Critical thinking to critical learning: Generation Y as a case study

Since the 1980s the importance of critical thinking and its taxonomy have been the focus of vigorous debate.

The ability to progress in any realm using cognition necessitates questioning and analysing, making subtle distinctions between conclusions and hypotheses.

Lipman defines this as “thinking that is conducive to good judgment because it is sensitive to context, relies on criteria and is self-correcting”. In his classic article, ‘A Taxonomy of Critical Thinking Dispositions and Abilities’, Ennis defines critical thinking as “reasonable and reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do”.

McPeck sees critical thinking as “the intelligent use of all evidence for the solution of some problem”. However, when one considers the characteristics of Generation Y, can these definitions still be considered valid?

With the increasing availability of technology, information transfer has followed virtual communication in that it is generally rapid, brief and superficial, making the discussion of critical thinking seem somewhat irrelevant. The transition to online learning and the developing use of tablets in lieu of textbooks will surely intensify this important issue.

What is the “message” of this new technology? It emphasises associative connections, relevance and popularity, while highlighting emotional and visual aspects.

How many “likes” you have on Facebook seems greater than all other considerations. This does not appear to be rational behaviour. But, is it really irrational or merely a case of adaptive needs, different from the generation, which considered science to be its key to survival?

Efficiency comes at the expense of depth, associative connections at the expense of logical ones, which in turn comes at the expense of the search for pure truth. The greatest change is the need of Generation Y to think using algorithms – short term thinking instead of long term. Are these changes marginal?

Feuerstein’s theory of mediated learning appears most relevant to Generation Y as it emphasises “learning” as opposed to “thinking”. Attempts made by one generation to impose its thinking configurations and adaptation strategies upon the next are doomed to fail.

Those able to formulate relevant thinking skills and advocate teaching them in the educational system are as likely to fail as those claiming it is essential to continue focusing on providing knowledge in a static format, considering its frequent changes.

“Critical learning” rather than “critical thinking” is what must be stressed. Feuerstein claimed one must impart metacognitive learning skills, implemented by thinking individuals, skills allowing them to adapt learning to a constantly changing environment.

Some psychologists have postulated that courses in critical thinking fail because students are not blank slates; they retain their beliefs and validate using skills they have acquired, and thus do not reevaluate opinions illogically acquired.

Feuerstein believes students are not only weighed down by beliefs and prejudices but are guided by different “operating systems”. They possess a rationality stemming from survival goals. Until we are able to understand how learners think, we cannot change their way of thinking.

Furthermore, if we condescend toward them and exert ourselves as bearers of truth, we will lose them. Their rationality still exists – it may differ but it’s real. Only a sophisticated approach to learning will allow them to expand and adapt their thinking skills to the tasks before them.

Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein is the chairman of the Feuerstein Institute. Founded by his father, the late Professor Reuven Feuerstein, the Institute engages in the research, development and dissemination of the Feuerstein Method. Rabbi Rafi is known as one of the leading experts on the LPAD (Learning Potential Assessment Device). He frequently lectures on the theoretical areas of cognitive psychology and dynamic assessment.

Rabbi Rafi will be speaking on The Modifiability of Intelligence: Enabling Learners to Develop Their Full Potential at ENABLE 2015.

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  1. Whether the nomenclature is “Critical thinking” or “Critical learning,” the key to ushering in a modern day “Age of Reasoning” rests on the ability of practitioners of advanced thinking skills to market to the self-interest of consumers. In other words, what does a critical thinking model provide that ties into a core need or high desire of the user? If we don’t ask and answer the right marketing questions, there will likely be no advanced thinking models that resonate with consumers who need it the most. And thus, society devolves into a modern day “Dark Age.”