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
6 Exercises to Improve Critical Thinking from InfoPro Learning, Inc.
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.
Sana Rashid Siddiqui
About the author: Sana Rashid Siddiqui, with a Masters Degree in English, has been working as an Instructional Designer and Training Needs Analyst for more than a decade. She is a British Council certified master trainer and has worked with prestigious elearning and publishing companies to create the most effective learning solutions for different training/teaching delivery media. She firmly believes in free knowledge sharing and is an active volunteer for Times of India’s ‘Teach India’ campaign and Bharat Learn’s curriculum design and implementation. An avid nature and music lover, she gives vent to her innate creative abilities through poetry.
Education is not the learning of facts but the training of the mind to think – Albert Einstein
When Albert Einstein was in high school his Father asked his school’s headmaster what profession his son should pursue, the headmaster’s response was “It doesn’t matter, he’ll never make a success of anything.” Albert showed no signs of being a genius, and as an adult denied his mind was extraordinary. He said “I have no particular talent. I am merely extremely inquisitive.”
Einstein had the basic critical thinking ability of being able to cut problems down to size. It was said that “One of his greatest intellectual gifts, in small matters as well as great, was to strip off the irrelevant frills from the problem.”
While most of us can ever hope to achieve the intellectual level of Einstein, we can all strive to learn to think critically to solve both personal and workplace problems.
Critical thinking is the practice of processing information in order to make a decision, come to a conclusion or solve a problem. Think of critical thinking as a simple machine that allows you to put information in, and the machine processes the information and spits out a conclusion. That conclusion could take the form of a solution to a problem or an important decision that must be made.
Critical thinking is a high level skill that requires more than just thinking about the information you already know. It is an important skill in the workplace because it helps employees solve problems and make difficult decisions. For example, an employee could use her critical thinking skills to help a customer decide on a product that meets his specific needs. The employee would collect information about the needs of the customer, compare that information with the information she knows about the products she is selling and make a decision about what to recommend to the customer. If she uses her information well, she will have a happy customer.
You think and make decisions all the time. In fact, this very moment you might be thinking to yourself, “I make decisions every day. I already know how to think critically.” That is sort of true because your mind is always working, thinking about what’s happening around you, what you’re doing or something someone is saying to you. However, not all thinking is critical thinking.
Have you ever heard someone tell you to use your critical thinking skills? As the name suggests, critical thinking requires skills or a learned ability to do something. So how do you develop or learn critical thinking skills? The Critical Thinking Skills program breaks down critical thinking into the following six skill areas:
1. Gathering Information
2. Analyzing Information
3. Applying Information
4. Forming a Hypothesis
5. Problem Solving
6. Decision Making
This is the beginning of a six part series on critical thinking. Stay tuned to upcoming posts to learn more about the Conover approach to Critical Thinking.
If you want to learn more about how you can use Soft Skills in your life sign up for our free Soft Skills 101 webinar!
Terry Schmitz is the founder and owner of The Conover Company. Terry has been involved in the development of assessments for both education and corporations for over 30 years. He has developed hundreds of job-specific assessment systems that link to skill building systems.