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To Improve Your Employees’ Critical Thinking, Help Them Practice

One important aspect of critical thinking is the ability to compare ideas clearly and succinctly. It’s a skill that, like any other, grows with practice. To help your employees get better at sorting through a range of information, give them informal opportunities to try. For example, after a client call, you could ask someone to […]

One important aspect of critical thinking is the ability to compare ideas clearly and succinctly. It’s a skill that, like any other, grows with practice. To help your employees get better at sorting through a range of information, give them informal opportunities to try. For example, after a client call, you could ask someone to tell you, in a few short sentences, what the takeaways were. Or, after a strategic planning meeting, you could ask someone for the pros and cons of the initiatives that were discussed. If the employee struggles to identify what’s important, try using a resource-constrained thought experiment: “If you could share only one insight with the CEO, what would it be?” or “If we had only $1,000 for this project, how should we allocate it?” You’ll know the person has mastered this skill when they can, on the spot, summarize a project’s key points and their implications for future work.

Source: This tip is adapted from “A Short Guide to Building Your Team’s Critical Thinking Skills,” by Matt Plummer

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How to build your critical thinking skills in 7 steps (with examples)

Julia Martins contributor headshot

Critical thinking is, well, critical. By building these skills, you improve your ability to analyze information and come to the best decision possible. In this article, we cover the basics of critical thinking, as well as the seven steps you can use to implement the full critical thinking process. 

Critical thinking comes from asking the right questions to come to the best conclusion possible. Strong critical thinkers analyze information from a variety of viewpoints in order to identify the best course of action.

Don’t worry if you don’t think you have strong critical thinking abilities. In this article, we’ll help you build a foundation for critical thinking so you can absorb, analyze, and make informed decisions. 

What is critical thinking? 

Critical thinking is the ability to collect and analyze information to come to a conclusion. Being able to think critically is important in virtually every industry and applicable across a wide range of positions. That’s because critical thinking isn’t subject-specific—rather, it’s your ability to parse through information, data, statistics, and other details in order to identify a satisfactory solution. 

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Top 8 critical thinking skills

Like most soft skills, critical thinking isn’t something you can take a class to learn. Rather, this skill consists of a variety of interpersonal and analytical skills. Developing critical thinking is more about learning to embrace open-mindedness and bringing analytical thinking to your problem framing process. 

In no particular order, the eight most important critical thinking skills are:

Analytical thinking: Part of critical thinking is evaluating data from multiple sources in order to come to the best conclusions. Analytical thinking allows people to reject bias and strive to gather and consume information to come to the best conclusion. 

Open-mindedness: This critical thinking skill helps you analyze and process information to come to an unbiased conclusion. Part of the critical thinking process is letting your personal biases go and coming to a conclusion based on all of the information. 

Problem solving : Because critical thinking emphasizes coming to the best conclusion based on all of the available information, it’s a key part of problem solving. When used correctly, critical thinking helps you solve any problem—from a workplace challenge to difficulties in everyday life. 

Self-regulation: Self-regulation refers to the ability to regulate your thoughts and set aside any personal biases to come to the best conclusion. In order to be an effective critical thinker, you need to question the information you have and the decisions you favor—only then can you come to the best conclusion. 

Observation: Observation skills help critical thinkers look for things beyond face value. To be a critical thinker you need to embrace multiple points of view, and you can use observation skills to identify potential problems.

Interpretation: Not all data is made equal—and critical thinkers know this. In addition to gathering information, it’s important to evaluate which information is important and relevant to your situation. That way, you can draw the best conclusions from the data you’ve collected. 

Evaluation: When you attempt to answer a hard question, there is rarely an obvious answer. Even though critical thinking emphasizes putting your biases aside, you need to be able to confidently make a decision based on the data you have available. 

Communication: Once a decision has been made, you also need to share this decision with other stakeholders. Effective workplace communication includes presenting evidence and supporting your conclusion—especially if there are a variety of different possible solutions. 

7 steps to critical thinking

Critical thinking is a skill that you can build by following these seven steps. The seven steps to critical thinking help you ensure you’re approaching a problem from the right angle, considering every alternative, and coming to an unbiased conclusion.

 First things first: When to use the 7 step critical thinking process

There’s a lot that goes into the full critical thinking process, and not every decision needs to be this thought out. Sometimes, it’s enough to put aside bias and approach a process logically. In other, more complex cases, the best way to identify the ideal outcome is to go through the entire critical thinking process. 

The seven-step critical thinking process is useful for complex decisions in areas you are less familiar with. Alternatively, the seven critical thinking steps can help you look at a problem you’re familiar with from a different angle, without any bias. 

If you need to make a less complex decision, consider another problem solving strategy instead. Decision matrices are a great way to identify the best option between different choices. Check out our article on 7 steps to creating a decision matrix .

1. Identify the problem

Before you put those critical thinking skills to work, you first need to identify the problem you’re solving. This step includes taking a look at the problem from a few different perspectives and asking questions like: 

What’s happening? 

Why is this happening? 

What assumptions am I making? 

At first glance, how do I think we can solve this problem? 

A big part of developing your critical thinking skills is learning how to come to unbiased conclusions. In order to do that, you first need to acknowledge the biases that you currently have. Does someone on your team think they know the answer? Are you making assumptions that aren’t necessarily true? Identifying these details helps you later on in the process. 

2. Research

At this point, you likely have a general idea of the problem—but in order to come up with the best solution, you need to dig deeper. 

During the research process, collect information relating to the problem, including data, statistics, historical project information, team input, and more. Make sure you gather information from a variety of sources, especially if those sources go against your personal ideas about what the problem is or how to solve it.

Gathering varied information is essential for your ability to apply the critical thinking process. If you don’t get enough information, your ability to make a final decision will be skewed. Remember that critical thinking is about helping you identify the objective best conclusion. You aren’t going with your gut—you’re doing research to find the best option

3. Determine data relevance

Just as it’s important to gather a variety of information, it is also important to determine how relevant the different information sources are. After all, just because there is data doesn’t mean it’s relevant. 

Once you’ve gathered all of the information, sift through the noise and identify what information is relevant and what information isn’t. Synthesizing all of this information and establishing significance helps you weigh different data sources and come to the best conclusion later on in the critical thinking process. 

To determine data relevance, ask yourself:

How reliable is this information? 

How significant is this information? 

Is this information outdated? Is it specialized in a specific field? 

4. Ask questions

One of the most useful parts of the critical thinking process is coming to a decision without bias. In order to do so, you need to take a step back from the process and challenge the assumptions you’re making. 

We all have bias—and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unconscious biases (also known as cognitive biases) often serve as mental shortcuts to simplify problem solving and aid decision making. But even when biases aren’t inherently bad, you must be aware of your biases in order to put them aside when necessary. 

Before coming to a solution, ask yourself:

Am I making any assumptions about this information? 

Are there additional variables I haven’t considered? 

Have I evaluated the information from every perspective? 

Are there any viewpoints I missed? 

5. Identify the best solution

Finally, you’re ready to come to a conclusion. To identify the best solution, draw connections between causes and effects. Use the facts you’ve gathered to evaluate the most objective conclusion. 

Keep in mind that there may be more than one solution. Often, the problems you’re facing are complex and intricate. The critical thinking process doesn’t necessarily lead to a cut-and-dry solution—instead, the process helps you understand the different variables at play so you can make an informed decision. 

6. Present your solution

Communication is a key skill for critical thinkers. It isn’t enough to think for yourself—you also need to share your conclusion with other project stakeholders. If there are multiple solutions, present them all. There may be a case where you implement one solution, then test to see if it works before implementing another solution. 

7. Analyze your decision

The seven-step critical thinking process yields a result—and you then need to put that solution into place. After you’ve implemented your decision, evaluate whether or not it was effective. Did it solve the initial problem? What lessons—whether positive or negative—can you learn from this experience to improve your critical thinking for next time? 

Depending on how your team shares information, consider documenting lessons learned in a central source of truth. That way, team members that are making similar or related decisions in the future can understand why you made the decision you made and what the outcome was. 

Example of critical thinking in the workplace

Imagine you work in user experience design (UX). Your team is focused on pricing and packaging and ensuring customers have a clear understanding of the different services your company offers. Here’s how to apply the critical thinking process in the workplace in seven steps: 

Start by identifying the problem

Your current pricing page isn’t performing as well as you want. You’ve heard from customers that your services aren’t clear, and that the page doesn’t answer the questions they have. This page is really important for your company, since it’s where your customers sign up for your service. You and your team have a few theories about why your current page isn’t performing well, but you decide to apply the critical thinking process to ensure you come to the best decision for the page. 

Gather information about how the problem started

Part of identifying the problem includes understanding how the problem started. The pricing and packaging page is important—so when your team initially designed the page, they certainly put a lot of thought into it. Before you begin researching how to improve the page, ask yourself: 

Why did you design the pricing page the way you did? 

Which stakeholders need to be involved in the decision making process? 

Where are users getting stuck on the page?

Are any features currently working?

Then, you research

In addition to understanding the history of the pricing and packaging page, it’s important to understand what works well. Part of this research means taking a look at what your competitor’s pricing pages look like. 

Ask yourself: 

How have our competitors set up their pricing pages?

Are there any pricing page best practices? 

How does color, positioning, and animation impact navigation? 

Are there any standard page layouts customers expect to see? 

Organize and analyze information

You’ve gathered all of the information you need—now you need to organize and analyze it. What trends, if any, are you noticing? Is there any particularly relevant or important information that you have to consider? 

Ask open-ended questions to reduce bias

In the case of critical thinking, it’s important to address and set bias aside as much as possible. Ask yourself: 

Is there anything I’m missing? 

Have I connected with the right stakeholders? 

Are there any other viewpoints I should consider? 

Determine the best solution for your team

You now have all of the information you need to design the best pricing page. Depending on the complexity of the design, you may want to design a few options to present to a small group of customers or A/B test on the live website.

Present your solution to stakeholders

Critical thinking can help you in every element of your life, but in the workplace, you must also involve key project stakeholders . Stakeholders help you determine next steps, like whether you’ll A/B test the page first. Depending on the complexity of the issue, consider hosting a meeting or sharing a status report to get everyone on the same page. 

Analyze the results

No process is complete without evaluating the results. Once the new page has been live for some time, evaluate whether it did better than the previous page. What worked? What didn’t? This also helps you make better critical decisions later on.

Critically successful 

Critical thinking takes time to build, but with effort and patience you can apply an unbiased, analytical mind to any situation. Critical thinking makes up one of many soft skills that makes you an effective team member, manager, and worker. If you’re looking to hone your skills further, read our article on the 25 project management skills you need to succeed . 

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A Short Guide to Building Your Team's Critical Thinking Skills

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Critical thinking isn't an innate skill. It can be learned.

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Most employers lack an effective way to objectively assess critical thinking skills and most managers don’t know how to provide specific instruction to team members in need of becoming better thinkers. Instead, most managers employ a sink-or-swim approach, ultimately creating work-arounds to keep those who can’t figure out how to “swim” from making important decisions. But it doesn’t have to be this way. To demystify what critical thinking is and how it is developed, the author’s team turned to three research-backed models: The Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment, Pearson’s RED Critical Thinking Model, and Bloom’s Taxonomy. Using these models, they developed the Critical Thinking Roadmap, a framework that breaks critical thinking down into four measurable phases: the ability to execute, synthesize, recommend, and generate.

