you're reading...
Learning at its Best

Teaching without Knowing, and Finding Problems to Solve

(Originally posted on the Edunautics blog)

Learning Together

Learning Together

I’ve already written about one of the key paradigm shifts that I think needs to happen in education: education needs to be real. See “Online Education is not the Disruption.”

Now for two more.

We want our students to become expert learners, right? Well, how are we going to get them there if we never model advanced learning? Part of the current paradigm of education that I think needs to change is we believe that in order to teach, you must know. I think this mistaken belief is a critically limiting factor in how we approach education. It’s the curse of knowledge. If we already know the answer, how can we model advanced learning skills?

I think if we make this basic change to how we structure our learning experiences, we will greatly increase development of many of the critical skills we so long for in our graduates and take them further than we otherwise could towards becoming advanced learners themselves. (And for those worried about the content, from my experience, content knowledge is actually deepened.)

The paradigm sift:
Students need to work alongside expert learners in two situations: one where the expert learner is also an expert in the area they are exploring and, two, when the expert learner does not yet know where they are going or how to get there. 

Now on to another paradigm shift that needs to happen: we need to stop providing problems and their solutions. I take that back: we need to stop ONLY providing problems and their solutions. We need to provide the algorithmic experiences of known problem and stepwise solution, but only as we scaffold learners to develop the skills to identify problems and opportunities on their own—and then to architect solutions, set goals and targets, monitor progress, leverage resources, be adaptable to feedback in the loop, challenge their own assumptions, etc.

The paradigm shift:
We need to stop spoon-feeding students with problems and the steps to their solutions.

This loops back to the advanced learner point above, because what better way to learn to identify problems and architect their solutions than alongside an advanced learner who is also swimming with you?

And both of these shifts tie in to the problem of education needing to be real. I believe it is possible to have most of our learning take place, at least in the middle and high school grades, through solving real problems, alongside advanced learners, with the students being intimately involved in the identification of the problems/opportunities to tackle, and in the planning and execution of their solutions. And we need to start scaffolding towards this in the earliest grades.

So the tally now stands at:

  1. Education must be real.
  2. Teachers should be expert learners and learning facilitators, who explore with their students both inside and outside their areas of expertise.
  3. We must scaffold our students towards identifying problems and architecting solutions.

About Aaron Eden

What's your Give? I think that is a critical question in everything we do. What value are we creating? The core of my work is educating for a sustainable future. Value-oriented learning. Community-integrated learning. Social entrepreneurship. Emergent, inquiry-driven, entrepreneurial learning. I've spent the last 20 years designing and facilitating face-to-face and online learning experiences and co-creative processes that help individuals and organizations develop the skills and attributes to transform themselves and the world. I have extensive experience in instructional and learning experience design, innovation, and technology spaces.


15 thoughts on “Teaching without Knowing, and Finding Problems to Solve

  1. excellent, please visit marion brady website on reality-based learning

    Posted by tim mcclung | December 19, 2014, 11:57 am
  2. Yes, yes, and yes. Now, how to create conditions 1, 2 and 3 in a traditional classroom setting without it costing tons of money so that the model is accessible to all….And I believe one the biggest stumbling blocks to this is how teachers are trained, and who is/isn’t motivated to enter the profession. Thanks for your post, Aaron.

    Posted by lilmelissa1 | December 20, 2014, 10:53 am
  3. Aaron,

    This is a great posting and it reminded me immediately of so many of the things that are coming out of work in the field of design-based learning. Using methods guided by the design thinking heuristic students in the class my colleague and I have taught start by finding problems to solve, understanding the user and building empathy for his/her/their situation, ideating, iterating, prototyping, testing, and moving back through the process when their initial prototypes fail.

    Just the other day I was speaking to my colleague and she commented on how her students were asking her what they needed to do and how they would do it. Her response was, quite clearly, “I don’t know yet, because I don’t know (and neither do you) what you’ll need to know to solve a problem you’ve not yet defined.”

    There’s so much more regarding design thinking and the learning process that has ignited me and my practice in the classroom over the past few years. I’d like to direct you to the “design learning network” as well as, organizations that are moving forward to bring this type of learning to teachers everywhere and, INDEED @lilmelissa, to help facilitate change in teacher training programs.

