How to support critical thinking online

Teaching students to think critically is a skill taught traditionally in the classroom; however, with sophisticated technology and problem-based learning trainers can provide viable solutions to help support learners to think critically.

Defining critical thinking

John Dewey, an American educational reformer, stated that ‘the term ‘thinking’ can denote

a serious, deliberate kind of activity involving a skill that can be improved by effective teaching.

Terms such as ‘reflecting’, ‘pondering’, and even ‘planning’ suggest this sense of thinking. All of these notions point towards the most important component of the reflective sense of thinking – skilful reasoning’ (Katz, 1976. Two views of ‘Teaching People to think’).

So, when we talk about teaching people to think, we are referring to thinking as reflection that uses ‘skilful reasoning‘.

Identifying methods

Problem-based learning is at the heart of critical thinking. Originally, a method used to train doctors, problem-based learning is an alternative to traditional classroom training that can also be deployed by web-based technologies.

In problem-based learning, the trainer acts as facilitator and encourages self-directed learning rather than the trainer providing the answers. Problem-based learning is learner centred. Learners learn in small groups where the facilitator provides a problem, which becomes the focus of discussion for the group. This stimulates discussion and learning; problem-based learning provides a fertile learning environment that encourages learners to evaluate what they do not know, research present and defend their conclusions.

Promoting critical thinking

Facilitators should develop strategies where they can deliver problem-based learning using a variety of web-based technologies. Promoting critical thinking relies on social learning and learner collaboration. Collaborative learning spaces that can promote this type of learning environment include learning management systems and web conferencing software. Moreover, using social networks, discussion forums and wikis can encourage online interaction among learners which will allow them to engage with critical thinking.

Supporting critical thinking using web-based technologies calls for designers to use technology tools in innovative ways that will provide a supportive, and engaging environment for students to express and justify their thoughts and ideas.