By Tim Holt
"Problems like the ones I’ve mentioned above are called “messy problem” by some educators and “ill-structured problems” by others. Messy problems have no single, certifiably correct answer. There is no “one right way” to solve a problem like “should I get married” or “what should I study in college?” The answer is the goal, but the answer can manifest itself in many correct ways and lead to a lot of unexpected learning along the way. Ambiguity envelopes us. It begins at birth and follows us through to the last days of our lives. Start to finish, life is messy.
"I love ill-structured problems. When offered in a classroom setting, they present students with real life situations and devilish dilemmas. Problem based learning, a methodology begun in the late 1960’s in medical schools in Canada (and expanded into K12 education in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s) was developed after medical experts in teaching hospitals could not understand why otherwise excellent interns froze up when real life humans were placed in front of them with real life problems (there might even be panic and bleeding).
"After long investigation, if became clear to instructors that while the students were “book smart” and could recite page after page of diagnostic information from memory, most patients did not present their symptoms in a way that matched the book: “You know Doc, my elbow hurts just like the description on page 354 of the Jensen Ortho text,” said no patient ever.
"We need to move away from the pedagogy of the single answer and move towards teaching the messy problems of Problem Based Learning. This is different than Project Based Learning (as I wrote about here), where the end goal is already known (and thus a single correct answer is reached in many cases). Life does not work so much like a project; human development is pretty much Problem Based Learning. The best outcome or solution is usually not known when the problem is presented. Sometimes it is, but not often."