993)
(b) Research method
(c) Research description
Nelson, L. M. (1999). Collaborative problem solving. In C. M. Reigeluth
(Ed.), Instructional design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional
theory (pp. 241-267). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Bruffee, K. A. (1993). Collaborative learning: higher education, interdependence,
and the authority of knowledge. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Johnson, D. W. & Johnson, R. T. (1994). Learning together. In S.
Sharan (Ed.), Handbook of cooperative learning methods (pp. 51-65). Westport,
CT: Greenwood Press.