Written by:

Holly Macdonald


August 17, 2015

I’ve seen a few articles around the topic “Learning to Learn” recently:

It would seem that learning to learn is a skill that is in demand. But (and this could be a wild generalization), I wonder how well we as a society teach learning. I’m not talking about learning styles, or generational preferences. I’m talking more about process than content. We focus a lot on “what”, but as a rule are less interested in “how”.  I see this as a parent (one of my pet peeves) and as a custom training developer.

One of the most common aspects of learning to learn is learning to think. And a very important aspect of that is the use of critical thinking. You might be able to learn a lot of facts or theories, but if you can’t apply them or can’t identify a bias around the information, then you have an opportunity to learn about your learning. IF the lack of critical thinking is a knowledge or skill gap, the good news is that you can change this as an individual, a parent and an organization.

How do you go about developing and exercising critical thinking?

  1. Baloney detection kit
  2. Shift your perspective (Rubber ducks), change your thinking or use techniques like six thinking hats
  3. Develop new habits
  4. Channel your inner 3 year old and embrace the word “why”

These could all help individuals build their critical thinking skills in general. However, organizations are more interested in whether or not employees think critically about their work.

As a custom training developer, we do get tasked with building product training modules or policy/procedure training. And oftentimes, the client laments that their employees don’t apply critical thinking. One example is that the custom software or tool saves the employee time to calculate something, but the employee doesn’t know/understand what logic it’s based on and won’t recognize if the bottom line is out of whack or not. If you are putting together training, it’s important that you include aspects that provide the employee/target audience with the fundamentals of what’s important and add practice situations. Don’t just dump information on them, but help them see how these are applied in their work. Find ways to get beyond the facts and help them understand “the why” behind the what.  You may not teach them how to be a critical thinker in every situation, but you will ensure that they can critically think in THIS situation.

How do you design training programs that support critical thinking?

  1. Use realistic scenarios and situations where you can emulate and illustrate the repercussions of the task
  2. Include coaching from a manager, journeyman, mentor, etc
  3. Don’t treat training like an event – build in opportunities to revisit the information

I’d love to hear how you’ve approached this. How do you learn how to learn? How did you learn to think? Are learning and thinking the same thing? Share your perspective.