Instructional design based on the problem-solving decisions of scientists and engineers

  • Carl Wieman
  • Argenta Price
  • Candice Kim


We have explored the detailed process by which skilled scientists, engineers, and doctors (“experts”) solve authentic problems—the problems they are called upon to do in their work. Such problems are far more complex than typical problems used in university courses and exams. We find there is a set of 29 decisions that experts make in the solving process, a set which is nearly universal across the 31 experts and 10 disciplines we examined. These decisions provide a very useful framework for measuring problem-solving expertise. Here we focus on how they can also be used to design instruction that will improve students’ problem- solving skills. This instruction gives them practice at making many such decisions in realistic contexts, a necessary step to learning to be good problem solvers, and hence, good scientists, engineers, and physicians. Practice they do not get in traditional instruction.