Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Enhancing Critical Thinking in Online Learning

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Enhancing Critical Thinking in Online Learning

Article excerpt


This study compared critical thinking in undergraduate students via case study learning under two methods: (a) individual student analysis and (b) computer-supported collaborative analysis. Casebased learning was used as an instructional strategy to engage and motivate undergraduate students enrolled in a course designed to increase academic success and retention. Case study learning increased critical thinking skills under both conditions.


Higher order reasoning skills are required to cognitively manage the increasingly complex ways we communicate, collaborate, and work with others (Halpern, 1995). "A literate person must not only excel in reading and writing text, but also must be able to listen and speak, and read and write fluently through text, images, motion video, charts and graphs, and hypertext across a wide range of media" (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 2003, 9). In addition, individuals must be able to manage a vast array of resources within complex network systems. "The sheer magnitude of human knowledge, world globalization, and the accelerating rate of change due to technology necessitates a shift in our children's education--from plateaus of knowing to continuous cycles of learning" (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 2004, Executive Summary, 7).

Finding an agreed upon definition of critical thinking is daunting. Critical thinking has become a "mystified concept" due to its abstract nature and lack of common understanding. "Ask twelve psychology faculty members to define the term critical thinking, and you may receive twelve overlapping but distinct definitions" (Halonen, 1995, p. 75). Nevertheless, reference is frequently made to Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. The cognitive levels above knowledge and comprehension--application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation--are considered critical thinking (Bloom, 1956).

Anderson, Krathwohl, Airasian, Cruikshank, Mayer, Pintrich, Raths, & Wittrock (2001) revised Bloom's taxonomy into a two-dimensional framework: a Knowledge dimension and a Cognitive Process dimension. Within the Knowledge dimension, "a fourth, and new category, Metacognitive Knowledge [was created and] ... involves knowledge about cognition in general as well as awareness of a knowledge about one's own cognition." Within the Cognitive Process dimension, "three dimensions were renamed, the order of two was interchanged, and those category names retained were changed to verb form to fit the way they are used in objectives" (Krathwohl, 2002, p. 214). Due to the complex nature of critical thinking and difficulty in assessing it, few empirical studies investigating critical thinking development in undergraduate students exist (Pithers, 2000). The few that do are not promising in relation to higher education's success in promoting critical thinking. In a study assessing the critical thinking of 256 university students using a Critical Reasoning Test, Pithers & Soden (1999) found no significant between-group differences in critical thinking for graduate versus nongraduate students. The authors purport the absence of significance is due to a lack of clarity surrounding the construct of critical thinking and reliable methods to assess it, as well as a primary instructional focus on subject-matter content. Similar findings are supported within a Teaching of Psychology issue on critical thinking. "A majority of students still demonstrate characteristics that correspond to a concrete thinking level rather than use formal-reasoning principles that Piaget ascribed to adult thinkers" (de Sanchez, 1995, p. 72). Other studies also support the view that adults do not necessarily develop critical thinking as a natural part of development. Arons (1979) and Whimbey & Lochhead's (1986) studies (as cited in de Sanchez, 1995) found that students "have difficulty in defining and resolving problems, changing focus, considering alternatives, and defining strategies" (de Sanchez, 1995, p. …

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