Oct 11, 2019


General Management

Harvard Business Review Digital Article


1222 word count

how to teach employees critical thinking skills

Can You Really Coach Employees in Critical Thinking?


Some say no; people are born with certain abilities and it’s nearly impossible to teach complex talents like critical thinking. Others argue yes: with the right attitude, guidance, and hard work, critical thinking is like a muscle that can be strengthened. Just take a look at the growing awareness and acceptance of concepts like the growth mindset. More and more people today understand that obtaining new skills is a matter of opportunity. 

What is critical thinking, and why is it important?

Critical thinking relates to so many aspects of our lives that there’s not a single definition beyond the ability to make a decision. Many of them overlap with other concepts such as problem solving, creativity, and logic. To avoid confusion, a simple approach is to define critical thinking based on its core phrase: ‘critical’, i.e., centered on criticism. Critical thinking can be summed up as criticizing or investigating ideas in order to refine numerous options and reach the best one (and then smooth things over with your skills in empathy). In this sense, critical thinking is an important teamwork skill . 

Critical thinking skills are essential for employees – especially amongst leadership – in any organization that needs to make decisions. Once a list of possibilities is defined, critical thinking narrows them down to something realistic and practical. 

Yet the skill of critical thinking is greatly lacking in the workplace. According to this SHRM report , critical thinking is tied with problem solving as accounting for the greatest skill gap. The situation isn’t getting better, either, as half of companies believe that this ability is actually declining in their workforce.  

What are the different aspects of critical thinking? 

One’s mindset is “critical” in critical thinking, as it influences a person’s approach. As is true with many skills (such as a growth mindset , a philosophy of constant learning, etc.) attitude counts. Whenever an employee is confronted with a situation that requires critical thinking, the right mindset will set them off in the right direction:

  • Considering ideas critically while delaying judgment. With a critical thinking mindset, employees will take the time to evaluate each alternative until they have a thorough understanding of them. 
  • Ignoring personal bias. Ideas must be seen on their own merit, regardless of the source. The judgment of an idea, either due to liking or disapproval of the person who came up with the idea, will result in poor decision making and lead to conflict.  
  • Applying the principle of charity. This doesn’t mean putting something in the donation box. The principle of charity assumes that every idea has pros and cons. Proper critical thinking will realize the best parts of every idea with an eye towards combining their strengths. 

The common denominator for all of these elements is that they involve making a decision. Although critical thinking skills should ideally be part of every employee’s abilities, making decisions is usually the role of a leader. For this reason, critical thinking is considered a leadership skill that will continue growing in importance for years to come. 

What are some examples where critical thinking comes in handy?

Critical thinking skills are imperative for anybody who wishes to make smart choices and minimize time spent on wrong directions. Here are some examples of critical thinking in the workplace that many leaders will encounter:

Dealing with a crisis

Trouble in the workplace naturally involves panic and a flood of suggestions about what to do. Critical thinking enables decision makers to assess the best ideas in a rapid manner and come up with solutions quickly.  

Hiring employees

Managers are often involved in deciding whom to pick from a list of candidates. Through critical thinking, applicants will be judged according to their potential value to the firm, instead of according to the personal preferences of the manager. 

Building a strategy

Constructing a productive long-term vision for an organization requires an extensive process of choosing between numerous alternatives. Critical thinking provides a method for examining each choice methodically and logically.  

What are the basic skills and steps of critical thinking?

Applying critical thinking is, in many ways, a set of steps, each of which depends on a particular skill element. In a very basic sense, here is the process of running through a critical thinking evaluation, along with the related skill elements:

  • Organization – The first step is to break down the issue to understand its precise nature, and organize the problem into manageable factors. Organization is also used to set priorities and decide which factors will be addressed first, and then once more to collect ideas for a solution. 
  • Communication – Once ideas are gathered, the leader needs to ask questions and explain any areas of confusion. If the leader is the point of contact for detailing the process to other parts of the company, communication skills are important here as well. 
  • Decision making – The final step is to come up with a course of action. Again, this might consist of choosing one idea, or combining aspects of several.  

What are the best ways to learn critical thinking?

Books and courses are excellent starting points for learning critical thinking. But, like many soft skills , the ability to apply critical thinking depends on the individual. Some people have a natural ability to judge between alternatives while others require refinement. Performance is typically the main motivation for employees, so watching somebody as they approach decisions at work is the most constructive route. Hiring a coach to view how an employee engages in critical thinking is a highly practical approach. 

A typical routine for coaching critical thinking can involve:

  • Discussing tasks where critical thinking is required, and identifying the most crucial and immediate ones 
  • Running through the basic critical thinking steps listed above while providing feedback and direction
  • Meeting with the employee’s manager to review the process, discuss the employee’s performance, and determine if the cycle should go through another round  

Critical thinking training for employees by GrowthSpace

GrowthSpace’s L&D platform enables companies to optimize their employee coaching and L&D programs for the development of critical thinking skills. With a technology-based approach to  soft skills training , GrowthSpace empowers L&D departments to strengthen their employees’ critical thinking skills by matching them with the top trainers, mentors, and coaches in their field. 

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how to teach employees critical thinking skills

How to build critical thinking skills for better decision-making

It’s simple in theory, but tougher in practice – here are five tips to get you started.

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Have you heard the riddle about two coins that equal thirty cents, but one of them is not a nickel? What about the one where a surgeon says they can’t operate on their own son?

Those brain teasers tap into your critical thinking skills. But your ability to think critically isn’t just helpful for solving those random puzzles – it plays a big role in your career. 

An impressive 81% of employers say critical thinking carries a lot of weight when they’re evaluating job candidates. It ranks as the top competency companies consider when hiring recent graduates (even ahead of communication ). Plus, once you’re hired, several studies show that critical thinking skills are highly correlated with better job performance.

So what exactly are critical thinking skills? And even more importantly, how do you build and improve them? 

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the ability to evaluate facts and information, remain objective, and make a sound decision about how to move forward.

Does that sound like how you approach every decision or problem? Not so fast. Critical thinking seems simple in theory but is much tougher in practice, which helps explain why 65% of employers say their organization has a need for more critical thinking. 

In reality, critical thinking doesn’t come naturally to a lot of us. In order to do it well, you need to:

  • Remain open-minded and inquisitive, rather than relying on assumptions or jumping to conclusions
  • Ask questions and dig deep, rather than accepting information at face value
  • Keep your own biases and perceptions in check to stay as objective as possible
  • Rely on your emotional intelligence to fill in the blanks and gain a more well-rounded understanding of a situation

So, critical thinking isn’t just being intelligent or analytical. In many ways, it requires you to step outside of yourself, let go of your own preconceived notions, and approach a problem or situation with curiosity and fairness.

It’s a challenge, but it’s well worth it. Critical thinking skills will help you connect ideas, make reasonable decisions, and solve complex problems.

7 critical thinking skills to help you dig deeper

Critical thinking is often labeled as a skill itself (you’ll see it bulleted as a desired trait in a variety of job descriptions). But it’s better to think of critical thinking less as a distinct skill and more as a collection or category of skills. 

To think critically, you’ll need to tap into a bunch of your other soft skills. Here are seven of the most important. 


It’s important to kick off the critical thinking process with the idea that anything is possible. The more you’re able to set aside your own suspicions, beliefs, and agenda, the better prepared you are to approach the situation with the level of inquisitiveness you need. 

That means not closing yourself off to any possibilities and allowing yourself the space to pull on every thread – yes, even the ones that seem totally implausible.

As Christopher Dwyer, Ph.D. writes in a piece for Psychology Today , “Even if an idea appears foolish, sometimes its consideration can lead to an intelligent, critically considered conclusion.” He goes on to compare the critical thinking process to brainstorming . Sometimes the “bad” ideas are what lay the foundation for the good ones. 

Open-mindedness is challenging because it requires more effort and mental bandwidth than sticking with your own perceptions. Approaching problems or situations with true impartiality often means:

  • Practicing self-regulation : Giving yourself a pause between when you feel something and when you actually react or take action.
  • Challenging your own biases: Acknowledging your biases and seeking feedback are two powerful ways to get a broader understanding. 

Critical thinking example

In a team meeting, your boss mentioned that your company newsletter signups have been decreasing and she wants to figure out why.

At first, you feel offended and defensive – it feels like she’s blaming you for the dip in subscribers. You recognize and rationalize that emotion before thinking about potential causes. You have a hunch about what’s happening, but you will explore all possibilities and contributions from your team members.


Observation is, of course, your ability to notice and process the details all around you (even the subtle or seemingly inconsequential ones). Critical thinking demands that you’re flexible and willing to go beyond surface-level information, and solid observation skills help you do that.

Your observations help you pick up on clues from a variety of sources and experiences, all of which help you draw a final conclusion. After all, sometimes it’s the most minuscule realization that leads you to the strongest conclusion.

Over the next week or so, you keep a close eye on your company’s website and newsletter analytics to see if numbers are in fact declining or if your boss’s concerns were just a fluke. 

Critical thinking hinges on objectivity. And, to be objective, you need to base your judgments on the facts – which you collect through research. You’ll lean on your research skills to gather as much information as possible that’s relevant to your problem or situation. 

Keep in mind that this isn’t just about the quantity of information – quality matters too. You want to find data and details from a variety of trusted sources to drill past the surface and build a deeper understanding of what’s happening. 

You dig into your email and website analytics to identify trends in bounce rates, time on page, conversions, and more. You also review recent newsletters and email promotions to understand what customers have received, look through current customer feedback, and connect with your customer support team to learn what they’re hearing in their conversations with customers.

The critical thinking process is sort of like a treasure hunt – you’ll find some nuggets that are fundamental for your final conclusion and some that might be interesting but aren’t pertinent to the problem at hand.

That’s why you need analytical skills. They’re what help you separate the wheat from the chaff, prioritize information, identify trends or themes, and draw conclusions based on the most relevant and influential facts. 

It’s easy to confuse analytical thinking with critical thinking itself, and it’s true there is a lot of overlap between the two. But analytical thinking is just a piece of critical thinking. It focuses strictly on the facts and data, while critical thinking incorporates other factors like emotions, opinions, and experiences. 

As you analyze your research, you notice that one specific webpage has contributed to a significant decline in newsletter signups. While all of the other sources have stayed fairly steady with regard to conversions, that one has sharply decreased.

You decide to move on from your other hypotheses about newsletter quality and dig deeper into the analytics. 

One of the traps of critical thinking is that it’s easy to feel like you’re never done. There’s always more information you could collect and more rabbit holes you could fall down.

But at some point, you need to accept that you’ve done your due diligence and make a decision about how to move forward. That’s where inference comes in. It’s your ability to look at the evidence and facts available to you and draw an informed conclusion based on those. 

When you’re so focused on staying objective and pursuing all possibilities, inference can feel like the antithesis of critical thinking. But ultimately, it’s your inference skills that allow you to move out of the thinking process and onto the action steps. 

