Solutions Based Learning in Education

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One of OLE’s goals is to promote the use of terms that carry with them connotations that increase their power and meaning. “Solutions Based Learning (SBL) is our latest promotion.  We like this term because it focuses the mind on the importance of developing and implementing solutions to problems rather than simply describing them.

“Talk and Chalk” is the term OLE uses to describe a mode of teach that is common in all schools and virtually universal in developing countries. The fact that schools often have few or no textbooks or other materials to learn from makes this mode of teaching almost necessary in many schools. We consider this a “good” term since does an efficient job of characterizing the essence of a poor approach for learning.

Activity Based Learning (ABL) has become a common term to refer to a better approah to learning that emphasizes a more active role for students and promotes a mentoring, coaching role for teachers. This approach to learning is not new. John Dewey promoted such methods a century ago.  Montessori schools, among others, are organized around engaging students in this way. While the word ‘Activity” moves the mind in a good direction, that term still falls short.

Solutions Based Learning (SBL) seems like a better term. Here is why. The concept “activity” can encompass almost anything that involves physical movement on the part of the student. It does not not convey a sense of purpose other than some kind of movement.

Testing “activity” with OLE’s three core learning goals – increased power, meaning and connection -the term conveys a greater “power” but lacks the important dimensions of “meaning” and “connection”.

That is why we prefer the phrase “Solutions Based Learning”. SBL conveys both power and meaning and, in most cases, involves connections with others since most “solutions” have a social dimension.

Here’s an example. When elementary students from the Ghanaian village of Katapor surveyed their community they put “dusty roads” at the top of the list of problems reported by the villagers. Apparently trucks frequently sped past their village on the village’s dirt road. The survey done by the students and the report they generated is a great example of “Activity Based Learning”. It had all three of OLE’s learning goals of power, meaning and connection. They learned a lot by knocking on doors and engaging with adults in a meaningful way, analyzing the data they collected, creating and presenting the findings in a written report.

Their activities would have been even more powerful, meaningful and connected if their goal had been to identify and implement a solution to a problem rather than stopping with a description of the problem. Those final two steps were left out. Engaging the villagers to build speed bumps on the road might have been a practical and doable solution that would have greatly enhanced their learning experience and sense of accomplishment.

The framing of their task lacked the need for a solution and thus, as so often happens in life, they stopped with a description of the problem rather continuing to develop and implement a solution.

Imbedding the need for developing and implementing solutions to real problems should be one of the explicit goals for learning.   Here’s for “Solutions Based Learning” (SBL).  Pass it on.