Using the Five Whys Methods in the Classroom: How to Turn Students into Problem Solvers

  • Saeed Moaveni Minnesota State University, Mankato
  • Karen C. Chou Northwestern University
Keywords: problem solvers, 5 whys, structured problem solving, root cause analysis


During the past few decades, a great deal of attention have been devoted to root cause analysis and structured problem solving techniques. One such technique is called the "Five Whys" which is used by many corporations to solve problems. The "Five" is an arbitrary number that is intended to promote deeper probing into the root cause of a problem by asking many "Whys". In this paper, we discuss how we used this technique in civil engineering classes to get the students to work out, on their own, what they did wrong in class assignments and fix them. The approach presented in this paper also better prepare students for practice of engineering. When a product malfunctions, the engineer(s) who designed the product need to go back and figure out what went wrong and fix it. The benefits and challenges of using the "Five Whys" Technique to turn students into problem solvers on their own are also presented in this paper.

Author Biographies

Saeed Moaveni, Minnesota State University, Mankato
Professor of Mechanical Engineering Department of Mechanical and Civil Engineering
Karen C. Chou, Northwestern University
Assistant Chair & Clinical Professor Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering