The ultimate aim of any education is not just to force students to learn a lot of facts by heart but rather to encourage the appropriate application of obtained knowledge. While this use may be related to the necessity of simply reproducing the learned facts, there is usually more in it. Think about people who changed the course of history by making great scientific discoveries. Technological progress and inspiring success business stories would not be possible without critical thinking skills.
What Is Critical Thinking?
The definition of critical thinking is multidimensional and complex since it embraces both the process of gathering information using multiple ways and the process of synthesis, analysis, and evaluation of that information that requires through intellectual commitment.
Critical thinking model requires any information to be processed in a certain way that implies the following steps:
- Precise development of purpose and clear questions regarding a problem;
- Gathering and assessing information from available sources, whether it is observation, experience, communication, or any other one;
- Considering alternative or opposing views on a subject matter;
- Developing and questioning assumptions, thinking about implications and possible consequences;
- Reasoning that always leads to certain conclusions and guides thinker’s behavior.
Implementing critical thinking in one’s life and making it a habit allows a person to refrain from the mere possession of knowledge and skills since both are continuously used and information is not taken for granted but rather treated in a way different from everyday thinking. Unlike this regular thinking mode, critical thinking requires asking questions, discovering and defining underlying purposes, and developing conclusions along with taking actions based on the empirical grounding.
Why Does Critical Thinking Matter?
Adopting this approach in all spheres of one’s life including academic career allows avoiding common mistakes that people are prone to. First of all, critical thinking will result in refusing ignorant certainty or the misconception that all questions and problems always have correct and final answers and solutions. Secondly, critical thinking reduces the presence of naive relativism in one’s life and allows them to understand that arguments are not equal and some of them most probably are better than others.
One may treat critical thinking as the skill relevant only to those who learn and work on developing appropriate skills. In other words, it is needed for students only. This is definitely not true and critical thinking, while being extremely useful in college, continues to be even more important in real life:
- There are no straightforward answers and decisions in real life. Decisions people need to make in their lives are usually hard and complex. The ability to review all pros and cons, which is implied by critical thinking mode, allows one to make much better decisions.
- The learning process does not stop once you graduate. Critical thinking skills will allow you to develop your intellectual abilities throughout the entire life. Consequently, it improves your chances to have a rich and successful life.
- Critical thinking helps to avoid manipulation and being deceived. There are a lot of people and companies who have no ethical standards and will spread any lie, for example, to increase their revenues.
If you want to change your habits and develop this mode of thinking that is so different from the widespread way of accepting information as it is, you need to be prepared for constant hard brain work. Fortunately, the development of a thoughtful way of applying methods of logical reasoning can be easier if some steps are taken into consideration.
8 Better Ways to Think More Critically
- Be aware of how your mental process works. All people have prejudices in thinking that affect their decisions but only those who mastered critical thinking are aware of potential biases and do not allow them automatically make decisions instead of you. It does not matter whether the biases are of religious, political, or professional nature – all of them may be harmful if a person refuses to review and analyze different arguments, at the same time refraining from naive relativism and taking into consideration real value of those arguments.
- Existing information must be properly evaluated. Gathering evidence is the first step to do to reach the conclusion but it is extremely crucial to determine the validity of that evidence. For example, answering simple questions such as “Who collected the information?”, “Why did they do it?” and “How did they do it?” will allow you to analyze the obtained knowledge through the lens of objectivity and reliability. If the facts state that some medicine can cure COVID-19 and this information was obtained from social media, the relevance of these facts would definitely be unacceptable as unethical desire to earn money deceiving people is involved. On the contrary, an experimental study discussing methods of tuberculosis treatment and published in a scholarly medical journal is a reliable source of evidence as the results are empirically based.
- Remember to have your own opinion. Thinking for yourself is the essential component of critical thinking because gathering information and other people’s opinions is just the first part of this process. For example, imagine the process of writing a book review. You won’t be able to write a good and effective book review if you just gather thoughts of other critics and combine them. At the same time, answering the question “What was the most important thing specifically for me in this book?” will make you develop the conclusion based on both the analysis of the gathered information and the process of logical reasoning instead of restating someone else’s ideas. Do not forget to have your own ideas and work on the ability to formulate them.
