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8.6.2 Adapt your strategy to overcome difficulties

Often plans run into difficulties because of unforeseen problems or changing circumstances. For example, you may be running over your deadlines, the resources or support you were expecting are unavailable to you, or your personal circumstances may have changed. Plans are only a means to an end, however. If you run into difficulties, take some time to think about what effect they will have on your plans, and what changes you may need to make to your overall strategy to achieve the outcomes you
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8.6.1 Monitor and critically reflect on your use of problem-solving skills

As you use problem-solving skills in your work, refer back to the outcomes you hope to achieve and the goals you have set yourself. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • am I on track to achieve my outcomes?

  • what difficulties in using problem-solving techniques have I experienced and what have I done about them?

  • how have the choices and decisions I made impacted on me and on others?

  • do I need to make any ch
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8.5.4 Manage each stage of the work effectively

Effective management means putting your resources to work and monitoring your progress. For each stage of the work you will need to gather together the resources necessary in good time, and maintain the co-operation of other people working with you. Think about how you will keep the project moving forward for all those involved. Are the goals still clear, or have you become enmeshed in detail?

Use milestones or review points to keep your plan up to date and, if necessary, modify your pl
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8.5.2 Identify options that have a chance of success

Explore and compare the options available to you. Be critically aware of the different factors such as technical, commercial, political, academic or personal interests that may influence your choice of options.

How will you arrive at those solutions most likely to meet the agreed conditions for success? In comparing possible approaches you might use:

  • decision-making techniques: developing and applying a decision tree to help you select a
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8.5.1 Generate a variety of ways of tackling problems

Where the best way, or, indeed, any way, of tackling a problem is not obvious, there are a number of tools and techniques which can be useful to stimulate ideas and different ways of thinking:

  • reasoning: reaching conclusions or deciding on paths of action by means-end analysis or critical-path analysis;

  • matching: recognising similarities with other situations, drawing analogies, adapting solutions that have worked or s
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8.5 Monitoring progress

This stage is about keeping track of your progress. Are you tackling your problem-solving activities effectively? How do you know? Could you have done things differently, made use of different tools (such as software packages) or facilities, taken more advantage of tutorials, training sessions or local expertise, or recognised that such support would have helped you?

Monitoring your own performance and progress needs practice; try to stand back and look at what you are doing as if you w
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8.4.1 Plan your use of problem-solving skills and select methods

Exploring and planning an activity often results in different options, possibilities and ways forward. Some approaches will be more feasible or will interest you more than others. At this stage you need to think about how you will be using your problem-solving skills and how you will assess the overall quality of your work. To help you make these decisions, you may find tools such as concept maps or critical-path analysis helpful in representing the different parts of the problem-solving acti
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8.3.4 Research information from other sources

Spend some time finding out about what you will need to help you complete your problem-solving work successfully and who you need to consult. You may need to arrange access to a library, the Internet, databases on CD-ROM or online, or specialist training or publications. If you need to learn more about tools or techniques (for example concept maps, critical-path diagrams or flowcharts), then look first at your course material, and then at study guides or notes aimed at your area of interest (
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8.3.3 Explore problems

Recognising and framing problems so that you can tackle them effectively is a central part of a problem-solving strategy. Often, problems are not presented in a well-defined way, and it is up to you to define exactly why a problem exists and what its boundaries are.

Recognising a problem means identifying that there is a gap between the present situation and what is desirable, and establishing that no immediate solution is at hand. This exploratory stage is about finding out more about
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8.3.2 Identify the outcomes you hope to achieve

An outcome is the result or consequence of a process. For example, you may want contribute effectively to a design project in a course, or work in a team to improve a product or system. In this case the design or product improvement is an outcome, and using your problem-solving skills is part of the process by which you achieve that outcome. You may find it useful to discuss or negotiate the outcomes you hope to achieve with others. Solving problems will often depend to some extent on other k
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8.3.1 Identify opportunities for using problem-solving skills

Where and how will you use problem-solving skills over the next 3–4 months? What opportunities do you have to develop your skills? For example, you may be working on a course project with a defined goal but the best route to that goal is not clear; you might be involved in contributing to the design of a system, improving its performance or investigating the feasibility of ideas; you may be involved in resolving resource or staffing difficulties, or in planning a major event.

Problems
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8.3 Developing a strategy

In developing a strategy for improving your problem-solving skills you are aiming to:

  • identify the opportunities you can use to develop and practise your problem-solving skills;

  • establish the outcomes you hope to achieve and targets for achieving them;

  • identify the resources you might use for developing your skills, including people who might be able to help you as well as sources of data, books, study guides, tutoria
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8.2 Working on improving your problem-solving skills

The three-stage framework for developing and improving your skills provides the basis for you to become more confident in:

  • developing a strategy for using a variety of problem-solving techniques and tools, including being clear about what you want to achieve, identifying relevant sources of information that will help you to achieve your goals, and planning how you intend to improve your skills;

  • monitoring your progress and critically
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8.1 Introduction to improving your skills in problem solving

This key skill develops your problem-solving skills in your studies, work or other activities over a period of time. To tackle this key skill, you will need to plan your work over at least 3–4 months to give yourself enough time to practise and improve your skills, to seek feedback from others, and to monitor your progress and evaluate your strategy.

Problem solving runs through many other activities and, rather like the key skill ‘Improving own learning and performance’, it
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7.6.5 Identify ways of further developing your number skills

Think about your overall number skills and suggest areas where you feel you need to improve, based on the experience you have gained. You might find it useful to discuss with a tutor, manager, another student or work colleague how you might do this. There may be changes you feel you need to make so that you can move forward, such as trying to extend the facilities and resources available to you, changing the way you study to make best use of the time you have, or focusing on improving your ow
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7.6.4 Evaluate the effectiveness of your strategy

Using the records in your Skills File, look back over your number skills development work and think about how your decisions, and the facilities and constraints of your working environment influenced the way you tackled the task. How effective was your strategy in improving your skills? Identify what was and was not helpful in achieving your goals and outcomes, and assess how your own strengths and weaknesses contributed to this.

Evaluate your achievements against the criteria you estab
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7.6.3 Explain results in relation to your work

You should be able to explain the results of your work, drawing attention to any patterns, trends or relationships you have identified. What are the consequences of your work? Does it support the hypotheses or assumptions you started with? How did you carry out your work? What lines of enquiry did you follow to reach your conclusions? Were there any dead-ends where you felt you could not make further progress, or particular insights that you felt helped you to understand your work better? You
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7.6.2 Present information effectively

Organise your data so that you can use it to illustrate and support your arguments or point of view. To do this successfully you must be clear about what you want to say, who is your intended audience, and what points you want your audience to understand. Think about the most appropriate way to present your findings, and whether particular types of charts, graphs or diagrams will bring out the relationships you want to demonstrate. Choosing graph axes carefully (for example using non-linear s
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1.1.1 When do we use key skills?

Key skills underpin almost everything we do. In the following table, there are some examples of when we use key skills as part of our studies or in other areas of our lives. As you read through the list, think about how confident you are in each of the key skills.

Click on 'View document' below for a printable version of Table 1 that you can fill in.

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7.6.1 Interpret results and identify your main findings

In stating your conclusions and interpreting the results of your work, you should refer back to what you set out to investigate or demonstrate. Have you achieved your goals? What evidence have you got to support your conclusions? If you are making general statements based on your work (for example a statistical analysis of data), then you should be able to explain clearly the reasoning that has led to your conclusions. In quoting mathematical results you should be able to say whether the resu
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