You dig deeper into the analytics for the page that hasn’t been converting and notice that the sharp drop-off happened around the same time you switched email providers.

After looking more into the backend, you realize that the signup form on that page isn’t correctly connected to your newsletter platform. It seems like anybody who has signed up on that page hasn’t been fed to your email list. 


3 ways to improve your communication skills at work

3 ways to improve your communication skills at work

If and when you identify a solution or answer, you can’t keep it close to the vest. You’ll need to use your communication skills to share your findings with the relevant stakeholders – like your boss, team members, or anybody who needs to be involved in the next steps.

Your analysis skills will come in handy here too, as they’ll help you determine what information other people need to know so you can avoid bogging them down with unnecessary details. 

In your next team meeting, you pull up the analytics and show your team the sharp drop-off as well as the missing connection between that page and your email platform. You ask the web team to reinstall and double-check that connection and you also ask a member of the marketing team to draft an apology email to the subscribers who were missed. 


Critical thinking and problem-solving are two more terms that are frequently confused. After all, when you think critically, you’re often doing so with the objective of solving a problem.

The best way to understand how problem-solving and critical thinking differ is to think of problem-solving as much more narrow. You’re focused on finding a solution.

In contrast, you can use critical thinking for a variety of use cases beyond solving a problem – like answering questions or identifying opportunities for improvement. Even so, within the critical thinking process, you’ll flex your problem-solving skills when it comes time to take action. 

Once the fix is implemented, you monitor the analytics to see if subscribers continue to increase. If not (or if they increase at a slower rate than you anticipated), you’ll roll out some other tests like changing the CTA language or the placement of the subscribe form on the page.

5 ways to improve your critical thinking skills

Beyond the buzzwords: Why interpersonal skills matter at work

Beyond the buzzwords: Why interpersonal skills matter at work

Think critically about critical thinking and you’ll quickly realize that it’s not as instinctive as you’d like it to be. Fortunately, your critical thinking skills are learned competencies and not inherent gifts – and that means you can improve them. Here’s how:

  • Practice active listening: Active listening helps you process and understand what other people share. That’s crucial as you aim to be open-minded and inquisitive.
  • Ask open-ended questions: If your critical thinking process involves collecting feedback and opinions from others, ask open-ended questions (meaning, questions that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”). Doing so will give you more valuable information and also prevent your own biases from influencing people’s input.
  • Scrutinize your sources: Figuring out what to trust and prioritize is crucial for critical thinking. Boosting your media literacy and asking more questions will help you be more discerning about what to factor in. It’s hard to strike a balance between skepticism and open-mindedness, but approaching information with questions (rather than unquestioning trust) will help you draw better conclusions. 
  • Play a game: Remember those riddles we mentioned at the beginning? As trivial as they might seem, games and exercises like those can help you boost your critical thinking skills. There are plenty of critical thinking exercises you can do individually or as a team . 
  • Give yourself time: Research shows that rushed decisions are often regrettable ones. That’s likely because critical thinking takes time – you can’t do it under the wire. So, for big decisions or hairy problems, give yourself enough time and breathing room to work through the process. It’s hard enough to think critically without a countdown ticking in your brain. 

Critical thinking really is critical

The ability to think critically is important, but it doesn’t come naturally to most of us. It’s just easier to stick with biases, assumptions, and surface-level information. 

But that route often leads you to rash judgments, shaky conclusions, and disappointing decisions. So here’s a conclusion we can draw without any more noodling: Even if it is more demanding on your mental resources, critical thinking is well worth the effort.

Advice, stories, and expertise about work life today.

Outback Team Building & Training

Critical Thinking in the Workplace: 4 Ways to Boost this Skill Among Your Employees


By helping your employees learn to improve their critical thinking skills in the workplace, you can empower your team to drive both their own careers and your business forward. Find out four ways to foster out-of-the-box thinking and problem-solving at the office.

As a leader, it may feel like your employees come to you with every small issue, even though you know they’re capable of bringing forward creative solutions and exercising critical thinking in the workplace. This may leave you feeling a bit stumped. You know you have a stellar team. So, why aren’t they showcasing this valuable skill?

There are several reasons why your team may not be utilizing critical thinking, including:

  • Lack of Confidence: Employees may be unwilling to make decisions for fear of failure or making a mistake.
  • Laziness: The path of least resistance – and asking someone else to tackle a problem – is always going to be easier.
  • Unclear Expectations: Your team may feel uncertain about their position and accountabilities.
  • Avoidance of Conflict: Challenging established processes can ruffle feathers and make people uncomfortable.
  • Uncompromising Bias: Team members may not be able to recognize that other people could have perspectives that are different from their own.

Regardless of why your employees are troubling you with each issue they face, you know something’s got to give.

It’s time to empower your team to think critically on their own, so that they can bring you results, rather than roadblocks.

2 Big Reasons Critical Thinking Is So Valuable in the Workplace

Having an employee who will fulfill any task exactly as you asked is good. Mentoring a team member who will challenge a process that’s not working, bring you innovative solutions, and see an assignment from different viewpoints is much better.

Critical thinking in the workplace is an invaluable skill that should be on your leadership team’s radar from the time you hire, through to how you manage your employees. And for many, it already is.

In fact, two major reasons critical thinking seems to be so valuable in the workplace is due to simple supply and demand:

  • Decreasing Supply of Critical Thinkers: SHRM reports in the 2019 State of the Workplace that problem solving and critical thinking is the number one soft skill missing among workforce applicants. It’s a skill gap that remains prevalent, with more than 50% of survey respondents stating that this sought-after competency is actually declining within their organizations.
  • Increasing Demand for Critical Thinkers: According to the Future of Jobs Survey 2018 by World Economic Forum, critical thinking in the workplace was third on a list of top 10 in-demand skills in 2018 and it is trending to still be on that list in 2022.

5 Examples of Critical Thinking in the Workplace

When you imagine critical thinking, what do you think of? Perhaps you envision someone concentrating hard at their desk. Or maybe you conjure up a cartoon businessperson with a thought bubble bursting from their head.

Whatever it is, it’s likely not a concrete example of someone “thinking critically.” It’s a complex idea and can be tricky to spot in real-world business situations.

So, to help paint a picture of what critical thinking in the workplace looks like, here are five examples:

  • Prioritizing a Task List: Given a list of assignments, an employee with well-developed critical thinking skills is able to assess the items and prioritize the order of completion by analyzing the importance of each task and the overall big picture.
  • Recommending Team Building Activities: When a customer calls our team at Outback with their details, such as group size, goals, and location, our Employee Engagement Consultants are able to evaluate that information and cross-reference it with our team building activities to provide the best recommendation.
  • Hiring New Employees: In an interview setting, HR and leadership teams are able to interact with job candidates and assess who will be best for a position based on skills, experience, recommendations, and culture fit.
  • Limiting Damage: If a pipe bursts in your office building, the maintenance worker in charge of handling the issue would assess how their actions may affect other areas. Turning off the water may seem like the obvious solution, but they would first evaluate if that would impact other water lines and areas of the building before making any decisions.
  • Effectively Communicating Change: Understanding that a change in organizational processes may inadvertently affect employees or departments, a critical thinker would discuss the proposed improvements with others to get their input or advice. Once they’ve moved forward with any updates, they would then communicate the changes to ensure there are no gaps in the new process. Read our blog post, Strategies for Companies to Successfully Overcome Major Organizational Changes , for more advice on this topic.

How to Promote Critical Thinking on Your Team

Critical thinking in the workplace can help you create a stronger, more innovative team and free up your time as a manager – but this soft skill can be a tricky one to teach. So, how can you help your employees hone the ability to be critical thinkers?

There are varying opinions on exactly which competencies define “critical thinking.” But here are the four most common abilities that our team recommends supporting in order to promote critical thinking in your workplace.

  • Analysis & Evaluation: When approaching a roadblock, encourage your team to look at the overall big picture and look for potential solutions. Tell them to ask themselves how their actions may affect other people or areas of your business and to look at the issue from multiple perspectives. Who benefits? What will the impact be? Then get them comfortable with bringing their ideas, and the rationale behind them, forward. Take the time to sit down with your employees and discuss their recommendations, whether they should move forward with them, and, if not, what courses of action should be taken instead and why.
  • An Open Mind & Creativity:  Empower your employees to approach tasks with a neutral opinion. Once someone has evaluated a situation, ask them to question what they may have missed. They should look for ways they could be wrong and know that identifying gaps in their knowledge is not a weakness – it’s an opportunity to learn and get creative. Team building activities are a great way to help support your team’s creative energy and encourage them to see challenges from new perspectives.
  • Confident Decision Making:  Tell your team that you want them to come to informed conclusions on their own. Let them know you will value their input – even if it challenges a long-standing process – as long as they come to a decision after thoughtfully analyzing a situation with an open mind. With our Confident Decision Making training and development program, you can help your employees make hard business choices more effectively.
  • Clear Communication: Motivate your team to communicate relevant issues, ideas, and resolutions throughout their process – without bogging you down with the nitty-gritty details. Standard practice for your employees should be to include all relevant people in their communications, so they can gather different perspectives and make decisions with the big picture in mind. If your group is having trouble with being effective communicators, our team recommends taking part in the Clear Communication program.

Learn More About Training & Development for Your Group 

For more information about how training and development programs can benefit your group and support their critical thinking skills, reach out to our Employee Engagement Consultants.

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What are critical thinking skills?

How to develop critical thinking skills: 12 tips, how to practice critical thinking skills at work, become your own best critic.

A client requests a tight deadline on an intense project. Your childcare provider calls in sick on a day full of meetings. Payment from a contract gig is a month behind. 

Your day-to-day will always have challenges, big and small. And no matter the size and urgency, they all ask you to use critical thinking to analyze the situation and arrive at the right solution. 

Critical thinking includes a wide set of soft skills that encourage continuous learning, resilience , and self-reflection. The more you add to your professional toolbelt, the more equipped you’ll be to tackle whatever challenge presents itself. Here’s how to develop critical thinking, with examples explaining how to use it.

Critical thinking skills are the skills you use to analyze information, imagine scenarios holistically, and create rational solutions. It’s a type of emotional intelligence that stimulates effective problem-solving and decision-making . 

When you fine-tune your critical thinking skills, you seek beyond face-value observations and knee-jerk reactions. Instead, you harvest deeper insights and string together ideas and concepts in logical, sometimes out-of-the-box , ways. 

Imagine a team working on a marketing strategy for a new set of services. That team might use critical thinking to balance goals and key performance indicators , like new customer acquisition costs, average monthly sales, and net profit margins. They understand the connections between overlapping factors to build a strategy that stays within budget and attracts new sales. 

Looking for ways to improve critical thinking skills? Start by brushing up on the following soft skills that fall under this umbrella: 

  • Analytical thinking: Approaching problems with an analytical eye includes breaking down complex issues into small chunks and examining their significance. An example could be organizing customer feedback to identify trends and improve your product offerings. 
  • Open-mindedness: Push past cognitive biases and be receptive to different points of view and constructive feedback . Managers and team members who keep an open mind position themselves to hear new ideas that foster innovation . 
  • Creative thinking: With creative thinking , you can develop several ideas to address a single problem, like brainstorming more efficient workflow best practices to boost productivity and employee morale . 
  • Self-reflection: Self-reflection lets you examine your thinking and assumptions to stimulate healthier collaboration and thought processes. Maybe a bad first impression created a negative anchoring bias with a new coworker. Reflecting on your own behavior stirs up empathy and improves the relationship. 
  • Evaluation: With evaluation skills, you tackle the pros and cons of a situation based on logic rather than emotion. When prioritizing tasks , you might be tempted to do the fun or easy ones first, but evaluating their urgency and importance can help you make better decisions. 

