Utilizing Blended Learning To Encourage Critical Thinking: An e-Learning Solutions Perspective

Critical Thinking Can Help Learners Learn and Retain Better in e-Learning Solutions

The process of learning is not always about just a transfer of information. It also has to kindle the learners’ thought process and promote critical thinking as well. Critical thinking can be described as a mental activity that involves high quality and high level of thinking. It enhances the problem solving skills of the learner and encourages accurate decision making capabilities. Most elearning experts support the benefits of a learning program which enhances critical learning – especially in the area of corporate learning. The value of critical thinking does not change according to different industry verticals – it is required to deliver quality learning in almost all subjects or type of content.

It is therefore no surprise that there is considerable research done on the ways of promoting critical thinking in the e-learning industry. Till a few years back, the research was more or less restricted to exploring the ways of enhancing critical learning through classroom training. But with the growing popularity of e-learning solutions, a lot of ways of promoting critical thinking through technology-aided learning as well are being talked about. One such effective way is through a blended approach – as discussed by Hisham Al-Mubaid of University of Houston, in his paper titled ‘A New Method for Promoting Critical Thinking in Online Education’.

The method is straightforward and fairly effective in teaching and leveraging critical thinking in both classroom and online education. The proposed method consists of two components: an individual component, which is best taken in a self-paced manner and a team-based component, which can be undertaken in a classroom scenario, which has ample opportunities of close interaction between learners.

The individual component consists of three steps: List, Evaluate, and Re-structure. In the first step, a learner will have to develop a list of facts or concepts that provide a true definition of the topic in hand. The list depends on the kind of course or content the learner is being trained on. This step allows each learner to work individually on his or her own pace, which is the most common way of learning in traditional elearning solutions. For instance, if the e-course describes a particular process, the learner has to make his or her own list of facts that describe the concept.

In the next step of Evaluate, the learner evaluates the list of facts created in the first step. This includes ranking and scoring the items in the list as a means of self-evaluation. This process involves a higher level of mental activity as the learner has to get rid of any kind of bias and evaluate the items in the list in a fair manner. While the first step starts the process of conceptualization, application and understanding of the information, the second step kindles critical thinking required for evaluating the assimilated information. The third step includes revising and improving the understanding of the concept by restructuring the list as per the evaluation in the second step. This third step requires a high intellectual process where the learner improves upon his or her learning himself through the process of restructuring what he or she had first understood.

The team-based component includes three steps: List, Discuss & Evaluate, and Integrate & Restructure. The first step here is similar to the first step of the individual component, but here the process of listing is done in groups. The students are grouped in teams and each team develops a comprehensive list of concepts or facts describing the chosen topic in the e-course content. The team collects all individual lists and creates one comprehensive list, which is the cumulative understanding of the entire group. In the second step the team members proceed to evaluate the possible solutions through discussions and debates. In the third step, the learners collectively integrate the ideas and restructure their possible solutions based on the discussions and debates of step two.

The two components are similar to each other, but the impact of elearning is increased through the dual process of critical thinking – both self-paced as well as part of a group. The learner is encouraged to think for himself in the first component and may proceed as per his understanding of the subject. With the assimilated knowledge, he then proceeds to again go through the steps as part of a group where he is exposed to multiple views and different perspectives, which help him, see other possible angles. This creates in-depth learning through critical thinking along the six different steps. The blend of online and classroom platform aligns to the specifics of each component. When the elearning is in a nascent stage, the learner is allowed to proceed on his own terms and the opportunity of discussion is opened only when there is some collective knowledge acquired by each learner.

The three-tier components of individual and team activities can be created for a number of different e-courses – especially trainings that are information heavy and the learners are required to apply the acquired knowledge onto their area of work. By honing critical thinking, this method helps learners retain information better as well as apply it when and where it matters the most.

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