Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education reached a major milestone this month by publishing our 500th article! For more information visit our News page.


 1-3 of 3 Results

  • Keywords: problem solving x
Clear all


Richard E. Mayer

Problem solving refers to cognitive processing directed at achieving a goal when the problem solver does not initially know a solution method. A problem exists when someone has a goal but does not know how to achieve it. Problems can be classified as routine or non-routine, and as well-defined or ill-defined. The major cognitive processes in problem solving are representing, planning, executing, and monitoring. The major kinds of knowledge required for problem solving are facts, concepts, procedures, strategies, and beliefs. The theoretical approaches that have developed over the history of research on problem are associationism, Gestalt, and information processing. Each of these approaches involves fundamental issues in problem solving such as the nature of transfer, insight, and goal-directed heuristics, respectively. Some current research topics in problem solving include decision making, intelligence and creativity, teaching of thinking skills, expert problem solving, analogical reasoning, mathematical and scientific thinking, everyday thinking, and the cognitive neuroscience of problem solving. Common theme concerns the domain specificity of problem solving and a focus on problem solving in authentic contexts.


Ellen Skinner and Emily Saxton

Academic coping describes the profile of responses children and adolescents utilize when they encounter challenges, obstacles, setbacks, and failures in their scholastic work. Coping is one of multiple strands of research from a variety of subareas within educational and developmental science that share a common interest in this topic, including work on academic resilience, buoyancy, mastery versus helplessness, tenacity, perseverance, and productive persistence, as well as adaptive help seeking, self-regulated learning, and emotion regulation. These approaches focus on the responses (including emotions and goal-directed behaviors) students actually undertake on the ground when they encounter academic difficulties in their daily lives; patterns of action can be contrasted with the belief systems, motivations, or skill sets that underlie these responses. Since the mid 1980s, several dozen studies have examined academic coping in children and youth from 2nd to 12th grade (ages 7–18), including samples from 29 countries (Skinner & Saxton, 2019). These studies have identified multiple adaptive ways of dealing with academic stress, including problem solving, help seeking, and comfort seeking. These responses are considered productive because they allow students to gather resources and strategies, and so re-engage in demanding tasks with renewed purpose, vigor, and effectiveness. Multiple maladaptive ways of coping have also been identified, such as escape, rumination, or blaming others. These are considered unproductive because when enacted in response to academic demands, they are more likely to trigger disaffection, amplify distress, or provoke negative reactions from social partners. In general, research indicates that students normatively show a profile of coping that is high in adaptive strategies (especially problem solving, help seeking, and support seeking) and low in maladaptive responses. Studies find that students’ adaptive coping is linked to their academic functioning and success, including their educational performance, engagement, persistence, and adjustment to school transitions. In contrast, maladaptive coping is linked to a pattern of poor academic performance, disengagement, and school-related burnout. Students cope more adaptively when they possess motivational assets (such as self-efficacy, relative autonomy, or sense of belonging) and experience interpersonal supports from their parents, teachers, and peers. Studies documenting developmental trends suggest normative improvements in the coping repertoire during elementary school. However, over the transition to middle school in early adolescence, many adaptive ways of coping decline while reliance on maladaptive responses generally increases. Starting in middle adolescence, these problematic trends stabilize, and some studies indicate renewed improvement in coping, especially problem solving. Current research on academic coping faces theoretical, methodological, and applied challenges: (a) theoretically, more comprehensive conceptualizations are needed that integrate coping perspectives with social contextual, motivational, and developmental approaches; (b) methodologically, standard measures are needed that focus on core categories of academic coping, and that utilize allocation scoring; and (c) to further applied work, additional studies are needed that describe and explain normative and differential age-graded changes in adaptive and maladaptive coping across childhood and adolescence. Researchers who study academic coping believe that this work has much to offer educational theories, research, and interventions aimed at understanding how to help children and adolescents develop the capacity to deal constructively with the obstacles and problems they will inevitably encounter during their educational careers.


Patrick C. Kyllonen

Reasoning ability refers to the power and effectiveness of the processes and strategies used in drawing inferences, reaching conclusions, arriving at solutions, and making decisions based on available evidence. The topic of reasoning abilities is multidisciplinary—it is studied in psychology (differential and cognitive), education, neuroscience, genetics, philosophy, and artificial intelligence. There are several distinct forms of reasoning, implicating different reasoning abilities. Deductive reasoning involves drawing conclusions from a set of given premises in the form of categorical syllogisms (e.g., all x are y) or symbolic logic (e.g., if p then q). Inductive reasoning involves the use of examples to suggest a rule that can be applied to new instances, invoked, for example, when drawing inferences about a rule that explains a series (of numbers, letters, events, etc.). Abductive reasoning involves arriving at the most likely explanation for a set of facts, such as a medical diagnosis to explain a set of symptoms, or a scientific theory to explain a set of empirical findings. Bayesian reasoning involves computing probabilities on conclusions based on prior information. Analogical reasoning involves coming to an understanding of a new entity through how it relates to an already familiar one. The related idea of case-based reasoning involves solving a problem (a new case) by recalling similar problems encountered in the past (past cases or stored cases) and using what worked for those similar problems to help solve the current one. Some of the key findings on reasoning abilities are that (a) they are important in school, the workplace, and life, (b) there is not a single reasoning ability but multiple reasoning abilities, (c) the ability to reason is affected by the content and context of reasoning, (d) it is difficult to accelerate the development of reasoning ability, and (e) reasoning ability is limited by working memory capacity, and sometimes by heuristics and strategies that are often useful but that can occasionally lead to distorted reasoning. Several topics related to reasoning abilities appear under different headings, such as problem solving, judgment and decision-making, and critical thinking. Increased attention is being paid to reasoning about emotions and reasoning speed. Reasoning ability is and will remain an important topic in education.