Critical thinking is a core academic skill that teaches undergraduate and postgraduate students to question or reflect on their own knowledge and information presented to them. This skill is essential for students working on assignments and performing research. It’s also an invaluable skill in many workplace scenarios. In this week’s blog we discuss what critical thinking is, how it applies to the workplace and how to develop this crucial skill.
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking is not just being critical in the typical, negative sense of the word; there are many definitions but according to Beyer (1995), critical thinking means ‘making clear, reasoned judgments’.
A successful critical thinker questions perceived knowledge, rejects anecdotal or non-scientific evidence and examines the source of all information. He or she is open-minded and well-informed, able to judge the quality of an argument and draw cautious yet evidence-based conclusions.
It’s important for academic students because it enables them to produce essays and papers that are free from personal or societal bias.
How is it developed while studying?
With the support of their tutor and fellow students, learners must become skilled at assessing each source of information to determine its merit before using it as a reference.
Before utilising a statistic, quotation or piece of research to reinforce their argument in an assignment or discussion, students should check the source carefully to ensure that it was produced by a reliable source. That source needs to be based on solid evidence and should not suffer from research bias.
Assignments based on flimsy or badly-researched source materials will receive lower grades as the conclusions drawn are only as reliable as the data they are based on.
Critical thinking is developed naturally over the course of study as students learn to scrutinise evidence and dissect opposing arguments.
How does it apply to the workplace?
Many people considering undergraduate or postgraduate study focus their attention only on the subject-specific skills that they will develop, e.g. they assume that a law degree will only help them to progress in a legal-related role.
However this is not the case; while it’s true that a law course covers many law-related topics, it will also develop your general communication, presentation, writing, analytical and critical thinking skills. These skills can then be used in the workplace in many ways, depending on the industry. For example, a manager could use their critical thinking skills to evaluate sales and financial data, or to review a project proposal.
By remaining detached from sudden fluctuations in data and emotional sales pitches, employees with critical thinking skills are able to see the bigger picture and avoid making hasty (and costly!) decisions. Employees with critical thinking skills can also use these to improve their company through market research and by recognising opportunities. By researching the competition and their practices, assessing what is successful, these employees can help their company spot opportunities for growth, expansion or product development. Getting ahead of market trends before anyone else gives the company a valuable edge in the marketplace.
In summary, critical thinking is a vital skill in both academia and the world of work. It is developed naturally during undergraduate and postgraduate study, and has applications in almost every industry and role.
Do you want to develop your critical thinking skills? Download our prospectus today and find a course to help you.
Beyer, B.K., 1995. Critical Thinking. Fastback 385. Phi Delta Kappa, 408 N. Union, PO Box 789, Bloomington, IN 47402-0789.