Information Age Education
   Issue Number 216
August 31, 2017   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, six free books based on the newsletters are available: Joy of Learning; Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

Just as Good—And Less Expensive

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

On a recent morning, I woke up thinking about the idea of Just as Good—And Less Expensive. I wasn’t quite sure what I might mean by that statement, but my intuition said it could well be related to problem solving. Remember, my view is that one of the main goals of informal and formal education is to help students become better at solving the types of problems and accomplishing the types of tasks they currently face and/or are likely to face in the future.

So, before reading the rest of this IAE Newsletter, think about how you could turn the topic Just as Good—And Less Expensive into a lesson plan about problem solving that would be useful with a wide range of students.
My Approach to the Task at Hand

I began by refreshing my mind on what problem and problem solving mean (Moursund, 2017a).

Here is my definition of problem that fits well in many different disciplines. You (personally) have a problem if the following four conditions are satisfied:
  1. You have a clearly defined given initial situation.
  2. You have a clearly defined goal (a desired end situation).
  3. You have a clearly defined set of resources that may be applicable in helping you move from the given initial situation to the desired goal situation. These typically include some of your time, knowledge, and skills. Resources might include money, the Web, the telecommunications system, computers, friends, teachers, and so on. There may be specified limitations on resources, such as rules, regulations, guidelines, and timelines for what you are allowed to do in attempting to solve a particular problem.
  4. You have some ownership—you are committed to using some of your own resources, such as your knowledge, skills, time, and energy, to achieve the desired final goal.
The term problem solving includes dealing with:
  • Question situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and answering questions.
  • Problem situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and then solving ill-defined problems.
  • Task situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and accomplishing tasks.
  • Decision situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and making good decisions.
In addition, it involves using higher-order critical, creative, wise, and foresightful thinking to do all of the above. Often the results are shared, demonstrated, or used as a product, performance, or presentation.

Next, I personalized the problem-solving challenge by creating relevant examples that are personally meaningful. See item #4 above. This ownership aspect of problem solving and learning to solve problems is often overlooked in our schools.

The first example that popped into my head is when I go to a local store, shopping for a specific item that I need. I find a name brand version of the item I want, and I see that it is on a special sale. Great!

But, sitting on a nearby shelf, I see a store brand of a very similar, almost identical product, and it is less expensive than the name brand item on sale. I ask myself: Is it just as good? Aha. The example I picked suggests a complexity in the challenge I have presented. The store brand might be better than the name brand, equally good, or not as good. All of a sudden, my problem becomes more complex as I wonder whether the store brand is “Just as good and less expensive”.

Next, I wonder whether the item I want might be still cheaper on the Web. How soon do I need the item, and how much trouble is involved in ordering it online? Another aha! This raises the issues of time/convenience, knowledge needed to order online, and also delayed gratification. Clearly, my time is an important resource. And, I might feel uneasy about ordering online, or not entirely sure how to accomplish the task. It occurs to me to ask whether delayed gratification is sort of a negative in this purchasing process. Clearly, purchasing online and waiting for the item to arrive takes away some of my instant gratification—and this is a type of expense.

In summary, the original question I raised caused me to mentally review a definition of the terms problem and problem solving. It brought up the issue of quality of a product and the challenge of comparing the quality of two relatively similar items. It illustrated time as a resource, and knowledge about online purchasing as a resource. It illustrated delayed gratification.

These are all important issues for students to learn to consider as they grow toward responsible adulthood.
Some More Examples

This section presents a few more examples that occurred to me. Think about their relevance to students you work with. For a classroom activity, set your students to working individually or in small groups to create their own examples and to discuss the pros and cons—and the often quite challenging questions/issues—inherent to the examples.

Here is my list:
  1. Generic drugs versus non-generic drugs/
  2. GMO (genetically modified organisms) foods versus non-GMO foods.
  3. Organic foods versus non-organic foods.
  4. Free software versus commercially available (non-free) software.
  5. Free educational materials (such as lesson plans, reading materials, problem sets, tutorials) versus commercially available (non-free) materials (Moursund, 8/21/2016).
  6. Reading materials available in hard copy versus reading materials available at a smaller price online.
  7. Store-bought household cleaners versus “create it yourself” household cleaners. For example, using vinegar water and newspapers to wash windows versus much more expensive commercial products.
  8. Communicating orally via Smartphone versus communicating by texting or by email versus communicating via surface mail.
  9. Home cooking versus buying fast foods.
  10. Using free online manipulatives such as dice, spinners, or geoboard versus using the physical version of these items.
  11. Playing games online against a computer versus playing games face-to-face against human opponents (Moursund, 2017b).
One More Example: Reading Online

The development of reading and writing about 5,100 years ago marked a major turning point in human history. The development of the movable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440 was another major turning point. In the nearly 600 years since the invention of the Gutenberg press, the technology of written and oral communication has made astounding progress.

