Theory Name: Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS)

Authors (Last, First): Nelson, Laurie M.

Associate Learning Theory:
Social learning: collaborative problem-solving

Model Description:
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 skills.

(b) Principles
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 group work
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 work on.
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 when appropriate.
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 contributions.

Formative Research & Application
(a) Tested context: K-12; Higher Ed. (Bruffee, 1993)
(b) Research method
(c) Research description

(d) Resources
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.

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