In This Article Problem Solving

  • Introduction
  • Types of Problem Solving
  • Problem Space and Operators
  • Component Skills
  • Role of Deliberate Practice

Education Problem Solving
Gregory Schraw
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0088


A problem exists when a current state differs from a desired state. Problem solving is the act of identifying problems with the current state, and generating and testing potential solutions that achieve the desired state. Problem solving includes at least four main stages (i.e., problem identification, problem representation, strategy selection, solution monitoring). There are important sub-components within each of these stages. In addition, several characteristics of expert problem solvers, such as knowledge and automated solution strategies, have an effect on the time and effectiveness of problem solving. One way to improve the problem-solving process is through deliberate practice, which includes formal strategy instruction and metacognitive training. Problem solving is also affected by implicit processes such as incubation, insight, and preconceived ideas of a problem that limit the search for viable solutions. In this bibliography, Section 1, General Overviews, outlines the available sources. Section 2, Types of Problem Solving, summarizes two different types of problem solving. Section 3, Problem Space and Operators, discusses three important structural properties of problems, including operators, constraints on operators, and problem space. Section 4, Component Skills, discusses different components of problem solving. Section 5, Characteristics of Expert Problem Solvers, considers important characteristics of good problem solvers. Section 6, Role of Deliberate Practice, examines the role of deliberate practice in problem solving. Section 7, Instructional Practices, reviews several important instructional strategies, including general instructional principles. Section 8, Problem-Solving Incubation, Insight, and Transfer, discusses important topics in problem solving, such as incubation, insight, and transfer. The current review focuses on North American research and citations.

General Overviews

A wide variety of sources and references are available on problem solving. These sources include edited volumes, textbooks, reviews, meta-analyses, and journals. Edited volumes include multiple chapters from different authors who provide a variety of opinions about understanding and teaching problem-solving skills. The textbooks cited in these subsections focus on either comprehensive conceptual frameworks for understanding problem solving, or volumes that include one or more important chapters on the topic. Recent reviews address a variety of educational issues such as the role and function of problem-solving instruction in the classroom, as well as factors that affect effective instruction. Meta-analyses provide comprehensive, integrated reviews of the entire research literature, usually with a statistical summary of the effectiveness of intervention studies. Journals provide recent citations for conceptual and data-based research on problem-solving theory, research, and instruction.

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