As Instructional Designers, we have always exhibited critical thinking prowess without realizing how important it is in the larger scheme of things. Now, anybody would assume that this makes us natural critical thinkers, who hold the key to bridging the vast knowledge gap among people round the globe. Right? Well, that’s exactly where we need to stop and do a reality check!
As instructional designers, we divide our learning time among three broad areas:
1. Researching: This includes reading, asking questions to experts, and collecting information based on facts.
2. Processing: This comprises evaluating and ranking information according to the importance with most important at the top and least important at the bottom. For example, putting the lead (who, what, when, where and how) at the very top; placing the body (facts and further information, revealed in order of importance) next; and keeping the fluffy stuff (little bits of information fading into oblivion) at the end.
3. Output: Writing and sharing our thoughts.
The majority of our instructional decisions are a result of the chosen source content. However, content heavy sources should not drive instruction, since most of these are not structured to enhance critical thinking in the subject. Our decisions about the structure and instructional strategies of the learning content should result from our most fundamental objectives in designing any solution.
Instructional design involves two deeply interwoven parts: structure and strategy.
Structure involves the ‘what’ part of the course and includes: What (content) am I going to teach? What questions/problems/concepts will be central to the course? What amount of information will students need to access? What will be the reference point for the learners? What is my understanding of the course? What overall plan should I follow? etc.
Strategy involves the ‘how’ part of the course and includes: How will I teach so that the outlined structure works? How will I get the students to be actively involved? How will I get them to develop essential insights, understandings, knowledge, and ability? How will I get them to learn to provide logical answers to questions on any particular concept they have learned?
Once we have decided upon the most basic structure and substructures of our learning material, we must focus on the strategies we will use to drive that structure home. We should aim at using strategies to solve two different purposes. The first one is to create a learning solution that focuses on daily or episodic tasks of the learners. The second one is to first divide the learners’ tasks into simple and complex ones. And then, using socratic method for complex tasks, ask continual probing questions to explore the underlying beliefs that shape the learners’ views and opinions. We should ideally focus on giving learners the right questions, not answers. This would enable them to read critically and develop self-assessment skills. Such a learning solution would have multiple parts and therefore, often require an extended period of time to be carried out effectively.
All Set to Work on Your Critical Thinking Skills?
With that all said, critical thinking is what separates effective instructional designers from ineffective. So, here are some quick fun exercises for you to continually develop your critical thinking skills and become a better critical thinker
As instructional designers, we should think about instruction in both structural and strategic ways. This will enable us to move away from the didactic method and the ineffective teaching that invariably accompanies it toward active learning through critical thinking. However, our learning solutions will not be transformed simply because we believe in the philosophical value of critical thinking. We must strive to continually find innovative and effective ways to bring it into practical instruction, both structurally and strategically.
To read more about critical thinking in instructional design check out our article Is Critical Thinking the Key to Instructional Design (and a Better World)? And don’t stop there, read about creativity of thought including checklists to improve creativity here.