A, well, critical part of ensuring that students reach a higher level of understanding is by promoting critical thinking in your course. By challenging students to tap into higher-order thinking skills, you’re not only working to help them fully understand a topic or an idea, you’re training them to think critically about the world around them. It’s with this in mind that we’re revisiting the article below, written by Cengage Learning Instructional Designer Jason Lancaster, that provides some tips for you to remember when designing with critical thinking in mind. Following Jason’s article, check out five tips from Connie Staley’s FOCUS on College Success that you can share with your students to help hone their critical thinking skills.

How do you incorporate critical thinking into your course activities? Share your ideas, efforts, and successes in the Comments section below!

Guest Contributor: Jason Lancaster, M.Ed, Instructional Designer, Cengage Learning

A common goal in the education field is to get students to think critically about what they’re studying. You might find motivated students are inclined to do this with little intervention from the instructor, but all students can be guided by activities appropriately designed to provide a framework for critical thinking.

Whether you teach or design courses, you likely have run across Bloom’s Taxonomy. It provides a method for categorizing cognitive domains, many of which require a combination of cognitive approaches and skills. The complexity increases as you move toward the “evaluate” and “create” items (on the revised taxonomy), which we refer to as higher-order thinking skills.

Usually higher-order thinking is associated with abstractness; however, while abstract thinking requires complexity, keep in mind that complexity often involves using several factual pieces of information and expounding on their relationships, causes, and effects. Even though Bloom’s generally represents a linear progression to cognitive complexity, it does not mean any one domain is more abstract then the previous one on the taxonomy.

Instructors can leverage Bloom’s when writing learning objectives to better align performance expectations and activities. These activities can be designed to elicit knowledge and skills aligned with specific cognitive domains, which can help students digest complex subject material more effectively.

A few things to remember when designing for critical thinking:

  • Identify which mental steps are required for a student to overtly demonstrate their knowledge or skills.
  • Use Bloom’s Taxonomy as a guide (not prescriptively) to create worthwhile learning objectives.
  • Keep in mind learning objectives are not activities.
  • Higher-order thinking can require knowledge throughout the range from concrete to abstract.
  • Maximize student critical thinking by structuring activities that support the appropriate domains.

Jason Lancaster, M.Ed., is an instructional designer of digital content at Cengage Learning.


Five Habits of a Critical Thinker

Critical thinking skills don’t just “happen.” Just like brushing your teeth, those skills need to be practiced on a regular basis before they can become a more natural part of your learning processes. In FOCUS on College Success, Constance Staley offers students five tips for honing their critical-thinking skills. Encourage your students to reflect on these points, and they will reap the benefits!

  1. If you don’t know something, admit it. Then, endeavor to learn more.
  2. Acknowledge your “hot buttons.” It’s normal to have strong feelings about particular issues. When you know which issues those are, you can make a point to understand why they affect you as they do. In turn, this helps you better articulate your thoughts to others.
  3. Seek to understand other peoples’ points of view. In addition to gaining a well-rounded perspective on a topic, this will enable you to better respond to others’ arguments.
  4. “Trust and verify.” Don’t blindly accept what you hear or read — yet don’t feel the need to maintain a skeptical attitude towards everything.
  5. Always remember the importance of critical thinking as it relates to your education. The more value you place on critical thinking, the more likely you’ll put its principles into practice — and the efforts will pay off in all aspects of your life! (Adapted from Staley, 128-130)

Content adapted from Staley, Constance. 2013. FOCUS on College Success. 3rd ed. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Post Author: Heather Mooney.