Learning Design for the 21st Century: Innovative and Evidence-Based Curriculum and Instructional Features for Building Critical Problem-Solving Skills

Concurrent Session 5

Brief Abstract

Many graduates are not adequately prepared for the future. In this session, the audience will actively design within a new evidence-based, curriculum and teaching model that fosters students’ ability to critically problem-solve, make discerning judgments and appreciate diverse perspective taking away specific skills and tools to use at their institutions.


Karen Miner-Romanoff is Assistant Dean for Academic Quality at NYU School of Professional Studies and leads the Center for Academic Excellence and Support. She holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration, with an emphasis in criminology, and a Masters in Public Policy and Administration. An attorney as well, she obtained her Juris Doctorate, with clerkships in the U.S. District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals, worked with a major law firm, and held a position as Special Assistant to the Ohio Attorney General Chief of Staff and Chief Counsel. Prior to joining NYU, Dr. Miner-Romanoff previously served as the Associate Provost for Academic Quality and Executive Director for the International Institute for Innovative Instruction, Dean of the College of Health and Public Administration and Criminal Justice Program Chair for Franklin University. During that time, her program received Outstanding Design Awards for both the program and the innovative Capstone. She is certified as an Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences peer reviewer and served as the Executive Counselor of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences section for Teaching and Education. She has received numerous awards and grants in the fields of criminal justice, leadership and teaching and learning, including the 2015 Academy of Criminal Justice Science Outstanding Mentor Award and was selected to serve on the ACE Women’s Network Executive Board. She chairs the American Education Research Association SIG for Faculty Development, Teaching and Evaluation and sits on multiple educational advisory, editorial boards, and criminal justice commissions, including the Ohio Consortium of Crime Science and the Franklin County Specialty Courts. She is a Fulbright Scholar having served in South Africa with the Human Science Research Council. She was also selected as a 2016 Learning Champion by E-Learning Magazine and is a National Science Foundation Data Consortium Fellow. She was recently honored for her research with the Franklin County human trafficking court as the 2017 Ohio Council of Criminal Justice Education Professional Practitioner. Her predominant research interests are juvenile transfer to adult court, deterrence as crime control, problem-solving courts and the teaching and learning sciences. Selected presentations include the International E-Learning Conference, International Conference of Social Science Research, the American Society of Criminology Conference, the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association, the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Conference, International Conference on Justice, Police and Law, and the Academy of Criminal Justice Science. Selected publications include articles in her major research interests, such as The Qualitative Report, Justice Policy Journal, Criminologists, American Journal of Criminal Justice, International Journal of Restorative Justice, Journal of Correctional Education, Journal of Human Trafficking, Journal of Criminal Justice Education, American Journal of Distance Learning, Journal of Online Pedagogy and Course Design, and South African Journal of Higher Education and was most recently recognized for her work in experiential online innovative curriculum at the 2017 International E-Learning conference.
I am the Director, Educational Technology in the Center for Academic Excellence and Support. Prior to joining NYU SPS, I was the Assistant Provost for Technology and Instructional Innovation at Saint Xavier University for almost seven years. During my time there, I led efforts to grow online offerings, improve LMS adoption, develop innovative learning spaces, and to foster a culture of continual pedagogical innovation. I have presented around the county to k-20 educators about the importance of creating progressive learning spaces and promoting a culture of innovation. My work within CAES focuses on developing a comprehensive approach to technology adoption and instructional development, as well as identifying new ways to foster and spread innovative teaching among NYU SPS faculty. I believes that faculty are not a homogeneous group and therefore growth in technology adoption must be fostered one-on-one and through the development of an “Empowerment” culture.

Extended Abstract

The Next 25 Years: In the United States, there is much debate about whether our graduates are properly equipped with the complex problem-solving skills and knowledge needed in today and tomorrow’s industries. For many, the answer is that they are not. In 2013, the McKinsey Center for Government reported that 58% of employers feel that graduates are not adequately prepared for the job.

Futurists recognize the need for greater thinking and conceptualizing skills. In extraordinary acceleration of Buckminster Fuller’s “knowledge doubling curve” that predicted knowledge doubling every 12-13 months, IBM predicted that by 2020 knowledge will double every 11-12 hours (Rosenberg, 2017).  Alvin Toffler (1970) warned that in the 21st century, those considered illiterate will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Similarly, students report that content is a commodity freely available and expect active and interactive instructional models that emulate the real-world (Dziuban et al., 2003; Dziuban et al., 2013).

So, how do you design and teach so that your students are prepared for the complex present and future? What theories, educational technologies, and pedagogical strategies will meet these needs? Brave higher education leaders and employers are calling for learning outcomes that include the ability to frame ill-structured problems that professionals face in their real-world workplace, make discerning judgements based on practical reasoning, act reflectively, take risks, engage in civil if difficult discourse, and proceed with confidence in the face of uncertainty (Bass, 2012). As Alan Snyder (2015), Associate Provost for Research and Graduate Studies at Lehigh University explains, “[t]he problem right now is that the traditional college curriculum waits too long to put students in over their heads.”

Given that what we know about the complexity of learning and new educational technologies, the options seem limitless. Selecting and implementing the right approaches and relying on the right theories for the desired learning outcomes can seem overwhelming. Today’s administrators, designers, and faculty often have the vision and dedication but not the resources, guidance, specialty, and contextualized roadmaps to build these complex critical skills that employers report absent but necessary for today’s graduates.

Positive Contributions to the Conference and Field: With such observations in mind, it is obvious that institutions expect more experiential and effective teaching and learning models. Therefore, to meet these needs, a university team of instructional designers, media specialists, and educational technologist started with two primary theories: experiential and problem-based. Problem-based learning (PBL) has become more accepted and prevalent in academia globally and is student-centered, fosters students’ sense of responsibility, and increases content learning as well as their cognitive and communication skills (Dischino, DeLaura, Donnelly, Massa, & Hanes, 2011; Saleh, Baker, & Al Barghuthi, 2017; Savery, 2006).