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There’s no magic method to change your thinking processes. Improvement happens with small, intentional changes to your everyday habits until a more critical approach to thinking is automatic. 

Here are 12 tips for building stronger self-awareness and learning how to improve critical thinking: 

1. Be cautious

There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of skepticism. One of the core principles of critical thinking is asking questions and dissecting the available information. You might surprise yourself at what you find when you stop to think before taking action. 

Before making a decision, use evidence, logic, and deductive reasoning to support your own opinions or challenge ideas. It helps you and your team avoid falling prey to bad information or resistance to change .

2. Ask open-ended questions

“Yes” or “no” questions invite agreement rather than reflection. Instead, ask open-ended questions that force you to engage in analysis and rumination. Digging deeper can help you identify potential biases, uncover assumptions, and arrive at new hypotheses and possible solutions. 

3. Do your research

No matter your proficiency, you can always learn more. Turning to different points of view and information is a great way to develop a comprehensive understanding of a topic and make informed decisions. You’ll prioritize reliable information rather than fall into emotional or automatic decision-making. 


4. Consider several opinions

You might spend so much time on your work that it’s easy to get stuck in your own perspective, especially if you work independently on a remote team . Make an effort to reach out to colleagues to hear different ideas and thought patterns. Their input might surprise you.

If or when you disagree, remember that you and your team share a common goal. Divergent opinions are constructive, so shift the focus to finding solutions rather than defending disagreements. 

5. Learn to be quiet

Active listening is the intentional practice of concentrating on a conversation partner instead of your own thoughts. It’s about paying attention to detail and letting people know you value their opinions, which can open your mind to new perspectives and thought processes.

If you’re brainstorming with your team or having a 1:1 with a coworker , listen, ask clarifying questions, and work to understand other peoples’ viewpoints. Listening to your team will help you find fallacies in arguments to improve possible solutions.

6. Schedule reflection

Whether waking up at 5 am or using a procrastination hack, scheduling time to think puts you in a growth mindset . Your mind has natural cognitive biases to help you simplify decision-making, but squashing them is key to thinking critically and finding new solutions besides the ones you might gravitate toward. Creating time and calm space in your day gives you the chance to step back and visualize the biases that impact your decision-making. 

7. Cultivate curiosity

With so many demands and job responsibilities, it’s easy to seek solace in routine. But getting out of your comfort zone helps spark critical thinking and find more solutions than you usually might.

If curiosity doesn’t come naturally to you, cultivate a thirst for knowledge by reskilling and upskilling . Not only will you add a new skill to your resume , but expanding the limits of your professional knowledge might motivate you to ask more questions. 

You don’t have to develop critical thinking skills exclusively in the office. Whether on your break or finding a hobby to do after work, playing strategic games or filling out crosswords can prime your brain for problem-solving. 


9. Write it down

Recording your thoughts with pen and paper can lead to stronger brain activity than typing them out on a keyboard. If you’re stuck and want to think more critically about a problem, writing your ideas can help you process information more deeply.

The act of recording ideas on paper can also improve your memory . Ideas are more likely to linger in the background of your mind, leading to deeper thinking that informs your decision-making process. 

10. Speak up

Take opportunities to share your opinion, even if it intimidates you. Whether at a networking event with new people or a meeting with close colleagues, try to engage with people who challenge or help you develop your ideas. Having conversations that force you to support your position encourages you to refine your argument and think critically. 

11. Stay humble

Ideas and concepts aren’t the same as real-life actions. There may be such a thing as negative outcomes, but there’s no such thing as a bad idea. At the brainstorming stage , don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Sometimes the best solutions come from off-the-wall, unorthodox decisions. Sit in your creativity , let ideas flow, and don’t be afraid to share them with your colleagues. Putting yourself in a creative mindset helps you see situations from new perspectives and arrive at innovative conclusions. 

12. Embrace discomfort

Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable . It isn’t easy when others challenge your ideas, but sometimes, it’s the only way to see new perspectives and think critically.

By willingly stepping into unfamiliar territory, you foster the resilience and flexibility you need to become a better thinker. You’ll learn how to pick yourself up from failure and approach problems from fresh angles. 


Thinking critically is easier said than done. To help you understand its impact (and how to use it), here are two scenarios that require critical thinking skills and provide teachable moments. 

Scenario #1: Unexpected delays and budget

Imagine your team is working on producing an event. Unexpectedly, a vendor explains they’ll be a week behind on delivering materials. Then another vendor sends a quote that’s more than you can afford. Unless you develop a creative solution, the team will have to push back deadlines and go over budget, potentially costing the client’s trust. 

Here’s how you could approach the situation with creative thinking:

  • Analyze the situation holistically: Determine how the delayed materials and over-budget quote will impact the rest of your timeline and financial resources . That way, you can identify whether you need to build an entirely new plan with new vendors, or if it’s worth it to readjust time and resources. 
  • Identify your alternative options: With careful assessment, your team decides that another vendor can’t provide the same materials in a quicker time frame. You’ll need to rearrange assignment schedules to complete everything on time. 
  • Collaborate and adapt: Your team has an emergency meeting to rearrange your project schedule. You write down each deliverable and determine which ones you can and can’t complete by the deadline. To compensate for lost time, you rearrange your task schedule to complete everything that doesn’t need the delayed materials first, then advance as far as you can on the tasks that do. 
  • Check different resources: In the meantime, you scour through your contact sheet to find alternative vendors that fit your budget. Accounting helps by providing old invoices to determine which vendors have quoted less for previous jobs. After pulling all your sources, you find a vendor that fits your budget. 
  • Maintain open communication: You create a special Slack channel to keep everyone up to date on changes, challenges, and additional delays. Keeping an open line encourages transparency on the team’s progress and boosts everyone’s confidence. 


Scenario #2: Differing opinions 

A conflict arises between two team members on the best approach for a new strategy for a gaming app. One believes that small tweaks to the current content are necessary to maintain user engagement and stay within budget. The other believes a bold revamp is needed to encourage new followers and stronger sales revenue. 

Here’s how critical thinking could help this conflict:

  • Listen actively: Give both team members the opportunity to present their ideas free of interruption. Encourage the entire team to ask open-ended questions to more fully understand and develop each argument. 
  • Flex your analytical skills: After learning more about both ideas, everyone should objectively assess the benefits and drawbacks of each approach. Analyze each idea's risk, merits, and feasibility based on available data and the app’s goals and objectives. 
  • Identify common ground: The team discusses similarities between each approach and brainstorms ways to integrate both idea s, like making small but eye-catching modifications to existing content or using the same visual design in new media formats. 
  • Test new strategy: To test out the potential of a bolder strategy, the team decides to A/B test both approaches. You create a set of criteria to evenly distribute users by different demographics to analyze engagement, revenue, and customer turnover. 
  • Monitor and adapt: After implementing the A/B test, the team closely monitors the results of each strategy. You regroup and optimize the changes that provide stronger results after the testing. That way, all team members understand why you’re making the changes you decide to make.

You can’t think your problems away. But you can equip yourself with skills that help you move through your biggest challenges and find innovative solutions. Learning how to develop critical thinking is the start of honing an adaptable growth mindset. 

Now that you have resources to increase critical thinking skills in your professional development, you can identify whether you embrace change or routine, are open or resistant to feedback, or turn to research or emotion will build self-awareness. From there, tweak and incorporate techniques to be a critical thinker when life presents you with a problem.

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Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

What is lateral thinking? 7 techniques to encourage creative ideas

Critical thinking is the one skillset you can't afford not to master, thinking outside the box: 8 ways to become a creative problem solver, be cool: how to manage your emotions and avoid rage quitting, member story: career development and shaping my future with intention, member story: a copilot for the road ahead, effective negotiation tactics to level-up your career, learn to let it go: how to deal with career disappointment, entrepreneurial mindset: what is it & how to think like an entrepreneur, similar articles, what is creative thinking and why does it matter, 6 big picture thinking strategies that you'll actually use, how to improve your creative skills for effective problem-solving, the most critical skills for leaders are fundamentally human, how intrapersonal skills shape teams, plus 5 ways to build them, life skills for adults: 5 types to help you settle into adulthood, what’s convergent thinking how to be a better problem-solver, stay connected with betterup, get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research..

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How to Promote Critical Thinking in the Workplace

What is critical thinking? Critical thinking is a process of objective evaluation of facts and the consideration of possible solutions to problems. According to the  Foundation for Critical Thinking , the concept dates back to early methods of questioning to achieve knowledge practiced by the Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. Today, organizations value critical thinking as a means to greater innovation and improved problem-solving. In fact, the skill is deemed so important that a  survey  of leading chief human resource officers conducted by the World Economic Forum found that critical thinking will be the second most important skill in the workplace by 2020, second only to complex problem-solving skills.

Critical thinking is important because it helps individuals and teams more effectively diagnose problems and identify possible solutions that aren’t entirely obvious at first. In addition, critical thinking can help resolve conflicts in the workplace. When individuals consider a range of possible approaches to solving a problem rather than relying on bias or snap judgments, they are more likely to arrive at a better solution.

Ways to Promote Critical Thinking in the Workplace

Some ways you can promote critical thinking in the workplace involve making changes in your workplace culture; others involve training. Here are five ways to encourage critical thinking in your organization.

1. Hire and Promote Critical Thinkers

An important first step to building organizational strength in critical thinking is to hire individuals who are already strong in that area. Behavioral interviewing is an effective way to gauge a candidate’s strengths in critical evaluation and analysis. In addition, when you make critical thinking a desired competency for leadership and promotion, you begin to build a pipeline of talented critical thinkers.

2. Build a Culture of Learning

It’s critical to create an environment where the behaviors related to critical thinking are a natural part of your company culture. Some of the ways you can build and support  a culture that stimulates critical, objective analysis include:

  • Incorporating “lessons learned” discussions after the conclusion of important projects, during which employees have the opportunity to look back on areas where more critical thinking might have been helpful in improving a project’s outcome
  • Creating an environment where tough questions are welcomed and employees are encouraged to talk through alternatives openly
  • Developing a routine or protocol for decision-making that encourages critical-thinking behaviors such as exploring possible solutions to a problem, exploring bias, and considering the consequences of different proposed solutions

3. Avoid Jumping to Conclusions

Another way to promote critical thinking in the workplace is to avoid jumping to conclusions. Instead, approach a problem by first developing a common understanding of the challenges it presents. According to a recent  helpful article , these are a few ways to accomplish this:

  • Ask questions about the origin of a problem and how it evolved
  • Define the desired outcome before settling on a solution to the problem
  • Avoid overthinking possible solutions, which can slow down the problem-solving process and undermine disciplined thinking

4. Create Internal Forums

Sometimes the simple act of talking things out can help to spur the critical, objective analysis of problems. When individuals have a forum for addressing and discussing one big problem or a series of related problems, they generate new ideas, share pros and cons of certain solutions, and take advantage of opportunities to collaborate with coworkers on creative solutions to workplace problems.

