I layer – Define and analyze the real-life problem to choose the appropriate task sequence
1. Define the real-life problem's border and size
I noticed that it can be challenging to formulate a problem right away because it's hard to switch from thinking "from skills" to thinking "from situations". Here, I share my tips that can help you to formulate the problem in terms of 4C/ID model.

The original sources are here: https://www.4cid.org/
Briefly go through the basics of the first component and the heart of the whole program — the real problem situation.

The problem situation is like the final learning outcome of your program. But in 4C/ID model it is formulated as a situation for which you want to prepare your students instead of listing skills and knowledge that is more common for designing programs from learning objectives.

It will help you sketch the backbone of your future program, that is, the series of simulations representing the real-life problem. Also, it will become the basis for future steps and the guideline for the other components. This step will not require deep research as it is your first sketch. Your knowledge about the world could be enough, however, consulting with the practitioner is always welcome.
Think about the real-life problem situation that will become the basis of your educational program. Which real-life situation do you want your students to be able to solve?
Futher you will read several tips that will help you to improve your problem formulation. Remember that the real-life problem is the basis for future steps and the guideline for the other components.
Define the main character of the problem
For example, you want your students, the future drivers, to be able to manage the situations of driving a car when they need to safely drive a car for a planned route in a different environment (big cities and in small towns) at different times of the day, in different weather, and on various roads.

Another example (teaching how to learn): You want your students, the future learners, to be able to manage the learning situations where they create their learning pass to achieve learning outcomes in different educational programs.
Try to think about the problem from the perspective of a person who will face it in real life beyond education. You do not think about your student, even try to avoid the term "student"; instead, think about the future professional.
Remember that your goal is to create a series of simulations representing a whole real-life problem. However, sometimes it takes effort to figure out where the whole problem starts and where it finishes. Whether the problem is a whole or it is only part of another problem? For example, you are creating a program for school teachers. You want them to be able to solve the further problem: School teachers analyse the feedback received from colleagues. To figure out whether you correctly figured out the whole problem, ask yourself:

  • Is this situation independent in real life?
  • Is there something before and after it?
  • What is the ideal outcome of solving the problem?
For example, I cannot imagine a real-life situation where the teacher receives feedback from nowhere, analyses it, and then does nothing.

First, let's find the start of the problem — an initial condition, something that triggers the problem: Is there something before the analysis? It looks like to analyze the feedback, the teacher needs to receive it. In turn, it means that it should be collected. To collect the feedback, a teacher needs to plan the research. And it seems pointless to start planning research if there is no need for it (for example, the need to improve the lesson or test the method) So, it looks like the start of the problem is the teacher's need or someone else's need.

Second, let's check the end of the problem — the desired goal of the problem, an ideal outcome.: What is the ideal outcome of the analysis? I think that the outcome of the whole problem and of the analysis, in particular, is the teacher's action plan — what one need to do to improve their lesson design and teaching strategies.

Deciding the start and finish of a real-life problem could be challenging. Different practitioners could have their views on the problem borders. Remember, you do not need to make an ideal decision the first time. Your program and students will suggest whether the defined borders are enough.
Think about the solution: what high-level competences are needed to solve the problem?
The borders show us the start (the initial trigger) and the end (the goal) of the problem. Of course, the middle part is also very important for problem formulation as it is the process of solving the problem — the way from start to end. We formulate this way as a description of key high-level competencies that one will need to solve the problem!

For example, When there is the need to improve the lesson or test the method (start — trigger), school teachers plan and conduct research for collecting feedback (middle — solution) and, as a result, create an action plan (end — goal).
Think about the goal-condition
Unless the conditions to which you aim to prepare students are not chosen, the problem situation is not fully defined. People do not use their competencies in a vacuum. A context always surrounds us. If the aim is only to develop students' competencies without teaching them how to apply them in a different context and adjust them to different situations, then students could fail with learning transfer. Students could show great results during education but will fail beyond the program.