Today, learners report that experiential learning and industry experience are very important to their learning (Chavan, 2011). The ancient Chinese Confucian philosopher Xun Kuang said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” (Xun Kuang, 2019). This dictum is the essence of experiential learning. 

In experiential learning theory, six basic principles hold: (a) learning is a process not an outcome; (b) learning best takes place by drawing on students’ prior beliefs and opinions about a topic, examined and integrated with new ideas; (c) learning requires resolving conflicts and differences  in terms of existing and new ideas and reflection; (d) learning is holistic, involving the entire person, and requires adaptation in terms of problem-solving, creativity, and decisions. (e) learning requires consistent, stable transactions between person and environment; (f) learning creates new knowledge, both personal and social, in contrast to traditional modes in which previous knowledge is imparted to be absorbed (Kolb & Kolb, 2006).

Additionally, to assure that students were capable of working through the types of ill-structured problems found in today’s industries, we relied upon the understanding that learners negotiate understandings about knowledge and achieve learning through multiple sensory channels while activating prior knowledge and layering new skills based on relatable stories and newly learned concepts (Kolb & Kolb, 2006).  Students achieve learning through meaningful subjects, active engagement, and peer interactions—just as our audience will do in this session.

There is a clear lack of holistic theoretically grounded teaching and design models developed with evidence-based pedagogical approaches combined and evaluated in one approach to overcome traditional pedagogical weaknesses and biases (Reigeluth, Beatty, & Myers, 2017b). In addition, learner-centered pedagogical approaches have been lacking that foster students’ critical and creative thinking skills (Bernold, 2005; Saleh et al., 2017). It was with this need in mind that our new and rich instructional design and teaching model was created with a knowledge-in-practice approach.

Given the advantages and drawbacks of PBL, we set out to create the most effective and innovative educational experiences with the fewest constraints. Our goal was to develop critical thinkers and complex problem-solvers who can significantly contribute to the knowledge economy. The early survey results indicate high learning effectiveness and impact and high levels of student satisfaction. Ninety percent reported a significant increase in their problem-solving abilities, reasoning skills, interest in industry, ability to justify solutions, and recognize diverse perspectives—all necessary for the future global economies.

The easily scalable, discipline, and modality agnostic model includes unique applications and theoretical combinations in an ill-structured problem-solving design and teaching model for an entire program, single course, or module. Ill-structured problems are not clear-cut or well-defined; they result from specific contexts, have no obvious steps for solution, and include many unknowns. For instance, in a cybersecurity course, the ill-structured “problem” might be that your corporation would like to make better use of customers data to increase sales. In an environmental science course, the problem might be that your city has just been awarded the 2020 Olympics. These types of problems demand much thought, openness to alternatives, and expansive overviews for solutions (Grohs, Kirk, Soledad, & Knight; Jonassen & Hung, 2015).

Through the ill-structured problems, students learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Student-centered learning rather than the traditional passive learning has increased in recent years (Baeten, Dochy, Struyyen, Parmentier, & Vanderbruggen, 2016). The pedagogical approaches in the model employ student-centered problem-based learning that provides them with the opportunities to take risks, receive feedback, and try new solutions—just as they would in the real world.

Although the research indicates that problem-based learning can increase critical thinking skills, it also indicates that PBL can devolve into chaos (Jones, 2006; Ribiero, 2011; Ward & Lee, 2002). To mitigate this drawback, we designed student and faculty facilitation and problem-solving guides and provided orientations that specifically addressed this risk and how to manage and teach through it. Faculty and student trainings prepare both groups for their unique roles, provide additional support for the model, and help to overcome the reported chaos, fear, and intimidation (Pee, 2019) that can accompany an ill-structured learning environment.

Interactive Session Outcomes: Come and join us for this highly engaging and interactive session where you will walk away with tools you can immediately apply in your programs and classes. Hear, in the students’ own words, the impact on their learning. This session is structured to engage the audience with adaptable knowledge, applied learning, experiential conversations, templates, and take-away resources that will provide you with innovative strategies to designing, teaching and supporting your students through this complex learning process for the 21st century.  

In a collaborative and experiential session, the presenters will offer a short, engaging, and accessible slide show that illustrates the essential components of the model. Following this slide show, the audience with engage in the challenge of designing their own discipline-specific, real-world, ill-structured problem with 1:1 guidance from your presenters. In a lively discussion, presenters will facilitate new insights into the learning and teaching model and participants will share their problems. Then, collaboratively in small teams, participants will work through a short problem-solving guide, just as their students would do. Identifying their prior knowledge and what they think they need to know will provide an additional hands-on layer and insights to the session. Finally, the audience and presenters will engage in an informed question-and- answer session. With our pilot faculty, interactively engaging in this type of community of practice has resulted in a high level of satisfaction and should attract and engage design thinkers, faculty, and instructional support professionals attending the conference.

An Annotated Design Guide and Experiential Problem-Based Learning (EPBL) Toolkit will be available for those who would like to consider more blended elements and the educational technologies and features that support them, such as e-portfolios, podcasts, and embedded faculty teaching and feedback rubrics, as well as the learning cadence or scaffolding. Students and Faculty Handbooks that assure preparation for this innovative approach will also be available.

Join us as we seek to inspire and support the next generation of innovative curricula and the design thinkers, faculty, and higher education leaders who will engage and champion enriched/complex/multi-layered student learning for the 21st century. Join us and build a new skill and an action plan for your own EPBL design!