5. Teach and Train

Leadership development  and teamwork-skills training can help build employees’ critical thinking strengths by encouraging a mind-set and skill-set change. As individuals learn new behaviors, they begin to see broader problems and solutions that exist beyond their individual roles and consider the larger picture when looking at a problem.

Experiential learning   works particularly well in promoting critical thinking because learning by doing encourages a critical skill set. The immersive nature of an experiential approach keeps employees fully engaged so that they continually use their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

Build Critical Thinking in the Whole Organization

Critical thinking is more than a desirable soft skill; it’s a valuable competency that is the basis for innovation and problem-solving. When properly cultivated in the workplace, critical thinking can help individuals and teams overcome challenges and meet business goals. Although there’s no magic bullet that will increase critical thinking in the workplace, a variety of activities in combination can effectively promote it. When you build a culture that promotes and values critical thinking, your organization as a whole will see greater results and outcomes.

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Critical Thinking Exercises for Employees: Boosting Workplace Problem-Solving Skills

Critical Thinking Exercises for Employees

In today’s fast-paced work environment, critical thinking skills are essential for success. By engaging in critical thinking exercises, employees can refine their ability to evaluate information, solve complex problems, and communicate effectively. These skills not only contribute to individual success but also promote a more innovative and productive work environment.

Critical thinking also plays a crucial role in leadership and management, as well as fostering effective teamwork. Managers who possess strong critical thinking skills are better equipped to guide their teams in problem-solving and decision-making processes. By incorporating critical thinking exercises into employee training, organizations can cultivate a culture that values innovation, creativity, and adaptability.

Key Takeaways

  • Critical thinking exercises help employees develop problem-solving and communication skills.
  • Strong critical thinking is essential for effective leadership, management, and teamwork.
  • Fostering critical thinking in the workplace leads to a more innovative and productive environment.

Understanding Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a vital skill for employees in the business world, as it enables individuals to analyze complex situations, identify biases, and make informed decisions through creative problem-solving methods. This cognitive process encourages a deeper understanding of problems and promotes the ability to approach them from multiple perspectives.

Developing critical thinking skills involves being aware of one’s own biases and working towards eliminating them. Bias can significantly impact how we approach problems and may result in making distorted decisions. By recognizing and addressing these biases, employees can harness their critical thinking abilities to make impartial and robust decisions in the business landscape.

One essential component of critical thinking is the ability to analyze information. This involves breaking down a problem into its constituent parts, understanding their relationships, and evaluating the significance of each element. Through thorough analysis, employees can gain a comprehensive view of the situation and consider various aspects before making well-informed decisions.

In the context of problem-solving, critical thinking encourages employees to explore new perspectives and think beyond conventional solutions. By adopting a creative approach, individuals can generate novel ideas and innovations, which can lead to improved business results and overall growth.

In conclusion, it is crucial for employees to develop and hone their critical thinking skills, as they enable individuals to navigate complex business environments effectively. By addressing biases, conducting robust analysis, and adopting creative problem-solving strategies, employees can make well-informed decisions that contribute to the success and longevity of the organization.

The Importance of Critical Thinking in the Workplace

Critical thinking is an essential skill for employees to possess in the modern workplace. It involves the ability to carefully and systematically analyze information, consider multiple perspectives, and make well-informed decisions. By enhancing decision-making abilities, critical thinking can lead to improved workplace performance and increased job satisfaction.

In the workplace , critical thinking allows for a more thorough evaluation of issues, helping to identify potential problems or opportunities. This is particularly important in today’s fast-paced, competitive environment, where companies need to stay ahead of industry trends and anticipate the needs of their customers. Employees who possess strong critical thinking skills can help their team effectively navigate the challenges that arise in any industry.

Furthermore, critical thinking plays a significant role in evaluating evidence and determining the credibility of information sources. Employees who can scrutinize data, identify patterns, and draw inferences can make more informed decisions and contribute to their team’s success. As a result, employers often seek to hire individuals with strong critical thinking abilities.

In a team setting, critical thinking helps facilitate productive discussions and collaboration. Members of a team who can effectively analyze situations, question assumptions, and remain open-minded to the opinions of others contribute positively to the decision-making process. This ensures that a diverse range of perspectives is considered, leading to better outcomes for the company.

Ultimately, developing critical thinking skills in employees is not just beneficial for the individual worker and their direct colleagues, but it also impacts the overall success of the organization. By fostering an environment that encourages the growth of critical thinking skills, employers can not only increase productivity but also create a more positive and engaged work culture.

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

Mindful observation.

Mindful observation is a valuable exercise for enhancing critical thinking skills. Encourage employees to take a step back and observe their surroundings, paying close attention to details that may have previously gone unnoticed. This practice helps employees develop the ability to analyze situations more thoroughly and interpret information more effectively.

Active Listening

Active listening is essential for effective communication and leadership. Encourage employees to practice active listening by giving their full attention to the speaker, avoiding interrupting, and providing constructive feedback. Active listening promotes the development of critical thinking skills by fostering open-mindedness, empathy, and understanding in the workplace.

Asking Questions

Asking questions is a key component of critical thinking, as it encourages employees to inquire deeper into subjects and analyze all aspects of an issue. Employers can foster a work environment that supports curiosity by encouraging team members to ask both open-ended and closed-ended questions and offering guidance when needed.

Assessing Evidence and Drawing Conclusions

Teaching employees how to evaluate evidence and draw informed conclusions is crucial for the development of critical thinking skills. Use thinking exercises that involve employees analyzing and evaluating various sources of information, ultimately forming an inference that leads to an informed decision. Pairing employees with a mentor is helpful for providing guidance and support throughout the process.

Recognizing and Managing Biases

Biases can greatly impact critical thinking and decision-making. Encourage employees to recognize their own biases and learn how to manage them effectively. Employees can benefit from understanding the impact of these biases on their thought process and how to minimize their influence to make objective, well-reasoned conclusions.

By incorporating these exercises and strategies into the workplace, employees can develop critical thinking skills that strengthen their overall performance, communication, and leadership abilities.

Critical Thinking and Communication

Critical thinking and communication go hand in hand in the workplace. Developing both skills can enhance employees’ ability to solve problems, make decisions, and work effectively in teams. By engaging in critical thinking exercises that involve clear communication and open discussion, employees can improve their cognitive abilities and interpersonal skills.

One exercise to improve critical thinking and communication is explaining a problem to someone else. This allows employees to fully understand a situation and consider all possible options for resolution. Encouraging employees to articulate their thought processes and rationale can lead to improved cognitive skills .

Another useful technique is group discussions, which can stimulate critical thinking and promote clear communication. By engaging in conversations where various perspectives are considered, employees can develop the ability to analyze information objectively and reevaluate their initial assumptions. Fostering open-mindedness and empathy for others’ viewpoints can also build strong communication skills in the workplace .

In addition to exercises, employees should continuously practice self-awareness. Becoming more conscious of their thought processes, values, ethics, and beliefs will enhance their critical thinking abilities . Developing self-awareness also encourages employees to reflect on their communication styles and identify areas that need improvement.

Implementing these critical thinking and communication exercises in the workplace can lead to more efficient problem-solving, enhanced team dynamics, and improved performance across the organization. By fostering a culture of open discussion and clear communication, employers can empower their teams to make well-informed decisions and excel in their respective roles.

Applying Critical Thinking to Problem Solving

Effective problem solving requires employees to utilize critical thinking skills. By carefully analyzing information, asking questions, and determining the best course of action, employees will be more likely to arrive at creative and innovative solutions to challenges.

A key aspect of critical thinking in problem solving is to question assumptions. Employees should be encouraged to identify any preconceived notions or biases that may be influencing their thought processes. This will help them approach the problem with a more open and objective perspective.

Another essential component is seeking alternative viewpoints, even if it means playing the devil’s advocate. By considering different perspectives and exploring various possibilities, employees will be better equipped to discover innovative solutions that might not have been immediately apparent.

Critical thinking also involves evaluating the effectiveness of potential solutions. Employees should be encouraged to analyze the pros and cons of each option, as well as consider any potential long-term impacts. This process can help identify the most viable and successful solutions for a given problem.

In order to foster a culture of critical thinking within the workplace, managers can provide support by encouraging employees to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and explore alternative perspectives. Additionally, providing opportunities for learning and growth can help employees further develop their critical thinking skills, ultimately leading to more effective problem solving and increased innovation.

In summary, critical thinking is essential for effective problem-solving at work. By questioning assumptions, exploring various perspectives, and evaluating potential solutions, employees can confidently recommend creative and innovative approaches to overcoming challenges. This will not only lead to better outcomes for the organization, but also foster a culture of continuous improvement and growth.

Critical Thinking in Leadership and Management

Developing critical thinking skills in leadership and management positions is crucial for making informed decisions, driving company growth, and ensuring employee satisfaction. By enhancing their cognitive abilities, leaders and managers become better at decision-making, hiring processes, and overall performance.

In the realm of leadership, critical thinking helps leaders to understand the logical relationships between ideas and recognize the importance of an argument. This enables them to identify mistakes in reasoning and make well-informed choices, thus driving superior organizational outcomes as mentioned here .

Certainly, nurturing critical thinking in management is essential for improving cognition . This includes decision-making skills, the ability to identify potential pitfalls, and dealing with complex situations. By integrating critical thinking into management practices, companies can boost employee engagement, improve workplace morale, and ultimately succeed in a competitive business landscape.

Incorporating critical thinking exercises into hiring processes allows employers to better assess candidates’ abilities objectively. By focusing on problem-solving and communication skills during the interview process, managers can identify high-potential talent who demonstrate strong critical thinking competencies.

Investing time in building and improving critical thinking skills not only benefits individuals but also the overall success of an organization. By supporting employees in developing their cognitive abilities, leaders and managers both play a crucial role in promoting a culture of critical thinking that will lead to better decision-making and stronger company performance.

In conclusion, fostering critical thinking in leadership and management enables better decision-making, more effective hiring processes, and improved organizational performance. Strong cognitive abilities empower leaders and managers to approach complex situations with confidence and clarity, driving overall growth and success.

Critical Thinking in Team Building

Incorporating critical thinking exercises within team building activities is essential for fostering creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving amongst employees. By engaging team members in activities that require them to consider multiple perspectives and work together to reach a conclusion, companies can significantly improve their team’s performance.

One effective critical thinking activity for team building is Debate It Out . In this exercise, teams are assigned a controversial topic and asked to come to a consensus. Participants must research and present opposing viewpoints, encouraging the consideration of multiple perspectives. This debate process encourages employees to challenge preconceived notions, question assumptions, and ultimately strengthen their critical thinking skills.

Another beneficial exercise involves conducting Reverse-engineering Google activities. In this scenario, participants work together to reverse-engineer a successful past project or campaign. This collaborative approach allows team members to learn from each other’s experiences, assumptions, and mistakes while analyzing the factors that contributed to the project’s success.

