Problem-Solving Style and Distance Learning: Research and Practice

By Treffinger, Donald J.; Schoonover, Patricia F. | Distance Learning, March 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Problem-Solving Style and Distance Learning: Research and Practice


Treffinger, Donald J., Schoonover, Patricia F., Distance Learning


Problem-solving style refers to consistent individual differences in the ways people manage change and deal with complex, open-ended opportunities and challenges (Selby Treffinger, Isaksen, & Lauer, 2004; Treffinger, Selby, & Isaksen, 2008). Although style is just one factor among many (e.g., knowledge and experience, mindset, motivation) that influence a person's natural responses to problem solving and change, it has theoretical and research support and practical relevance for instructional design and delivery in working with university students. We concur with Millman's view:

Whether one agrees with the notion that students today are different or not, it is imperative that educators, employers, and instructional designers shift their focus from "how students today might be different" to "how should I design instruction to meet the needs of my target audience" and "what do I need to change to meet the needs of my learners?" ... [This] means making thoughtful, informed decisions about how to engage learners in the process of learning, accepting learners for who they are, understanding learners' strengths and weaknesses, helping them build on their strengths and diminish their weaknesses, and capitalizing on their [learning styles]. (2009, p. 60)

Information about a person's problemsolving style contributes to instructors' efforts to design and deliver instruction that is differentiated, engaging, challenging, and successful (Treffinger et al., 2008). Knowledge of one's style also enables students to work from their strengths, while developing areas of weakness.

VIEW: A Model and Measure of Problem-Solving Style

For this study, we assessed style using VIEW: An Assessment of Problem-Solving Styles (Selby, Treffinger, & Isaksen, 2007a, 2007b). The VIEW model involves three dimensions: orientation to change (OC), manner of processing (MP), and ways of deciding (WD). Each dimension is a continuum, anchored by two styles.

OC considers a person's preferences regarding novelty, structure, and authority and includes the explorer and developer styles. Explorers seek novelty and thrive on risk and uncertainty. They find structure (especially when imposed externally) limiting and confining, and prefer to work with authority at a distance. Explorers create many unusual and original ideas that, if refined, might offer innovative solutions (although they may prefer to leave the refining to others as they move on to new challenges). Developers are concerned with practical applications and task realities, using their creative and critical thinking in ways that others clearly recognize as relevant and useful. They find workable possibilities and guide them to successful implementation. Developers are careful, methodical, and well organized, and seek to minimize risk and uncertainty. They are comfortable with details and structure, which they find helpful in moving work forward efficiently, and with authority close-at-hand. The popular view of creativity as "thinking out of the box" describes an explorer's approach; Developers are more likely to "think better inside the box."

MP involves external and internal styles. Individuals who prefer the external style draw their energy from interaction with others, discussing possibilities, and building on others' ideas. They seek a great deal of input before reaching closure, are regarded as good team members, and often appear full of energy. Preferring action to reflection, they may appear to rush into things before others are ready to proceed or before ideas have been considered thoroughly. Those with an internal style look first to their own inner resources and draw energy from their reflection. They prefer to consider ideas on their own before sharing them with others, embarking on action only after careful consideration. Internals may become engrossed in inner events, ideas, and concepts and might be perceived by others as pensive or withdrawn. …

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