    Posted by Garreth Heidt | December 25, 2014, 10:10 am
    • Garreth,
      Thanks so much for your reply. I’ll second the Design Thinking lens as a great tool for problem identification and solving. Take a look at the pop-up design thinking studio I started with some colleagues a couple of years ago, iLead+Design.

      Also, a colleague is just about to publish a book on 20% time projects, which is a great way to get this kind of teaching into a school program. Check out his website at

      Posted by Aaron Eden | December 25, 2014, 11:20 am
      • Hey Aaron! Great timing as I’ll be engaging in 20% time for the first time when I return to the classroom in January. I’ve 9th grade gifted students with whom I’ve already broached the subject and they’re chomping at the bit.

        I’ll check out the pop-up a bit later. Thanks again.

        Posted by Garreth Heidt | December 25, 2014, 1:16 pm
  4. Aaron I like what you have to say. I am studying right now to become a teacher, and one of the biggest things that has scared me about being one is what if I do not know all the answers. Along with that, I totally agree that we should not teach by the problem and solution type. This is a great post and I like what you had to say.

    Posted by Caroline Mitchell | February 1, 2015, 7:43 pm
  5. love the article! the problem solve method really doesn’t seem to be the best. There are questions you can’t answer, teach our students to teach themselves and expand beyond what is in a lesson or book. engage them!

    Posted by T.mason | February 23, 2015, 12:25 am
  6. My name is Lydia Lynch. I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I will be posting a summary of your post and my comment on a post for my blog. You will be able to see the post no later than April 12th on my blog You can email me at or follow me on Twitter at @lydiaruth118.

    I completely agree that teachers need to be expert learners along with their students. They need to lead by example and be role models for their students. Teachers won’t always know everything there is to know so why not figure it out alongside the students!

    Posted by Lydia Lynch | March 24, 2015, 5:58 pm
  7. Another beautiful post, Aaron. I love your postmodern orientation. Can’t we finally move beyond “knowing” as the currency of the educational system. Could we instead prize wondering, noticing, creating, collaborating, asking, feeling, etc. And what would be the implications? I’d love for you to post more portraits of how the concepts about which you write could look in practice within classrooms. (Or maybe “classrooms” are part of the problem, eh? Yeah, now that I think about it, put a period after “practice” and take the last two words out of that sentence.)

    Posted by Paul Freedman | June 21, 2015, 5:42 pm
    • Paul – clearly you and I need to connect. I’ve been trying to get “ the classroom…” removed from the end of every statement about learning. It’s such a limiting assumption.

      And thanks for the prompt to get more concrete.

      Here is a link to iLead+Design, a community action studio program I started in California that is a baseline model.

      The idea is to change the model of school to that of a problem solver in its own right, not just a training ground for later action. In this model learning is done best along side advanced learners and doers, doing real things, together. It’s back to apprenticeship.

      Reach out me at Aaron at edunautics dot com to talk more.

      Posted by Aaron Eden | June 23, 2015, 9:12 pm
    • Paul, hoping my latest post helps address the “what does it look like” question, at least to a degree.

      Posted by Aaron Eden | January 13, 2016, 3:01 am
  8. Aaron,

    I have been asked to start a new class in design thinking and Innovation at my HS for next year. I’m basing a good deal of it on the Moutaintop program at Lehigh University ( ), the work of Don Wettrick (his book Pure Genius) and my own experiences with the world of design-based education. I’m looking forward to it, as it harkens back to the work I used to do for over a

    However, I’m always looking for information and ways to frame what I want to do. Educon (in my backyard almost) is one place to find like-minded individuals, design-lab HS in Delaware is another place of inspiration. There are so many educators helping to bring design and design thinking to light now. And your blog, especially for the depth of insight into character, value, and the needs for changing our pedagogy is so crucial to that.

    Thank you.

    Posted by Garreth Heidt | January 30, 2016, 11:11 am

Join the Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,097 other followers

Comments are subject to moderation.

%d bloggers like this: