We all know that thinking comes naturally to us – and has a major role in placing us at the highest hierarchical level among the rest of the species. However, the concept of thinking critically is what distinguishes leaders from ordinary thinkers. This realization was actually enforced recently, while I was talking to my friend. I was rather intrigued with the fact that her daughter was being taught critical thinking skills at kindergarten level in her school. And it made me think how smart the educators were, training little ones at this age on how to overcome any challenges that they may face as the future workforce. These educators have not limited their critical thinking prowess to themselves; they have ensured that such a futuristic skill is imparted and hence, acquired at the foundation level.
Critical thinking is the buzzword for educators around the world and has acquired the status of ‘the’ most important intellectual skill in the 21st Century. Therefore, as instructional designers, it is all the more important for us to understand the various components of critical thinking so that we can focus on developing the critical thinking skills of our target audience while designing effective learning solutions.
Learning skills should enable one to move from dependence to self-reliance, as aptly conveyed in the old adage: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
And, this is exactly what instructional designers should strive to do while creating learning solutions for their target audience. All the more so because we know that while traditional learning would simply enable our learners to memorize solution to a problem, critical thinking will provide them with tools to solve many unfamiliar problems.
The basis for this is our own example as instructional designers – when we evaluate information and our thoughts in a disciplined way, it helps us refine our thought processes while creating a solution. We think and assess information more comprehensively and also, identify and reject false ideas or ideologies.
Critical thinking is not thinking a lot; it is the kind of thinking that moves us from ‘simple’ to ‘complex’ and from ‘obvious’ to ‘hidden’. We begin to progress effortlessly from ‘who’ to ‘how’ and ‘what’ to ‘why’ while thinking. And this leads to the removal of biases and flaws. When we use critical thinking skills during the creation process, the end product becomes effective in instilling critical thinking skills into the minds of its users.
As learning solution providers, it is important that we remember that memorizing is not learning. To think is to learn and hence, we need to foster higher-order thinking skills in the learners through our solutions. Thinking will give the learners a wider perspective about things and the power to reflect and monitor their own learning. It will also give them the power to express their well supported thoughts and opinions and help uncover biases and prejudices.
Our solutions should act as a straight path to freedom of expression and enable the learners to differentiate between facts and opinions. It should also give them the courage to say “I don’t know” and thus help them to be ready to learn and modify their existing opinions. Our learning solutions should enable them to make assertion based on logic and evidence and give them the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking while helping them evaluate and improve their own creative ideas.
As creators, it is our responsibility to transform learners into critical thinkers who continuously drive on curiosity, perspective, knowledge and are willing to work at being properly informed. It will move them away from rash conclusions, mystification, reluctance to question and instead, pull them toward clear expression, intellectual discipline, and acceptance of personal responsibility for their own thinking. This will lead to intellectual independence and removal of fallacies.
We need to ensure that any learning content that we create does not present information as overly ‘black’ or ‘white,’ creating a ‘false dichotomy’ for learners. Black and White thinking often reflects underlying intolerance of ambiguity, which leads to flawed conclusions. If individuals think in false dichotomies, they will draw false conclusions. For example, if Option A is false, Option B must be true. Or, if one doesn’t hold attitude X, one must hold attitude Y.
We should always bear in mind that whatever learning content we produce; it should instigate the learners to formulate questions, gather information, apply the information, consider the implications, and explore other points of view. This will enable them to sift through a sea of information and find what they are actually looking for. Adaptive learning, experiential learning, and diagnostic feedback are some of the effective instructional strategies that can be used while creating any learning solution to instigate critical thinking among learners.
If all of us learn to use critical thinking skills, we will have the power to make this world a better place to live in.
Always remember that as learning solution providers, when we encourage critical thinking, we empower individual lives and invest in our collective future by bridging knowledge gaps. And, once armed with the power of critical thinking skills, we can bravely embark on the most enlightening, never-ending adventure of a lifetime – of knowledge and wisdom together.