Is Thinking Critically Necessary in an Online Course?

I came across this quote by A.E. Mander (1894-1985) a while ago and noted its relevance to teaching online and thought it worthy of a discussion. Here’s Mander’s quote:  

Thinking is skilled work. It is not true that we are naturally endowed with the ability to think clearly and logically – without learning how, or without practicing. It is ridiculous to suppose that any less skill is required for thinking than for carpentering, or for playing tennis, golf, or bridge, or for playing some musical instrument. People with untrained minds should no more expect to think clearly and logically than those people who have never learnt and never practiced can expect to find themselves good carpenters, golfers, bridge-players, or pianists. Yet our world is full of people who apparently do suppose that thinking is entirely unskilled work; that thinking clearly and accurately is so easy and so “natural” that “anybody can think;” and that any person’s thinking is quite as reliable as any other person’s. This accounts for the fact that, as a people, we are so much less efficient in this respect than we are in our sports. For nobody assumes that any game is so easy that we are all first-class players “naturally,” without having to learn how to play or without practice (Clearer Thinking, 1936).

Linda Elder from The Critical Thinking Community states that Mander “criticizes the nonsensical—yet highly common—misconception that clear and effective thinking, unlike any other skill, is a natural ability of the human mind, rather than something we must all strive to cultivate throughout our lives.”

Many people are born with natural ability in one or more skills. Some things just seem to come so easily for some and with some training and practice they can become highly skilled at it. While one person may excel in math he or she may struggle with spelling. Another may excel in sports and be mediocre in academics or vice-versa. Thinking is no different – one may be able to think clearly in an organized fashion and another may muddle through their thinking in a very unorganized manner.

Clear and logical thinking requires training and practice. Online students can learn to think well in a community of inquiry. Written dialog provides the cognitive training and practice that assists in constructing knowledge and meaning making through continuous reflection and communication.

Asking thought-provoking questions that require learners to research, think about, and write clear and concise discussion responses encourages peer responses. This not only builds and sustains the community of inquiry, it builds and transforms minds.

What do you think? Does an online community of inquiry teach learners to think critically? Leave your comments below.

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