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A Psych Perspective: How to Train for Critical Thinking

Competency and Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is quickly becoming one the most highly valued hiring traits employers look for in job candidates, but defining it is easier said than done. According to the Foundation of Critical Thinking it’s the “awakening of the intellect to the study of itself”.  The Oxford Dictionary defines critical thinking as  “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment”. While descriptive, both definitions are philosophical in nature and leave a lot up to interpretation.

Thankfully, the Foundation of Critical Thinking broke the concept down a little further into five discernable traits.

  1. A critical thinker is able raise questions about a topic and see potential problems in a solution.
  2. Good critical thinkers have the ability to gather and assess any and all relevant information whether they agree with it or not.
  3. After studying pertinent information, a critical thinker can then perform tests with the collected data and come to well-reasoned conclusions on the matter at hand.
  4. A critical thinker is always open-minded and can look at alternatives despite what their personal feelings may be.
  5. Critical thinkers are willing to have conversations with others to find solutions to problems they are investigating.

As far as hiring decisions, these behavioral descriptions allow employers to thoughtfully separate promising candidates from exemplary candidates. But, critical thinking isn’t the only cognitive faculty we should consider.

Knowledge Retention vs. Critical Thinking

Another avenue of information gathering and assessing comes in the form of knowledge retention: essentially, capturing data to be used at a later date. And there’s an important distinction between the two. When trying to develop these cognitive faculties, corporate training teams have to use much different training strategies. Knowledge retention is used to apply information to well-known scenarios, often without evaluating the information and its relevancy to a situation. Critical thinking, on the other hand, allows an individual to analyze the information they have been given and apply it to novel scenarios. So, being able to think critically may be preferred to retaining knowledge when it comes to avoiding human error. Let’s face it, even the best experts in the world make mistakes, but being of the mind to evaluate information and ask multiple people questions about the same topic can help eliminate those outliers from being costly.

Why It Matters

With workplaces and job roles quickly changing and evolving with the emergence of new technology, helping employees tap into their critical thinking skills better prepares them to change with the times. Valuing critical thinking and nourishing it allows employees to stay ahead of the curve and grow as you grow by being able to think of solutions to problems, relying on logic and keeping emotion at bay when making major company decisions.

eLearning Strategies Critical Thinking

There are a few ways to go about training employees to be better critical, but one of the most effective ways to go about it is to break it down into tangible behaviors. Focus on the explicit skills needed to think critically (e.g., analysis, deductive logic, comparisons, etc.) and then create a custom training strategy around developing those skills. For instance, you could create an eLearning experience that simulates realistic decision-based situations in which learners can apply those skills.

Supplementing the critical thinking skill training with social learning tactics tends to improve the results further by providing opportunities to answer tough questions. For instance, you can use the influence of social affirmation to reinforce concepts through group conversations, debate, or peer teaching models in either an instructor-led training setting or VILT. Learning isn’t always about the instructor or the course itself, but the individuals taking it and applying it to their own working knowledge. Debate allows for many perspectives to be seen and heard. It also opens the door for reflection on the course and its content.


Individual characteristics will certainly play into learners’ ability to develop effective critical thinking skills. So, you may see performance vary among your employees. But any step your learners can make toward improving critical thinking will surely be a definite win.