Research: Epistemological Beliefs and Ill-structured Problem-solving

Charoula Angeli and Nicos Valanides, both at the University of Cyprus, have recently published a fascinating brief study of research entitled “Epistemological Beliefs and Ill-structured Problem-solving in Solo and Paired Contexts”

This mixed-method exploration sought to examine the different relationships between epistemological beliefs and quality of thinking when an individual encountered an ill-structured problem on their own and then with someone else. Their results suggest “there was not a systematic connection between epistemological beliefs and ill-structured problem solving in either solo or paired contexts.” They go on to suggest that emotional and cultural factors have an impact on individual ability to resolve the problem and advocate further research on this dimension of epistemology.

They used an interesting variation on King and Kitchener’s (1994) Seven Stage Model using just three dimensions. I can imagine some symbiosis with Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck (1961) Value Orientations framework might add value to their deliberations.

A simplified epistemological beliefs rubric

View of knowledge:
Knowledge is assumed to be either right or wrong. If it is not absolutely certain, it is only temporarily uncertain and will soon be determined. A person can know with certainty through three sources: (a) direct observation; (b) what “feels right;” and (c) authorities (experts, teachers, parents).
Concept of justification:
Beliefs need no justification or they are justified through an authority figure such as a teacher or a parent. Most questions are assumed to have a right answer so there is little or no conflict in making decisions about disputed issues.

View of knowledge:
Knowledge is uncertain (there is no right or wrong) and idiosyncratic to the individual. Knowledge is seen as subjective and contextual.
Concept of justification:
Beliefs are justified by giving reasons and evidence idiosyncratic to the individual. Beliefs are filtered through a person’s experiences and criteria for judgement.

View of knowledge:
Knowledge is constructed by comparing evidence and opinion on different sides of an issue. Knowledge is the outcome of the process of reasonable inquiry leading to a well-informed understanding.
Concept of justification:
Beliefs are justified by comparing evidence and opinion from different perspectives. Conclusions are defended as representing the most complete, plausible understanding of an issue on the basis of the available evidence.


Angeli, C., & Valanides, N. (2012). Epistemological Beliefs and Ill-structured Problem-solving in Solo and Paired Contexts. Educational Technology & Society, 15 (1), 2–14.

King, P. M., & Kitchener, K. S. (1994). Developing reflective judgment: Understanding and promoting intellectual growth and critical thinking in adolescents and adults. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers

Kluckhohn, F. (Rockwood), & Strodtbeck, F. L. (1961). Variations in Value Orientations. Evanston, Ill: Row, Peterson.

Author: Simon Paul Atkinson

30 years as an educational strategist, academic practitioner and developer, educational developer, educational technologist, and e-learning researcher. Simon is now an Educational Strategic Consultant. An experienced presenter and workshop facilitator. Previous roles include Head of Learning Design at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning (BPP University), Academic Developer (London School of Economics), Director of Teaching and Learning (Massey University - College of Education), Head of Centre for Learning Development (University of Hull), Academic Developer (Open University UK)

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