Try to think about the target condition for which you are preparing your students.

In the example with teachers, the conditions could be: In their own classroom for their own needs without external resistance. It means that we do not expect teachers to study big data or the whole organization in which they work, make research for the needs of others, and convince the organization that the research is needed.
Think about the size of your real-life problem: how much time and competencies are needed to solve it?
Remember that your goal is to create a series of simulations representing a whole real-life problem. The process is much easier when the whole real-life problem is small. I mean that the problem could demand from a person a little time and few skills to solve the whole problem from the start till the end.

For example, driving a car could take 10 minutes; preparing the presentation and pitching it could take several hours. It means you can give students a simulation of this real-life problem in the first lesson! Yes, it will be in an elementary condition, but still, the student can make the first whole real 10-minute drive like a real driver (in a very safe and easy condition); or one can prepare and pitch the whole real presentation on the first lesson again in an elementary condition.

And what if you want to prepare an architecture?
The month could pass from the start of the architecture problem, e.g., designing and building a bridge, till s/he finishes it! If we ask students to design and develop the whole building by simulating the real steps through which architecture is going (even in the most manageable condition), it will take too much time for the first lesson. This first lesson could last for half a year or even more! Imagine what a stressful timetable will be for the students: "The first lesson starts on 1st September 2023 at 10 a.m. and finishes at 12:00, 1st September 2024…." Of course, there is no chance for repetition of such a simulation so that the student could go through it several times per program.
In such a case, you will have to do more steps and also think about splitting the problem to subproblems.

That is why I suggest thinking about the size of the real-life problem for which you aim to prepare students: Can you show students a worked-out example where one is solving the whole real problem in an elementary condition for students, so it will not take much time and effort for students to watch it?

For example, if I am teaching the school teacher how to perform a literature search for their needs, I can show them a 30-minute video of how the expert performs a real search from start to end. It means that students could also solve it at a similar time. The key idea is that students could work with the whole problem from start to end.

If such a case demands a lot of students' time and effort, your problem is too big. You will need to consider splitting your whole real problem into parts. Now you can do it intuitively as a first sketch. In further layers, I will tell how you can split the whole problem into parts.
You will have to be very careful not to go into the separation of the problem into tiny pieces. In this case, it will look like designing the educational program from the learning outcomes. And as a result, the essence of the complex problem-based approach may be lost. In such a way, you could fail to immerse students in the most possible holistic or whole situation. Instead, you will create a hierarchy of activities focusing on each skill separately. So, even while splitting the problem into parts, strive to create parts as a whole as possible.
Great, you've sketched the heart of your future program — the real-life problem situation. Further, you will describe the problem and the conditions in which it could occur. The real-life problem is needed for choosing the best simulations of the real-life problem and choosing the way of sequencing them.
What we strive for:
You defined the problem situation that really exists in your students' actual life (they are already facing it) or soon (they will face it after the program). You want your students to be able to solve this problem situation after your program. Does the defined problem real from your students' perspective?
Whole situation VS skill
You described the situation, not just the separate action. You mentioned the main character, the start, the middle part, the final outcome, and the goal-condition to which you aim to prepare students.

Does your problem's description look like a description of a situation, or does it look like a description of an abstract skill?
The borders
You found the whole problem situation (it's start and finish), not part of it. Is there something before and after it?
The size
You analyzed the size of the problem. If it is big, so that the practitioner needs a lot of time to solve it, then you consider splitting the problem into parts. Strive to create parts as a whole as possible.
The algorithm for 4C/ID model from my experience
I — Define and analyze the real-life problem to choose the appropriate task sequence.
1. Define the real-life problem's border and size
2. Define the problem's complexity conditions
3. Sequence the classes' conditions
II layer — Design, develop, and prototype one task class.
4. Create learning tasks for one class
5. Improve the skill hierarchy and design the other three components for one class
6. Design the performance assessment for one class
7. Plan the development and prototyping of one task class

III — Improve the four components for one class.
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