Laura Aboyan is the associate director of curriculum management and assessment at the Fox School of Business. She recently earned her EdD in Higher Education from Temple’s College of Education and Human Development.
Critical thinking is a term you hear a lot in education, but what does it mean? Last year, as part of my dissertation research, I interviewed several Fox School undergraduates to answer this exact question. Each student interpreted critical thinking a bit differently but was able to identify specific skills that they associated with critical thinking, including analyzing and applying information, curiosity, problem-solving, creativity, communication, and strategic thinking. In your coursework, critical thinking looks like written assignments, projects, teamwork and solving problems that reflect the real world.
Strong critical thinking skills also happen to be one of the strongest predictors of post-graduate success and are necessary for success in business. Among employers surveyed in 2020, 95% of respondents considered critical thinking skills to be either very or somewhat important to workforce success. Of the 60% who considered critical thinking skills to be very important, only 39% thought that graduates were very well prepared in the area of critical thinking.
Employers value critical thinkers because these employees can creatively solve problems, drive innovation, adapt well to uncertainty and demonstrate a lifelong learning mindset.
Read the tips below to learn how to become a successful critical thinker, and why employers will view you as an asset for their organization as a result.
Trust the process.
Critical thinking has definitive steps but is applied differently in different contexts. Part of the critical thinking experience includes identifying the best way to approach a problem. This includes identifying the problem and then looking at it from multiple perspectives.
For example, when working on a group project each group member brings in their own views and information. It is up to the other group members to determine if the information is accurate and how it can be applied to the project. Understanding the process of critical thinking helps you understand how you gain knowledge.
Embrace your experiences.
Successful critical thinkers are able to draw from their experiences, build on previously held knowledge, and incorporate different perspectives and other knowledge sources to help solve problems or make decisions. Each new situation you encounter helps expand your knowledge base and gives you more information to draw from when you encounter similar situations in the future. In your coursework, this means you can also learn from your peers. Understanding how their experiences differ from your own allows you to consider a problem from a new perspective.
Cultivate your curiosity.
Critical thinking is a natural offshoot of curiosity. When you are interested in something, you tend to explore it more deeply. When it comes to critical thinking in your courses, find a topic that you’re interested in and focus on it or try to relate it back to a topic from a different course to see how the two fields intersect. This kind of deep exploration will help you stay engaged with your course material and help you hone your critical thinking skills – you may even develop an interest in something new. The critical thinking skills you gain will not only foster a lifetime of inquiry and learning but also provide a foundation for success in higher education and beyond.
Critical thinking is hard, and it may be tempting to avoid it and try to cheat your way through it. The thing with critical thinking though, is that you can’t fake it. In your coursework, critical thinking will frequently manifest as solving problems that have several possible answers. As a critical thinker, your job is to take the information you have, look at it from multiple viewpoints, present a solution, and evaluate whether or not that solution is the “best” way to resolve the situation. If it isn’t, you repeat the process and keep asking questions until you find an answer. Critical thinking is heavily influenced by your own experiences and interests; you do yourself a disservice and will do a disservice to your future employers if you don’t draw on those experiences to help you solve problems.