Brainstorming is another critical thinking team building activity that can generate diverse ideas and encourage innovation. By setting specific goals or challenges, team members collaborate to provide multiple solutions to a given problem. Encourage employees to think beyond the obvious answers, providing a safe space for innovative and unusual ideas.

In summary, promoting critical thinking within team building exercises is essential for strengthening collaboration, problem-solving, and decision-making skills. Implementing activities such as debates, reverse-engineering Google tasks, and brainstorming can foster robust critical thinking skills amongst team members and ultimately lead to improved team performance.

Evaluating Potential Job Candidates for Critical Thinking Skills

Screening for critical thinking.

When evaluating potential job candidates, it’s important to assess their critical thinking skills as part of the hiring process. These skills are essential for both hard and soft skills, making them valuable across various roles and industries.

A vital step to measure critical thinking is through the initial screening process. To do this effectively, recruiters can utilize pre-employment tests that focus on evaluating candidates’ analytical skills, problem-solving abilities, and decision-making skills. These assessments can be administered online for a more efficient process while narrowing down the applicant pool.

In addition, it’s helpful to include open-ended questions on job application forms, which require a demonstration of critical thinking. For instance, candidates can be asked to provide examples of situations where they needed to use critical thinking skills to resolve a problem.

Assessing Analytical Skills during Interviews

During the interview stage, hiring managers have the opportunity to further evaluate a candidate’s critical thinking abilities. Incorporating critical-thinking interview questions can reveal valuable insights into their thought processes and how they approach problem-solving.

Asking situational and behavioral questions can provide excellent insight into a candidate’s analytical capabilities. Employers may ask questions that require candidates to analyze specific scenarios, or they may inquire about past experiences where candidates employed their critical thinking skills.

Using case studies or real-life scenarios during interviews is also an effective method for assessing critical thinking abilities. Presenting candidates with a complex problem or task can help gauge their skills in problem-solving, decision-making, and evaluation.

It’s essential to have a structured approach when evaluating candidates’ analytical skills, as it enables hiring managers to compare their abilities objectively. This will ultimately help them make informed decisions when selecting the best-suited candidate for the job.

By effectively screening and assessing job candidates’ critical thinking skills, companies can confidently hire employees with the necessary abilities to contribute successfully to their organization’s goals and vision.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Critical Thinking

Emotional Intelligence (EI) plays a significant part in facilitating critical thinking skills for employees. EI is defined as the ability to understand and manage one’s emotions , as well as recognizing and influencing the emotions of others. In the context of critical thinking, high emotional intelligence allows individuals to be more reflective and open to different perspectives.

A key aspect of emotional intelligence in critical thinking is self-awareness. When employees are aware of their own emotions and biases, they can step back and reflect on their thoughts and decisions objectively. By doing so, they are better able to analyze and evaluate various media and sources of information, leading to more informed decisions.

Emotional intelligence also helps employees consider the ethical implications of their decisions. With a heightened understanding of emotions, individuals are more likely to empathize with others and take their perspectives into account. This ability enables them to navigate complex ethical dilemmas and make fair judgments that adhere to the organization’s values.

Moreover, employees with high emotional intelligence can easily adapt to different perspectives and opinions. They demonstrate a willingness to engage in meaningful dialogues with co-workers and are receptive to feedback. This collaborative spirit nurtures a culture of learning and continuous improvement, fostering an environment in which critical thinking can thrive.

In summary, emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in enhancing critical thinking skills among employees. By being aware of their emotions and biases, reflecting on decisions objectively, considering ethics, and embracing diverse perspectives, individuals with high emotional intelligence contribute enormously to creating a productive and innovative workplace.

Fostering an Innovative Work Environment through Critical Thinking

Promoting open discussions.

One way to encourage innovation in the workplace is by promoting open discussions. These encourage employees to share their ideas and contribute to the collaborative push for creative solutions. When a culture of open communication is established, employees feel valued and are more likely to take risks, making it easier for them to come up with innovative solutions. Conducting regular brainstorming sessions and encouraging the exchange of opinions during meetings can further enhance the creative thinking process.

Encouragement of Reflective Practice

Another essential aspect of fostering an innovative work environment is the encouragement of reflective practice. Reflection allows employees to learn from their experiences and identify areas for improvement. By consistently implementing reflective practices, employees can develop a better understanding of their thought processes, leading to more confident and knowledgeable decision-making. This can be done through regular self-assessments, group discussions, or by providing constructive feedback from managers and peers.

By focusing on open discussions and reflective practices, businesses can effectively nurture a culture of critical thinking and creativity, leading to more innovative solutions and long-term success in the ever-changing business landscape.

Enhancing critical thinking skills in the workplace is an essential step towards cultivating a culture of effective decision-making and problem-solving. By engaging in various training exercises, employees can strengthen their ability to analyze situations, interpret data, and make informed choices.

Introducing critical thinking exercises into an organization demonstrates the company’s commitment to fostering employee growth and harnessing their full potential. Such exercises are not only beneficial in honing analytical and problem-solving skills, but also in improving communication, collaboration, and adaptability among team members.

Incorporating critical thinking training into existing programs can lead to a more efficient and productive workplace. Employees with strong critical thinking skills are better prepared to face challenges, remain flexible and adaptive to changes in the market, and contribute positively to an organization’s overall success. By prioritizing critical thinking development, businesses can invest in their employees and, in turn, reap the benefits of a well-equipped workforce.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are effective group exercises to improve critical thinking.

There are various group exercises that can help improve critical thinking skills among employees. One example is the Socratic questioning technique in which a facilitator poses a series of questions designed to uncover assumptions and stimulate critical thinking. Another effective activity is the “Case Study Analysis,” where employees are tasked with analyzing real-life business scenarios to identify challenges, gather data, and make informed decisions.

How can team building games enhance critical thinking skills?

Team building games can be an engaging way to enhance critical thinking skills. These games often require collaboration, problem-solving, and decision-making under pressure, which can help participants sharpen their analytical abilities. Incorporating team-building exercises that promote critical thinking into regular team meetings or training sessions can create an environment of intellectual growth and mutual support.

What are some fun activities to develop critical thinking in adults?

Fun activities for adults aimed at developing critical thinking skills might include puzzles, escape room games, and debate clubs. These activities encourage individuals to challenge their assumptions, think outside the box, and use logical reasoning, ultimately improving their cognition and problem-solving abilities .

How can a workbook aid in critical thinking development?

A workbook designed for critical thinking development typically contains structured exercises, real-world examples, and reflective activities. These materials guide individuals through a step-by-step process of improving their critical thinking skills by encouraging self-awareness, fostering curiosity, and promoting constructive feedback. Using a workbook can provide an organized and personalized approach to enhancing critical thinking abilities.

What are the top 5 skills essential for critical thinking?

The top 5 skills essential for critical thinking include:

  • Analytical thinking: The ability to break complex problems into smaller, manageable components.
  • Evaluation: Assessing information and making judgments based on evidence and reasoning.
  • Problem-solving: Identifying challenges and proposing effective solutions.
  • Creativity: Generating innovative ideas, insights, and approaches.
  • Communication: Articulating thoughts clearly and persuasively to convey complex ideas to others.

How can virtual activities benefit employees’ critical thinking?

Virtual activities can be an effective way to enhance critical thinking skills for remote or hybrid teams. Online tools and platforms can facilitate group discussions, brainstorming sessions, and collaborative problem-solving exercises, allowing employees to engage with diverse perspectives and develop their critical thinking skills. Employing virtual critical thinking activities can create an inclusive environment, encouraging employees to learn from each other, and adapt to changing circumstances.

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how to teach employees critical thinking skills

How to promote critical thinking in the workplace

how to teach employees critical thinking skills

What is critical thinking?

  • I have a tendency to think before I act
  • I use solid information to inform my decisions
  • I don’t base decisions on feelings
  • I am happy to change methods
  • I find it easy to explain the reasoning behind my decisions

How do we use critical thinking in the workplace?

team brainstorming with post its

  • Ensuring you always have your eye on the end goal
  • Talking to other people and collecting relevant information
  • Using information and facts to inform your actions
  • Making sure your own preconceptions don’t influence a situation
  • Building solutions that are individual to each situation
  • Anticipating both the long and the short-term consequences of decisions

Why is workplace critical thinking so significant?

  • Poor decision making
  • Unhappy colleagues
  • A lack of necessary action
  • Dysfunctional systems
  • Financial losses
  • Wasted time and effort

How can I develop my critical thinking skills?

online learning concept

  • Get into the habit of asking important but basic questions such as, ‘What do we already know about this situation?’ or ‘What is our main goal here?’
  • Gain a solid understanding of your own preconceptions. Learn how to override them
  • Do plenty of research but don’t forget to think for yourself as well
  • Talk to your employer about a whole organisation approach
  • Consider a career move into job roles that often require expert critical thinking. There are many of these but IT business analyst , project analyst and supervisor are popular cross-industry examples.
  • Investigate training opportunities. For example, Upskilled’s BSB50215 - Diploma of Business can help you develop a competitive edge and includes a unit on applying advanced critical thinking to work processes.

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What Are Critical Thinking Skills and Why Are They Important?

Learn what critical thinking skills are, why they’re important, and how to develop and apply them in your workplace and everyday life.

[Featured Image]:  Project Manager, approaching  and analyzing the latest project with a team member,

We often use critical thinking skills without even realizing it. When you make a decision, such as which cereal to eat for breakfast, you're using critical thinking to determine the best option for you that day.

Critical thinking is like a muscle that can be exercised and built over time. It is a skill that can help propel your career to new heights. You'll be able to solve workplace issues, use trial and error to troubleshoot ideas, and more.

We'll take you through what it is and some examples so you can begin your journey in mastering this skill.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the ability to interpret, evaluate, and analyze facts and information that are available, to form a judgment or decide if something is right or wrong.

More than just being curious about the world around you, critical thinkers make connections between logical ideas to see the bigger picture. Building your critical thinking skills means being able to advocate your ideas and opinions, present them in a logical fashion, and make decisions for improvement.

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Why is critical thinking important?

Critical thinking is useful in many areas of your life, including your career. It makes you a well-rounded individual, one who has looked at all of their options and possible solutions before making a choice.

According to the University of the People in California, having critical thinking skills is important because they are [ 1 ]:

Crucial for the economy

Essential for improving language and presentation skills

Very helpful in promoting creativity

Important for self-reflection

The basis of science and democracy 

Critical thinking skills are used every day in a myriad of ways and can be applied to situations such as a CEO approaching a group project or a nurse deciding in which order to treat their patients.

Examples of common critical thinking skills

Critical thinking skills differ from individual to individual and are utilized in various ways. Examples of common critical thinking skills include:

Identification of biases: Identifying biases means knowing there are certain people or things that may have an unfair prejudice or influence on the situation at hand. Pointing out these biases helps to remove them from contention when it comes to solving the problem and allows you to see things from a different perspective.

Research: Researching details and facts allows you to be prepared when presenting your information to people. You’ll know exactly what you’re talking about due to the time you’ve spent with the subject material, and you’ll be well-spoken and know what questions to ask to gain more knowledge. When researching, always use credible sources and factual information.

