Critical Thinking is Critical for Learning Online

If the phrase “critical thinking” sounds important, that’s because it is. As a student, you can improve every aspect of your performance in class, from written assignments to your contributions during discussions, by learning how to develop this skill. It is even more important for an online student because of the unique communication challenges that don’t exist in a traditional classroom environment.

The way that we typically think about events and situations is to respond passively or reactively. For example, when you are reading a book or listening to a lecture, you are acquiring information; however, you are not interacting with it. This is passive learning. In contrast, other circumstances, such as a job loss, marriage, divorce, or the start of a new job, prompt reflection and introspection. But in those circumstances, we may not always think logically or rationally, especially if we respond emotionally. We often react to what we read and hear based upon our perceptions, feelings, and prior experiences.

Critical thinking is a structured technique you can use to effectively evaluate information you’ve received. When you apply critical thinking skills, you are analyzing that information, interacting with it, and processing it in a logical and rational manner. In other words, you are focusing your thought process in a methodical manner. This process begins by using logic and reasoning skills, while making a distinction between facts and opinions. You will notice a difference in your ability to evaluate information, situations, arguments, and discussions when you learn to think clearly and concisely.

As you focus your thinking, you are also strengthening your cognitive skills, which will further develop your intelligence and enhance your reasoning skills. The word cognition describes the way that our mind receives and interacts with information. Bloom’s taxonomy provides a complete list of these cognitive functions, and advanced cognitive skills include analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Processing information requires a focused and concise method of thinking, which is the art of critical thinking.

Critical Thinking and Online Learning
When you are given a written assignment, your instructor may ask you to find information, provide answers, develop solutions to a problem, consider alternatives, evaluate options, and present your findings. You can use critical thinking to improve the quality of your written assignments because it is a method of gathering information, understanding the meaning of the information, and processing it so that new conclusions and ideas can be developed. This helps you become an active learner and a better student.

For example, any time you are asked to read a textbook or find additional sources of information, you can begin the process of critical thinking by questioning what you’ve read, rather than automatically accepting it as fact. Also, when you write a paper, you can utilize higher levels of thinking or cognition if you demonstrate that you have an ability to work with ideas, solve problems, reach conclusions, and develop original thinking about a subject.

Critical thinking is important for online students in particular because almost every interaction you have is communicated through the use of written words. When you communicate with others in a traditional classroom, that face-to-face interaction allows you to make sure that the message is understood. But how well you perform in an online class depends upon how effectively you can interpret messages received from your instructor and other students, along with your ability to post responses that are engaging and that clearly communicate the intent of your message.

As you read the posts of other students, you will be learning about their beliefs, opinions, experiences, and views. Similarly, you can share your own real-world examples, discuss your own experiences, compare and contrast your own ideas with other students’ ideas, develop new alternatives, and ask questions, such as clarifying questions about what you have read to ensure the accuracy of your interpretation of their postings and the meaning of the message.

Critical thinking can help you become actively engaged in the process of learning, while adding depth to your written assignments and meaningful contributions to online class discussions.

-Dr. J

About the Author
An education writer for, Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning. Throughout his entire career, he has been involved in many forms of adult education, including teaching, training, human resource development, coaching, and mentoring. Dr. J has completed a MBA and a Ph.D. in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Dr. J’s background includes work as an instructor (online and on-ground, undergraduate and graduate level), faculty developmental workshop facilitator, and faculty mentor. He has published articles related to adult education and the focus of his doctoral studies and dissertation involved adult learning within an online classroom environment.


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