In a recent address, David Ricks, CEO of Eli Lilly and Co., called for an investment in education, one that would include a more rigorous math and science curriculum, and one with a focus on critical thinking. We need more people with the technological skills to step into available jobs. We need more high-ability workers who can create responsive solutions to today’s and tomorrow’s problems. More individuals can be trained to step into these jobs. Colleges and universities have been working hard to this call for well-trained workers.
Educational programs that effectively train critical thinking are leading the way.
For decades state governments have required that their funded institutions demonstrate students’ learning outcomes. Some states have wisely focused on the demonstration that graduates have the highly marketable ability to reason well, resolve problems, identify innovative solutions, and manage risk. When students in quality enhancement programs focused on critical thinking demonstrate that they have strength in critical thinking when compared to national comparison samples, these educational institutions are rewarded with additional state funding. More importantly, their states are rewarded with citizens and workers who are ready to face challenges and develop new methods and solutions.
A similar relationship exists between professional education oversight bodies and educators in every educational program. Health science educators know the life-saving relationship between critical thinking, clinical reasoning, and the prevention of clinical errors. They train critical thinking so that the health care providers they educate will have the thinking skills and mindset to serve and protect the people in their care. STEM educators know that building a workforce for scientific and technological innovation and management means that students must have a mindset that follows reasons and evidence wherever it leads, a systematic and foresightful perspective, a comprehensive inquisitiveness, and the understanding of what to believe and do must be based on tested evidence. In other words, a critical thinking mindset and practices critical thinking skills.
College educators take the training of critical thinking seriously.
In the past two decades, there have been well-designed studies of training modalities to document which training methods are effective at strengthening students’ ability to analyze problems, evaluate, explain processes, and develop cogent and evidence-based explanations for chosen solutions. The use of problem simulators, case-based technologies, mentored internships, and other active learning modalities have become standard educational practices in many STEM, business, and health science programs. All of these efforts are making progress in the effort to increase the availability of program graduates who are ready to step into today’s demanding jobs.
Here is one excellent example showing how critical thinking maps on the work of conflict management professionals by Tim Hicks in his blog, “Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace”.
Measurable gains in critical thinking skills and mindset.
Admitting students who have strength in critical thinking assuring and improving students’ critical thinking requires explicit attention and educational effort. Reports from educational programs around the world demonstrate the predictive power of critical thinking as the key to developing strength in our global workforce.
An admissions assessment, or early cohort analysis, of critical thinking skills and mindset provides our clients with a clear picture of their students’ strengths and where their students need to grow during their educational program. Group data for each program faculty provide a road map for developing training exercises.
This graphic shows relative strength in analysis and inductive reasoning in this group of professional education students, but some individuals lack strength in these skills and will need some personal development to assure they can achieve their educational goals. this graphic also shows that the group has lower scores in the evaluation, and many will need to improve their reasoning skills when there are numbers, flow rates, proportions, etc. involved. Trainers and mentors can use this data to direct the development of problem simulations and case discussions to practice numeracy skills in the entire group.
Our state governments and accreditation bodies are right to challenge colleges and universities to train competent workers who can deliver on the needs of our people. Effective educational programs are a must if we are to have a well-prepared workforce that can meet the corporate, government, and community needs for workers at all levels.
The search is on for individuals who can demonstrate the abilities needed to grow with changing jobs and exploding knowledge demands. Let’s do what it takes to increase the number of high-ability graduates being produced by colleges and universities. Promising applicants who can demonstrate the ability to think critically are out there in all our population groups.