Open-mindedness: Being open-minded when having a conversation or participating in a group activity is crucial to success. Dismissing someone else’s ideas before you’ve heard them will inhibit you from progressing to a solution, and will often create animosity. If you truly want to solve a problem, you need to be willing to hear everyone’s opinions and ideas if you want them to hear yours.

Analysis: Analyzing your research will lead to you having a better understanding of the things you’ve heard and read. As a true critical thinker, you’ll want to seek out the truth and get to the source of issues. It’s important to avoid taking things at face value and always dig deeper.

Problem-solving: Problem-solving is perhaps the most important skill that critical thinkers can possess. The ability to solve issues and bounce back from conflict is what helps you succeed, be a leader, and effect change. One way to properly solve problems is to first recognize there’s a problem that needs solving. By determining the issue at hand, you can then analyze it and come up with several potential solutions.

How to develop critical thinking skills

You can develop critical thinking skills every day if you approach problems in a logical manner. Here are a few ways you can start your path to improvement:

1. Ask questions.

Be inquisitive about everything. Maintain a neutral perspective and develop a natural curiosity, so you can ask questions that develop your understanding of the situation or task at hand. The more details, facts, and information you have, the better informed you are to make decisions.

2. Practice active listening.

Utilize active listening techniques, which are founded in empathy, to really listen to what the other person is saying. Critical thinking, in part, is the cognitive process of reading the situation: the words coming out of their mouth, their body language, their reactions to your own words. Then, you might paraphrase to clarify what they're saying, so both of you agree you're on the same page.

3. Develop your logic and reasoning.

This is perhaps a more abstract task that requires practice and long-term development. However, think of a schoolteacher assessing the classroom to determine how to energize the lesson. There's options such as playing a game, watching a video, or challenging the students with a reward system. Using logic, you might decide that the reward system will take up too much time and is not an immediate fix. A video is not exactly relevant at this time. So, the teacher decides to play a simple word association game.

Scenarios like this happen every day, so next time, you can be more aware of what will work and what won't. Over time, developing your logic and reasoning will strengthen your critical thinking skills.

Learn tips and tricks on how to become a better critical thinker and problem solver through online courses from notable educational institutions on Coursera. Start with Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking from Duke University or Mindware: Critical Thinking for the Information Age from the University of Michigan.

Article sources

University of the People, “ Why is Critical Thinking Important?: A Survival Guide ,” Accessed May 18, 2023.

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News & Insights


How to Make Hiring Critical Thinkers Easier

how to teach employees critical thinking skills

January 24, 2024 — 05:30 am EST

Written by David McCool for Kiplinger  ->

A bad hire can be a costly mistake. I’ve seen it time and again in my 30 years as a founder and CEO of tech companies. Even the most highly qualified, technically skilled, reliable workers can fall short as employees. You’ve probably experienced it, too: the good-on-paper candidate who can’t translate their knowledge into sound decisions. The co-worker who shows up to meetings unprepared, waiting for their teammates to present solutions. The recent grad who’s overwhelmed by the day-to-day realities of a workplace.

What’s missing? Often, it’s those vital “durable skills” — like critical thinking, creativity, collaboration — that make all the difference. Some may consider these to be personality traits. But one thing you discover when you run an edtech company is that it’s possible to teach people these kinds of really complex concepts. And, maybe even more important, it’s possible to quantify and measure how well they’ve mastered them. This is great news for hiring managers and HR teams — and for employees who want to expand their career opportunities.

The lightning-fast acceleration of mainstream AI adoption has really helped me to clarify why these durable skills — and critical thinking in particular — are more important than ever. For the record, I’m a big fan of AI. The AI-based coaching built into the SkillBuild by Muzzy Lane microcredentialing platform is one of the things that make it a powerful teaching tool. (I am the founder and CEO of Muzzy Lane.) For repetitive or data-driven tasks, AI is definitely useful, but the unique power of the human brain to think critically — to dissect and filter information, weigh sources and draw conclusions — still outsmarts any AI.

Testing users’ knowledge through role-playing

So how can people learn (and showcase) the uniquely human reasoning skills that employers value and that workers can immediately put into practice on the job? Most online or game-based learning platforms simply test a user’s basic knowledge, say, in a multiple-choice quiz. Simulations go a step further and put learners into real-world situations that require them to apply key lessons. One example that many of our critical thinking badge-earners consistently highlight is an assessment simulation that asks them to role-play how they would make recommendations to their boss about running a particular in-store promotion.

When the parameters shift halfway through, users are forced to prioritize their information-gathering and analysis tasks in real time so they can meet the new deadline. It’s tense and it’s frustrating — just like a stressful workday can be — but learners say that practicing these skills in a safe sandbox significantly boosts their decision-making confidence.

To validate these skills, the tech industry has long embraced microcredentials — Microsoft, IBM and Google all offer solid pathways for upskilling — because they’re a great way for us to assess how committed job candidates are to keeping their technical skills current in a sector that’s built on fast-paced change. But the kind of highly transferable workplace durable skills that are in universal high demand are often the hardest to measure.

According to the Global Talent Trends report by LinkedIn , more than 90% of employers say that durable skills are just as important as hard skills, but 89% say that it's hard to find candidates who have them, and 57% say it’s almost impossible to accurately evaluate them, even in an extended interview process. A microcredential makes it easier for hiring managers to differentiate a purely proficient worker from one who truly has a three-dimensional skill base. Employers can trust that a candidate who has earned a vetted critical-thinking microcredential hasn’t been exposed to theory — they’ve mastered complex reasoning and decision-making.

Consider implementing your own upskilling program

If your hiring process doesn’t automatically identify microcredential holders (résumé-scanning bots still can’t really recognize digital badges, unfortunately), then implementing your own upskilling program can help you build a great team — and keep them. A microcredential platform that offers measurable, actionable training can fill the durable skills gap for your new hires and also give existing employees the opportunity to level up. Almost two-thirds of workers consider employer-sponsored upskilling a sought-after employee benefit, according to the American Upskilling Study by Gallup . And a Deloitte survey found that 29% of younger workers consider learning and development opportunities to be one of the top reasons they chose to work for their current organizations.

When you're evaluating upskilling microcredentialing options, I would rank mastery at the top — are your employees simply learning about the skill, or are they actually practicing it? Here are a few additional criteria to include in your rubric:

  • Scalability: Can we start small and then expand? Can we easily roll this out company-wide?
  • Customization: Can I build my own badges?
  • Timing: Can we break the courses into even smaller, bite-sized chunks?
  • Accessibility: Can everyone use the platform without any additional modifications?

This is where you’ll need to call on your own critical-thinking skills. And if you find you need to sharpen your information-gathering and analysis, there’s a microcredential for that.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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How to Get Ready for the Dizzying Array of Tech Trends Ahead. Tips From 7 Experts

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It can be tricky keeping up with the rapid pace at which education technology is evolving.

Teachers are now using artificial intelligence to differentiate lessons and create grading rubrics in a matter of seconds. K-12 schools are now subject to more cyberattacks than any other sector. And the number of technology products that districts use in a given month has nearly tripled in the past few years .

But one way to get ahead is to look ahead. So, Education Week reached out to experts on classroom technology, artificial intelligence, data privacy, and cybersecurity to ask for their predictions on the biggest changes, challenges, and opportunities coming to education technology this year. Seven experts weighed in on what educators should be on the lookout for in the near future and how to prepare for the impact they will have on K-12 education.

The experts’ responses, below, have been edited for length and clarity.

1. Prioritize critical thinking and nurture face-to-face learning

Mark breen, the chief technology officer for vail school district in arizona:.

As technology continues to evolve at a rapid, exponential rate, education faces an array of changes, challenges, and opportunities in the months and years ahead. The advancement pace is accelerating, with significant breakthroughs in areas like AI, nanotechnology, machine learning, and robotics/automation. These innovations, still in their early stages, offer immense potential for enhancing effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity.

Among the numerous challenges accompanying these opportunities, two, in particular, resonate with me, especially in the context of education. First, as technology progresses to automate tasks and provide ready answers, maintaining our role as critical thinkers in society becomes paramount. It is essential to educate our students on engaging thoughtfully with emerging technologies, understanding their civic implications. Second, and perhaps more crucial, is the need to intentionally nurture in-person and face-to-face interactions in both our professional and personal lives. While technology can paradoxically connect us more than ever and yet isolate us, we must remember that high-quality relationships are foundational to the human experience and deliberately model that to our students.

2. Build up cybersecurity defenses and determine the risks and rewards of generative artificial intelligence

Keith krueger, the ceo of the consortium for school networking, a professional association for k-12 technology leaders:.

There is no doubt that cybersecurity will be a top priority for district technology leaders, CIOs, and CTOs. It has been the No. 1 challenge for the past several years, and the K-12 sector is the most targeted for ransomware attacks. Given the substantial amount of student and employee data, coupled with the fact that education is considered a “soft target” for cybercriminals, this poses a significant problem for the education sector.

Annually, [our Driving K-12 Innovation series] identifies the top three trends in Hurdles, Accelerators, and Tech Enabler categories. The leading Tech Enabler for 2024 is Generative AI. The question arises: How can education harness the opportunities presented by Generative AI while effectively mitigating the associated risks? Engaging in this conversation is essential for educators, policymakers, and the public to collectively shape the future we desire.

3. Prepare for more sophisticated use of technology by educators at all levels

Karen hawley miles, ceo of education resource strategies, a national nonprofit that partners with k-12 districts to solve challenges around strategic planning and resource use:.

Technology will rapidly change K-12 education in four big ways:

  • AI tools that help personalize lessons to support English/language arts and math are getting better every day—including supporting multilingual learners.
  • Individual teachers are already using technology to support lesson planning, provide student feedback, and assist with grading. This use will become even more widespread.
  • More districts across the country are going to use online and hybrid courses to provide more advanced and richer course offerings available to all students.
  • Tools are emerging that support families in understanding and tracking a student’s growth in knowledge and skills. These tools will gain more widespread use and provide more opportunities to customize or provide resources specific to supporting that student’s further growth.

The last year of federal recovery spending provides an unprecedented opportunity—especially for districts serving students with the greatest needs. But districts must seize this moment to support schools systematically and strategically, investing in technical assistance and change management to evolve traditional ways of organizing schooling.

4. Pump the brakes on AI exuberance

Lisa levasseur, executive director and research director, internet safety labs:.

Clearly, it’s the tsunami of all things “AI.” The thing that we don’t talk enough about is how surveillance and AI are different sides of the same coin. AI relies on surveilled data for both the training and the real-time automated decisionmaking and/or other kinds of generated content. So, if I say that AI is the grand challenge in K-12 education for 2024, then I’m also saying student surveillance is the grand challenge . Perhaps the greatest challenge for 2024 will be to pump the brakes on technology adoption and improve software vendor management.

The world finds itself in a flurry of exuberance over “AI,” largely with an attitude of fire, ready, aim. People aren’t spending adequate time defining the problems they’re trying to solve with exciting new tools. [...] I would like to encourage schools to fight the FOMO, or urge to be an early adopter or the incorrect belief that new technology is the answer to all your problems. We don’t fully understand and can’t properly manage the tools we have; we shouldn’t press the accelerator. Schools are leaning into tools that surveil students for a variety of purposes and this is leaving students with a disturbing lack of privacy.