- Assumptions are not the definite truth. Failure to question the first basic assumptions related to a certain problem leads to severe consequences such as the lack of progress and innovation. An exemplary historical case of such a failure could be the common belief that Earth is the center of the entire universe because it appears that both the Sun and other planets are moving around our planet. These were the basic assumptions made by medieval scholars and religious leaders. However, Nicolaus Copernicus did not make this assumption for granted and proved the heliocentric nature of our Solar System. This was the perfect example of critical thinking and applied reasoning as the structure of the universe is definitely not a simple matter and Copernicus managed to come to a valid conclusion eventually.
- Ask simple and precise questions. You already know simple questions that allow you to define evidence validity. The same principle applies to complex problems since this is the way to find easy and working solutions. Some basic questions like “What is known already?” and “What do we overlook?” can help you to find the solution even to such complex and global problems as developing worldwide internet access, just exactly what happened with Elon Musk before he invented the Starlink satellites concept.
- Do not be afraid of staying with a problem longer. Complex challenges require that you spend time researching and trying to understand the problem instead of sticking to the very first solution that seems to be applicable. Effective solving of a complex problem requires some time, thus, make sure to follow this principle and you will see how your problem-solving abilities gradually improve.
- Think from a different angle. If you are stuck with some hard problems, try choosing a different perspective to analyze cause-effect relationships. While it may be pretty obvious that a certain event caused specific consequences, but what if those specific conditions that are treated as consequences are the prerequisite of the mentioned event? While it may sound difficult, such exercises for the mind will keep your perception sharp and unbiased.
- Finally, do not get obsessed with critical thinking related to every matter. This mode of thinking is a tool that needs to be applied to solving difficult problems and when you need to make important decisions. No person needs to think critically all the time since this tool is time-consuming and difficult. Maintaining constant concentration is simply impossible for a human brain, thus, do not forget to take breaks and allow yourself to have some irrational thoughts and regular thinking.
5 Suggestions for Teachers
Specialists working in the educational sphere are the first people who can help students understand, develop, and implement critical thinking both in their studying process and in real life. This is the major requirement for graduate and Ph.D. courses, after all. How could teachers help students to achieve these requirements?
- Allow a personalized approach. Giving students the freedom to choose and learn whatever they wish could enhance their involvement and creativity in finding the solution. Learning Shakespeare is the basis of Literature studies but what if students will try to write their original play instead of trying to formulate the original thought that would be different from ideas of thousands of other scholars who reviewed all possible aspects of Shakespeare’s works? This would be the opportunity to apply critical thinking and implement truly relevant elements of plot and structure in the original piece of writing.
- Collaboration enhances critical thinking. Suggesting teamwork to solve some complex tasks will allow students to consider alternative viewpoints and gather information from various sources. Students in groups may have absolutely different views on the same problem as well as experience, therefore, sharing all these will result in the cumulative critical thinking within a group. Besides, the skills of teamwork developed during student collaboration will be useful upon graduation and further employment.
- Project-based learning will prepare students for real life. Implementing real-world issues and cases as the problems to solve during the learning process not only enhances students’ interest and involvement but also makes them more prepared for the work beyond the classroom. For example, graphic designers may learn their profession and all its specific peculiarities by completing a real order for a real client. The real possibility that the result of the learning process will be used in the real business is the great motivation to practice critical thinking and gather relevant information instead of hypothetical.
- Implement design thinking. Remind students that there is no simple linear solution, encourage them to brainstorm various possible solutions, especially if they presuppose using drawbacks in the instructions’ limitations. Constant attempts to break barriers is one of the best ways to develop critical thinking habit.
- Encourage curiosity and remind students to never stop learning. Information comes from various sources, it is not only communication with educators but also careful observation, personal experience, reflection, and many other ways of gathering new facts and fresh perspectives. The very essence of critical thinking means obtaining as much information as possible and this cannot be achieved without curiosity. Proper synthesis and analysis of information is also a prerequisite of successful learning not only in college but at work and even in everyday life. That is why students should be constantly reminded that learning is the life-long process.
While breaking mental barriers and avoiding ignorant certainty may appear difficult at first, it is the most sensible and effective way to learn something new and be proud of personal achievements. What is more, all people who changed the shape of modern civilization adopted this mode of thoughts. Isn’t it a great motivation to adopt the critical thinking approach yourself?