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Educational assessments of the 21st century: Measuring and understanding students’ adaptability in complex problem solving situations (ADAPT21) (completed)

How do we adapt and how do we measure adaptability? This project looks into these questions. Photo: Unsplash

Idea in Brief

The challenge

Adaptability is the ability to adjust one’s thinking, behavior, and affect to novelty and changes. Although adaptability is considered to be a critical skill, particularly in complex problem solving situations, performance-based assessments of these skills are largely missing. Yet, how can teachers know that their instruction helps students to develop these skills without appropriate assessments?

The starting point

This study builds on so-called “minimal complex systems” – computer-based assessments that capture the core cognitive processes that are involved in complex problem solving. These systems will present students with complex problems that are subject to novelty and change. 

The expected outcomes

At least two outcomes are expected: First, a new assessment of adaptability will be developed and validated. Second, based on the resultant data, further insights into the nature of adaptive thinking, behavior, and affect will be provided. This helps educators to understand the determinants, circumstances, and processes of students’ adaptability.

Project summary

All life is problem solving. We are most often faced with situations, in which the information that is needed to solve a problem is not immediately obvious and in which things can change quite rapidly. For instance, imagine the software on your smartphone went through an update and has therefore novel features, designs, and functionalities. You will find yourself in a new and perhaps unfamiliar situation that requires you to learn and adjust your previous thinking about how your smartphone works.


The ability to cope with such a situation that is subject to novelty and changes is referred to as “adaptability”. Given the rapid development of modern information and communication technology in our society, this ability has become as important as never before. But how exactly does adaptability work? Which steps need to be taken in order to become adaptive? How does adaptability relate to the actual success in solving a problem? And, most importantly, how can we know that we are adaptable?

Educational perspective

This study takes an educational perspective on these questions, thereby focusing on how secondary school students’ creatively adjust their thinking, behavior, and drive to changes and novelty in problem solving situations. Specifically, in order to study how adaptability works, a computer-based test will be developed that captures the construct. This innovative test will be evaluated with respect to its quality and the extent to which it measures what it is supposed to measure.

To further understand the nature of adaptability as a construct that may assist students in academic and non-academic contexts, its relations to constructs such as intelligence, school achievement, self-concept, and the willingness to engage in problem solving will be investigated.

The project will generate new knowledge about adaptability in complex problem solving situations as a key skill in 21st century education.


The project is funded by The Research Council of Norway.

Final Project Report

The final project report can be accessed via the Open Science Framework:

Scherer, R., & Niculescu, A. C. (2021, June 30). Educational assessments of the 21st century: Measuring and understanding students’ adaptability in complex problem solving situations (ADAPT21). Report to The Research Council of Norway.


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Published June 19, 2017 1:07 PM - Last modified May 10, 2022 8:14 AM


Any queries regarding the project can be directed to Ronny Scherer.

This project is financed by: