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When the answer is wrong, but the solution is right

It's almost always guaranteed that when you make a mistake, you'll remember how you fixed it.

That learning process—the steps you take to figure out the problem—can sometimes be the most valuable way to learn, says University of Georgia College of Education professor Ikseon “Ike” Choi. With that learning process in mind, Choi and a team of researchers are now developing new curricula that can help all levels of learners become better at problem solving.

Through the College's RAIL lab—Research for the Advancement of Innovative Learning—Choi and others are creating "case-based" curricula that can change the way students are taught, and also shape how future doctors, veterinarians and pharmacists are developing their abilities.

"I think we often learn from failure in real life, and once you learn from failure you never forget," says Choi. "When you deal with a new problem, your first step could be going back to your previous experience to see if you have encountered anything similar, and trying to see how you can modify your previous experience to this new situation. Or, if you don't have that experience, you can call a friend who might share their story. You end up with a case-experience library."

Case-based curricula presents students with situations to solve, allowing them to take an active role in their learning. This method is the opposite of a lecture, where students take notes on information but aren't sure how to apply it to real-life situations.

One project, a partnership between RAIL, located in the College of Education's department of career and information studies, and the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine presents video vignettes to vet med students. As students move through the lesson, they face various problems and are asked to come up with their own solutions before learning what the experts in the video chose to do.

By incorporating the experts, Choi says, it helps the students see how others work out a solution—which, in some cases, still may not be correct—and allows them to begin to understand the complexities of decision-making in their own practice.

"So, there are multiple layers that really help the students to understand the whole system and process related to a failure," Choi says. "And, more importantly, when they think, 'That could be me,' we see a more motivated learner who is deeply engaged in the problem."

RAIL's Case-Based eLearning Group has several partnerships with units across UGA, including the College of Veterinary Medicine, the College of Pharmacy and the College of Engineering. Earlier this year, the group working on the project took a more international turn when Inje University College of Medicine in South Korea began implementing the unique case-based learning model Choi has developed over a decade.

This project is part of an established relationship between Inje and the College of Education, but this most recent step will integrate Choi’s case-based learning model into Inje's entire medical curriculum. It is also part of a decade-long research project to measure and evaluate the curriculum changes.

Choi has been working with a team in South Korea, which includes several UGA alumni, to begin infusing problem-based lessons in some of the first-year classes. Traditionally, the thought was that students must have a basic level of knowledge before they can begin to gain more practical experience.

But this curriculum change is turning that idea on its head.

"We believe that if you throw the challenge out first, whether they struggle with the challenge or they have access to basic knowledge and learn at that point, it's much more meaningful," he says. "I'm excited to put some cases into their basic courses."

Teachers play an important role in case-based learning by continuing the discussion after a solution is found, inviting students to reflect on the experience and others' solutions. Instructors demonstrate the reasoning process and guide students in reflection on their expertise and others' solutions.

The bigger picture in this considers any decision-making process a student might make, in or out of the classroom. When students learn to assess a situation, take stock of their own experiences and decide on a solution, says Choi, it has much larger implications on life.

And it's important for students, no matter their age, to accept that sometimes they won't come up with the right answer—and that's OK. Because, says Choi, the path to a solution is the lesson here, not whether or not you got the answer correct.

"The goal is not to solve the problem. The goal is to understand what you don't know," he adds. "Going back to our typical classroom paradigm, getting the right answer is not the goal—it's helping the students develop the tools to find the solutions."