“Is it even possible to train critical thinking?” I get that question all the time, and the answer is yes, but it takes a lot of work and the right approach.
Critical Thinking is not something that can be mastered in a day…a week…or a month. I’ve always liked the 10,000 hour rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, that says to be successful at any skill, you need to spend 10,000 hours practicing. I don’t know if improvement in critical thinking actually takes 10,000 hours, but it certainly takes internal motivation, coaching, and practice.
On a daily basis, I interact with individuals, trainers, professors, and students who have been exposed to various critical thinking training programs and have experienced nothing less than frustration. There are a lot of different ways a critical thinking class or training program can go wrong, but let’s focus on what you can do to create an engaging and impactful critical thinking training program:
Step on the Scale
Most people have engaged in a weight loss or physical fitness regimen at some point in their lives, and that process typically starts by measuring your current status. Whether you are stepping on a scale or using a tape measure, you usually take note of your starting place as well and define some personal goals. What do you want to accomplish? What are your trouble areas? Working on a mental fitness plan (like improving critical thinking) is no different. It helps to know both your starting point, and what areas you want to address. For measuring critical thinking, you can start by taking the Watson-Glaser™ Critical Thinking Appraisal assessment. The Watson-Glaser assessment measures critical thinking ability and helps learners identify specific areas they need to improve based on the RED Model of Critical Thinking. By understanding both your strengths and areas for development, you can devote appropriate energy to specific critical thinking skills.
Find the Right Fit
There is no such thing as one-size fits all learning. We all prefer to learn in different ways, and I believe the method of delivery can be just as important as the content itself. How do you prefer to learn? Are you a visual learner? Hands-on? Independent? If you could choose your perfect critical thinking training program, would it be delivered in-person in a group/team setting, online and self-directed, or by reading/researching completely on your own? Find a critical thinking training program that most closely matches the way you like to learn. There are tons of options out there for each style. Pearson TalentLens supports multiple learning styles through a variety of Critical Thinking Training Programs:
- Critical Thinking Boot Camp- Designed as an in-person, 2-day intensive critical thinking training program for manager/director level decision-makers, the Critical Thinking Boot Camp immerses you in high level critical thinking techniques through an Action Learning approach.
- THINK Now! Workshop- This in-person workshop meant for groups of 12-20 people helps you understand your personal Thinking Style and how that influences the way you approach all decision-making/problem-solving situations.
- Critical Thinking University- For on-demand eLearning, the CTU provides 18 hours of self-directed coursework designed to help you improve your critical thinking skills. Additionally, the CTU offers several social learning opportunities through various discussion boards, book clubs, blogs, and quarterly webcasts. Participants also receive online critical thinking coaching from the CTU’s Community Managers.
- Now You’re Thinking!- The book Now You’re Thinking! is a great introduction to the topic of critical thinking wrapped in a true and heartwarming story of how a Marine battalion saved the life of a 2 year-old girl through determination, courage, and critical thinking. The second half of the book debriefs the original story using connections to the RED Model of Critical Thinking and the My Thinking Styles assessment.
You Can’t Use It If You Can’t Remember It
A quick Google search will reveal tons of critical thinking models out there that you can use to create a training program. However, the more complex the model, the more time you spend explaining/justifying it instead of training HOW to think critically. I’m not saying any of these models are wrong, it’s just nearly impossible to remember them. If you can’t remember the 12 steps of a critical thinking model in the moment, then you’re more likely to abandon the whole process. For the Critical Thinking University, Critical Thinking Boot Camp, and Now You’re Thinking! book, Pearson TalentLens uses the RED Model of Critical Thinking. This easy to remember acronym sets you up for success because you can always stop and ask yourself “Have I”:
- Recognized Assumptions?
- Evaluated the Arguments?
- Drawn a Conclusion?
This acronym helps you remember the big 3 key areas of critical thinking and then drill down into the deeper questions.
Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
Once you’ve taken in all of the techniques taught through an appropriate training program, it’s absolutely essential that you start using your critical thinking skills in every day conversations/activities. This will help you reinforce what you’ve learned and cement the skills/techniques in your mind. One of the features of the Critical Thinking University that I like the most is the Topic of the Week section. In this area of the CTU, the Community Managers post a new topic for discussion every Monday and ask questions to help you think through the issue through the lens of critical thinking. Additionally, they read through and respond to comments made by participants in an effort to coach better critical thinking. It’s a safe environment where you can practice applying critical thinking skills/concepts to every day discussions while being supported by a critical thinking coach. Some recent Topic of the Week discussions have included: The Value of Telecommuting, NY City’s Ban on Large Sodas, and the Myth of Multi-Tasking. You can really turn any discussion into an opportunity to display your critical thinking skills.
What’s missing in this list? What are some of the other essentials for a good critical thinking training program?
Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens. She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training. She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting. She is the chief blogger for Critical Thinkers and occasionally posts at ThinkWatson. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.