Now, this is a big one. Given the behavioral changes that occur when people are taught higher order thinking skills, imagine the world we would live in if we taught every person who emerged from higher education higher order thinking skills. The Science of Learning tells us how these skills can be taught; we just have to want to do it.
I think this is a tall order, but what would the effect of millions of graduates entering the world every year with a full suite of higher order thinking skills that could be applied in any situation. With the most powerful problem-solving skills available to, not just a few, but millions of people, what would be the effect? Every conflict that I am aware of is the result of problems that need to be solved, but are not because of various reasons.
Aggression and violence are not acceptable answers to someone with well-developed metacognitive skills. Transferable critical thinking skills are the most powerful problem-solving tools available, harnessing all of the available power of human thought. Given the sheer number of higher education graduates across the globe, if they were taught to really think, the representatives of the people would be held to much higher standards than they are today with millions of thinking adults demanding more than the current playing to the lowest common denominator with the populist clamour for the show of might and force to vicariously satisfy personal egos that are boosted by military parades and use.
Understanding higher-order reasoning and logic (both complex inductive and hypothetico-deductive reasoning) would move science to the fore again. If millions and millions of world citizens truly understood how science works and be able to interpret what scientists actually say, science would not be the side-show that it has become today. To quote a recent edition of The New Scientist ”…our ability to address these issues is threatened by a tsunami of anti-scientism, which has moved from denying scientific facts to crushing our ability to determine them at all.” It doesn’t have to be that way.
As I have repeatedly written, research – scientific research – has clearly demonstrated that we, as a community, have failed in our mandate to teach our students higher-order thinking skills. And, when they learn them at all, they are ring-fenced by the narrowly focussed speciality in which they are learned because of the problem of context-dependent learning (transferability). We know, from the science that has actually studied how people learn, how we can teach these skills to every student who comes through our doors. But we don’t, despite all of the marketing claims that tell the world that we do.
What would the effect of millions of individuals with well-developed higher-order thinking skills have on the prosperity of our society? Instead of millions of qualification clutching conforming carbon copies we call graduates if we graduated people who could really think, what a difference that would make to our society. We would have all of the power afforded by real thinking focussed on solving problems that effect our society at every level. Imagine vast numbers of highly trained thinkers tackling the problems of Alzheimer’s, climate change, or world poverty and hunger (not to take away from the few who work tirelessly at these problems currently). Even if we had millions of thinking graduates who understood these problems and fully supported the collective effort needed to eradicate global hunger. What a difference that would make.
What difference would it make to the bottom line of businesses if the majority of their employees could really think? Imagine how well a firm would prosper if most of their workers could use their fully developed thinking skills to solve problems. With higher order creativity as one of the core higher order thinking skills, just think about how we could discover what has not yet been thought of and use highly developed business skills to increase the prosperity of the world we live in. When I talk about higher order creativity, I’m not talking about the new mobile phone cover that will revolutionize your life, I’m talking about getting a static electric shock and turning that into a light bulb. Higher order creativity has been destroyed by the scramble for grades. We can fix this with the application of science to our students’ learning, but we don’t. This is not our students’ fault. This lies directly on our shoulders. There are some trying, but most of the professoriate have put aside the development of individuals for research, which has become a new game of trivial pursuit.
If you read the marketing material of virtually every higher education institution in the world, unlocking a student’s highest potential is the core mission of the institution. And then they sit in lectures and take tests in order to receive an empty qualification from which they might be able to demonstrate their ability to push seven buttons in a row to accomplish some immediate commercial need. Or at least the immediate commercial need from eight years ago when that need was finally passed through all of the approval committees and met the highest quality assurance standards before being added to the curriculum.
The effect of higher-order thinking skills on individuals personal lives are staggering. In addition to being highly flexible and adaptable to the changing economic demands making them highly employable, there are personal benefits that are truly unbelievable.
Here is a partial list of individual benefits that accompany well developed higher order thinking skills – some of which have direct consequences for our societal prosperity and world peace:
• Academic success depends on thinking – if IQ is the engine, metacognition is the driver.
• Intellectual ability contributes for about half as much as metacognition to learning something.
• Cognitive flexibility requires you to know what cognitive options you have available.
• Deep reasoning involves real thinking about what you already know.
• One of the aspects of critical thinking and analysis is all about evaluating the new against what you already know about the subject.
• Logical thinking requires you to know how you think.
• Making rational decisions requires you to think about what you already know.
• Creativity means that you become aware of yourself enough to stop imitating others.
• Mindfulness – an awareness of the moment requires you to be aware of your own thought process.
• Increases in metacognition significantly reduce relapse in people who suffer from depression.
We have the ability to really teach people how to reach their fullest potential as a human being. But, we don’t.
How many Einsteins have we lost in our failure to use what we know about learning to teach people higher order thinking skills? We can fix this with the application of science to our students’ learning, but we don’t. This is not the fault of our students. This failure lies directly on our shoulders and the culture that we have built and now find ourselves trapped in. There are some individuals trying to make a difference, but most of the professoriate have put aside the development of individuals for research, which has become the new trivial pursuit game.
Even those truly trying, are using teaching methods that are, literally, thousands of years old. Basic education has been virtually untouched by the scientific revolution – unless you count the action research foundation that has proof that using yellow chalk instead of white chalk will unleash the untapped potential of your students. Technology has brought changes to how we deliver information but has not touched what we teach. Where is the proof that this is still working? Up to about from 100 to 75 years ago, this kind of teacher focussed education produced wonders. The world needed clones who could push buttons in the right order to work a complex machine. We don’t need that anymore. We need people who can think.
Think about the discoveries and inventions that have revolutionized the world we live in today, and then Google to find out when it was discovered or invented. If you are having a good day, don’t, because it will make you depressed. Almost nothing in the last 50 years and even those things that have come to fruition in the last 50 years have almost all been built on conceptual ideas and understanding that were developed more than 50 years ago. And if you think (there are actually people out there who do) that there is nothing new left to think of then I feel sorry for your view of humankind.
We know how to fix this. All we need to do is want to try. I’ll be writing some articles about how we can teach using scientific principles of learning (again) along with some of the tangible benefits of doing so. Let’s work together to make true again the old maxim:
I think, therefore I am
Jesse is a world leader in the integration of the science of learning into formal teaching settings. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge and Director at The Academy for the Scholarship of Learning. Huge advocate of the science of learning, he provides people with ideas about how they can use it in their classrooms. Jesse holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wales, Bangor.