I make extensive use of this progress in my own reading and writing. For example, as I sit in front of my desktop computer writing this newsletter, I make frequent use of the Web and my collected writings. My word processor automatically indicates possible errors in spelling and grammar. When necessary, I make use of computer graphics and graphing software.

For entertainment, keeping up with the news, and my continuing education, I spend considerable time each day in online reading. I also spend quite a lot of time viewing video material.

Hmm. In some sense, this viewing is a form of reading. That is, one can think about reading and writing as including viewing still and motion graphical materials, and creating such materials.

In terms of dollar costs, the expenses of accessing and using online materials tend to be low relative to accessing the material from hardcopy printed materials. And I certainly find it to be more convenient.

But, expense is only one of the issues. For example, is online access harder on one’s eyes? Is comprehension in reading online books and articles as good as reading these materials in hardcopy? Is the notetaking or underlining one might do in hardcopy materials better than the somewhat similar activities one can do in online text? Is comprehension and learning from multimedia interactive online materials better than from hardcopy materials?

These are all researchable questions, and quite a lot of such research has been done. I suspect that answers vary from individual to individual, and also from one content area to another. Thus, for example, a student studying one particular topic might find that using highly interactive, intelligent, multimedia computer-assisted learning materials produces better learning than reading offline, hardcopy materials—and another student might not!

Part of a good education is coming to understand oneself as a learner, and making effective use of such understanding when faced by a learning challenge. That is certainly one of the goals of education and a continuing problem faced by our educational systems at all grade levels.

What You Can Do

Because of the importance that I place on teaching problem solving, I have developed a habit of viewing the world through problem-solving colored glasses. In terms of your own education and that of others you help to educate, teach yourself how to switch into a viewing the world through problem-solving colored glasses mode. From time to time, pause and spend a little time thinking about decisions you are about to make, questions you are seeking to answer, and so on. In this metacognition activity, think about what you are learning about yourself as a problem solver and what you are learning about becoming better at solving problems.

If you are a teacher, teach this technique to your students. Help them to develop this reflection, metacognition, self-instruction habit of mind. It will serve them well in their lives of being lifelong learners.

References and Resources

Moursund, D. (2017a). Problem solving. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2017 from
Moursund, D. (2017b). Learning problem-solving strategies by using games. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/15/2017 from

Moursund, D. (2017c). Math problem-based learning. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/15/2017 from

Moursund, D. (2016). Problem solving: Posing and answering questions. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/15/2017 from

Moursund, D. (8/21/2016). IAE lists of free online educational resources. IAE Blog. Retrieved 7/14/2017 from

Moursund, D. (2/19/2016).  Math methods for preservice elementary teachers. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download PDF file at  Download Microsoft Word file at

Moursund, D. (1/20/2016). Learning problem-solving strategies by using games: A guide for educators and parents. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download PDF file at Download Microsoft Word file at

Moursund, D. (2/28/2015). Technology and problem solving: PreK-12 education. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download Microsoft Word file at Download PDF file at Access on the Web at

Moursund, D. (1/19/2011.) Introduction to problem solving in the Information Age. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download Microsoft Word file at Download PDF file at

Moursund, D. (11/8/2007).) The mind and the computer: Problem solving in the Information Age. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education.  Download the Microsoft Word file from Download the PDF file from

Moursund, D. (11/8/2007). Teacher’s manual: The mind and the computer: Problem solving in the Information Age. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education.  Download the Microsoft Word file from Download the PDF file from

Yates, B.C., & Moursund, D. (2016). Computers and problem solving: A historical perspective. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/15/2017 from First published in the December/January 19898/1989 issue of The Computing Teacher.

Free Educational Resources from IAE

Moursund, D. (2017). Free educational videos. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2017 from

Moursund, D, (2017). Free open source software packages. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2017 from

Moursund, D. (2017). Open source and open content educational materials. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2017 from

Moursund, D. (2017). TED talks. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2017 from

IAE publishes and makes available four free online resources:


David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executuve Officer of AGATE.


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Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities and free materials include the IAE-pedia at, a Website containing free books and articles at, a Blog at, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at and all back issues of the Newsletter at