Solving ill-structured problems mediated by online- discussion forums: Mass customisation of learning


  • Ramya Chandrasekaran
  • Aik Ling Tan
  • Seng Chee Tan
  • Foong May Yeong



ill-structured problems, asynchronous online discussion forum, feedback, mass customisation


To foster students’ learning of critical-thinking skills, we incorporated ill-structured problems in a Human Diseases module for third-year Life Sciences students. Using a problem-solving rubric and working in groups of three, students attempted to solve problems presented to them. We mediated their discussions by asynchronous online discussion forums (AODFs) as part of mass customisation of learning for 40 students where personalised learning was constrained by structure of the module. We examined the quality of students’ discussion, focusing on the feedback group members provided to one another, using an interpreted Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) taxonomy to code students’ feedback. Our analysis indicated that the students were able to provide uni-structural and multi-structural level in relation to solving an ill-structured problem, even though they are not used to solving ill-structured problems. This indicated that in a mid-size class, while personalised-learning is not always easy, it is possible to mass customise learning for students using common ill-structured problems in a class by mediating problem-solving using student discussions as feedback. However, more can be done to scaffold peer feedback on solving ill-structured problems so that the level of collaborative-learning can be improved in a mass customised model that approaches personalised learning.