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Don’t Just Teach Students to Think, Emphasize Critical Thinking

Don’t Just Teach Students to Think, Emphasize Critical Thinking

The process of adult learning may be enhanced when students learn how to utilize and apply critical thinking skills. Thinking in a critically reflective manner has the potential to assist the learning process by providing the adult learner with a tool that promotes his or her cognitive development. Many schools and universities emphasize the importance of thinking critically. For example, some universities list critical thinking skills in their degree program description as a core skill set that is learned and implemented.

What does the process of critical thinking involve? It is an internalized process of reflection, examination, and questioning that causes a transition from lower-order thinking to higher-order thinking. When adult learners are presented with information in their class they are first passive participants in the learning process. If the learning activities do not require learners to actively work with that information their cognitive abilities remain at a lower level. Adults can become active participants in the learning process when they are encouraged to process new information in a critically reflective manner, which develops higher-order cognitive skills.

A challenge for instructors facilitating the development of critical thinking skills is that the process does not always occur naturally. Adults are used to processing information every day, based upon their varying levels of experience, skills, intelligence, and existing knowledge. The ability to move from lower-level cognitive thinking to higher-level cognitive thinking requires time, experience, and practice. The process of cognitive development can be enhanced through the inclusion of current events, issues, and challenges into the learning activities. The use of real-world examples may enhance the development of reflective thinking skills because the adult can relate to that information.

Another method of encouraging the development of critical thinking skills is through the use of class discussions. When adults participate in these discussions they have an opportunity to explore their views, beliefs, and knowledge, along with the views and beliefs of others. Adult learners can ask questions, receive guidance, and be encouraged to reflect upon the nature of what they believe, as a means of developing higher-order thinking skills.

When adults are encouraged to utilize critical thinking they can become active participants in the learning process because they are reflecting upon their current beliefs and knowledge, they are analyzing information and knowledge presented in their class, and they are developing higher-order cognitive skills. This allows the adult to become an active participant in the learning process.