5. Understand the implications of a heightened focus on evidence-based decisionmaking by school districts

Joseph south, chief innovation officer, iste/ascd:.

The education landscape in 2024 is likely to witness a growing reliance on competency-based credentials for educators in education technology. There is an increasing number of individuals entering the classroom without completing a traditional educator preparation program at a university, a trend that has been propelled by teacher shortages.

In 2024, we anticipate a heightened focus on evidence-based decisionmaking by school districts in regards to procuring education technology for their classrooms. New requests for proposals (RFPs) requirements should be established that incorporate third-party validations, such as the ISTE Seal or outcome-based contracting , allowing school districts to place greater emphasis on the quality and impact of ed-tech solutions.

6. Learn how to use AI as a thought partner

Heather esposito, district instructional technology coach, cherry hill school district, n.j..

The biggest opportunity lies in reshaping and redefining assessment. Pivoting to authentic assessments where students engage in experiential learning will be key. During the process vs. product focus on assessment, students can collaborate with AI as a thought partner in various stages as this will help prepare them directly for their future: a future where their partnership with AI is a certainty. The challenge lies in the shift from teacher-directed teaching and learning to student-focused learning experiences.

7. Design AI in education around the needs of teachers

Shantanu sinha, the vice president and general manager for google for education.

As more advanced AI becomes increasingly prevalent, expect education tech companies to value the role of the teacher more than ever and increasingly build with their needs in mind. AI has the potential to save teachers time and help them reach every student with more personal learning. There will be more innovation in ways to enhance productivity, creativity, and help create novel learning experiences for students.

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Teaching and Learning

The critical power skills needed for the ai era, by michalis gkontas     jan 24, 2024.

The Critical Power Skills Needed for the AI Era

Image Credit: NXTLVL

If you’re reading this, you might have AI anxiety.

A recent survey from EY research shows that 71 percent of employees with knowledge of artificial intelligence are concerned about it. Considering how AI has rapidly entered education conversations, teachers and administrators are certainly represented in this statistic.

Feelings of AI anxiety are valid for a technology that brings so much change and uncertainty. Tools like ChatGPT have quickly destabilized our thoughts about the future of school and work.

One role of schools is to prepare students for the future. But how can teachers and schools fulfill this obligation when the future is so uncertain?

The answer lies in zooming out.

Instead of teaching specific facts and skills, teach timeless skills that allow students to adapt to any challenge or solve any problem. These competencies have been valuable in the past, are essential in the present and will be crucial for thriving in the future.

Critical Skills in the Age of AI

Which skills is the natural next question.

Power Skills, which include creativity, collaboration, resilience, leadership and critical thinking , make all other skills more effective. These skills have always been valuable, as anyone with a professional background can attest to. But as AI automates more aspects of the current workforce , learning Power Skills is more important and powerful than ever.

Teaching students Power Skills now prepares them to succeed and adapt in an uncertain future. But it also provides them with a strong foundation for academic and personal success today.

Imagine if all students deliberately practiced and improved upon their skills of critical thinking and team-based problem-solving throughout the school day. Undoubtedly, their performance in other classes, extra-curriculars and even their home lives would have great potential for improvement.

As the social-emotional learning (SEL) movement has shown, providing students with flexible and practical abilities that don’t fall narrowly within core subject areas is increasingly important. While SEL is a great starting point and is included in Power Skills, it’s insufficient. Power Skills build on the interpersonal and transcend to the practical.

Make It Fun and Refreshing for Students

The great part about implementing Power Skills into K-12 education is that they are exciting and engaging for students to learn and practice. By definition, they require kids to work together, talk to each other and share unique and sometimes crazy ideas, all to solve interesting, challenging problems. This is sorely needed, as research shows students are more bored in school than ever .

Additionally, the opportunities to practice Power Skills are lacking from current methods of instruction. When 90 percent of class time is spent by teachers talking , there’s little room to practice collaboration or leadership. If what Sir Ken Robinson said about what schools do to creativity is true, then students need a chance to learn and practice the skill of creative thinking.

Power Skills are already widely discussed in the business and technology fields. However, their presence is sorely lacking in K-12 education. But the time for introducing them has never been better.

California School Embraces Power Skills

Meghan Freeman, CEO of Elite Academy, a California Distinguished School, wholeheartedly agrees.

"There’s so much changing in our world, especially now in the age of AI,” Freeman shares. “But we know that skills like leadership, creativity and decision-making never go out of fashion.

Importantly, Freeman notes how the introduction of technology like AI makes teaching Power Skills more timely than ever.

“As more of our work involves technology, these kinds of skills only become more important. That’s why we’re so excited about what our students are learning with NXTLVL ."

how to teach employees critical thinking skills

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A Critical Thinking Framework for Elementary Students

Guiding young students to engage in critical thinking fosters their ability to create and engage with knowledge.

Photo of elementary students working together

Critical thinking is using analysis and evaluation to make a judgment. Analysis, evaluation, and judgment are not discrete skills; rather, they emerge from the accumulation of knowledge. The accumulation of knowledge does not mean students sit at desks mindlessly reciting memorized information, like in 19th century grammar schools. Our goal is not for learners to regurgitate facts by rote without demonstrating their understanding of the connections, structures, and deeper ideas embedded in the content they are learning. To foster critical thinking in school, especially for our youngest learners, we need a pedagogy that centers knowledge and also honors the ability of children to engage with knowledge.

This chapter outlines the Critical Thinking Framework: five instructional approaches educators can incorporate into their instruction to nurture deeper thinking. These approaches can also guide intellectual preparation protocols and unit unpackings to prepare rigorous, engaging instruction for elementary students. Some of these approaches, such as reason with evidence, will seem similar to other “contentless” programs professing to teach critical thinking skills. But others, such as say it in your own words or look for structure, are targeted at ensuring learners soundly understand content so that they can engage in complex thinking. You will likely notice that every single one of these approaches requires students to talk—to themselves, to a partner, or to the whole class. Dialogue, specifically in the context of teacher-led discussions, is essential for students to analyze, evaluate, and judge (i.e., do critical thinking ). 

The Critical Thinking Framework

book cover, Critical Thinking in the Elementary Classroom

Say it in your own words : Students articulate ideas in their own words. They use unique phrasing and do not parrot the explanations of others. When learning new material, students who pause to explain concepts in their own words (to themselves or others) demonstrate an overall better understanding than students who do not (Nokes-Malach et al., 2013). However, it’s not enough for us to pause frequently and ask students to explain, especially if they are only being asked to repeat procedures. Explanations should be effortful and require students to make connections to prior knowledge and concepts as well as to revise misconceptions (Richey & Nokes-Malach, 2015).

Break it down : Students break down the components, steps, or smaller ideas within a bigger idea or procedure. In addition to expressing concepts in their own words, students should look at new concepts in terms of parts and wholes. For instance, when learning a new type of problem or task, students can explain the steps another student took to arrive at their answer, which promotes an understanding that transfers to other tasks with a similar underlying structure. Asking students to explain the components and rationale behind procedural steps can also lead to more flexible problem solving overall (Rittle-Johnson, 2006). By breaking down ideas into component parts, students are also better equipped to monitor the soundness of their own understanding as well as to see similar patterns (i.e., regularity) among differing tasks. For example, in writing, lessons can help students see how varying subordinating conjunction phrases at the start of sentences can support the flow and readability of a paragraph. In math, a solution can be broken down into smaller steps.

Look for structure : Students look beyond shallow surface characteristics to see deep structures and underlying principles. Learners struggle to see regularity in similar problems that have small differences (Reed et al., 1985). Even when students are taught how to complete one kind of task, they struggle to transfer their understanding to a new task where some of the superficial characteristics have been changed. This is because students, especially students who are novices in a domain, tend to emphasize the surface structure of a task rather than deep structure (Chi & Van Lehn, 2012).

By prompting students to notice deep structures—such as the characteristics of a genre or the needs of animals—rather than surface structures, teachers foster the development of comprehensive schemata in students’ long-term memories, which they are more likely to then apply to novel situations. Teachers should monitor for student understanding of deep structures across several tasks and examples.

Notice gaps or inconsistencies in ideas : Students ask questions about gaps and inconsistencies in material, arguments, and their own thinking . When students engage in explanations of material, they are more likely to notice when they misunderstand material or to detect a conflict with their prior knowledge (Richey & Nokes-Malach, 2015). In a classroom, analyzing conflicting ideas and interpretations allows students to revise misconceptions and refine mental models. Noticing gaps and inconsistencies in information also helps students to evaluate the persuasiveness of arguments and to ask relevant questions.

Reason with evidence : Students construct arguments with evidence and evaluate the evidence in others’ reasoning. Reasoning with evidence matters in every subject, but what counts for evidence in a mathematical proof differs from what is required in an English essay. Students should learn the rules and conventions for evidence across a wide range of disciplines in school. The habits of looking for and weighing evidence also intersect with some of the other critical thinking approaches discussed above. Noticing regularity in reasoning and structure helps learners find evidence efficiently, while attending to gaps and inconsistencies in information encourages caution before reaching hasty conclusions.

Countering Two Critiques

Some readers may be wondering how the Critical Thinking Framework differs from other general skills curricula. The framework differs in that it demands application in the context of students’ content knowledge, rather than in isolation. It is a pedagogical tool to help students make sense of the content they are learning. Students should never sit through a lesson where they are told to “say things in their own words” when there is nothing to say anything about. While a contentless lesson could help on the margins, it will not be as relevant or transferable. Specific content matters. A checklist of “critical thinking skills” cannot replace deep subject knowledge. The framework should not be blindly applied to all subjects without context because results will look quite different in an ELA or science class.

Other readers may be thinking about high-stakes tests: how does the Critical Thinking Framework fit in with an overwhelming emphasis on assessments aligned to national or state standards? This is a valid concern and an important point to address. For teachers, schools, and districts locked into an accountability system that values performance on state tests but does not communicate content expectations beyond general standards, the arguments I make may seem beside the point. Sure, knowledge matters, but the curriculum demands that students know how to quickly identify the main idea of a paragraph, even if they don’t have any background knowledge about the topic of the paragraph.

It is crucial that elementary practitioners be connected to both evolving research on learning and the limiting realities we teach within. Unfortunately, I can provide no easy answers beyond saying that teaching is a balancing act. The tension, while real and relevant to teachers’ daily lives, should not cloud our vision for what children need from their school experiences.

I also argue it is easier to incorporate the demands of our current standardized testing environment into a curriculum rich with history, science, art, geography, languages, and novels than the reverse. The Critical Thinking Framework presents ways to approach all kinds of knowledge in a way that presses students toward deeper processing of the content they are learning. If we can raise the bar for student work and thinking in our classrooms, the question of how students perform on standardized tests will become secondary to helping them achieve much loftier and important goals. The choice of whether to emphasize excellent curriculum or high-stakes tests, insofar as it is a choice at all, should never be existential or a zero-sum game.

From Critical Thinking in the Elementary Classroom: Engaging Young Minds with Meaningful Content (pp. 25–29) by Erin Shadowens, Arlington, VA: ASCD. Copyright © 2023 by ASCD. All rights reserved.


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