Critical Thinking in eLearning

eLearning is not a passive activity. It should provoke thought and reasoning, and we should believe in our participant’s ability to do so. One key element I believe is missing from a lot of eLearning is critical thought.  As designers or developers (or in some cases both) we should be pushing ourselves to go beyond a simple question and move our learners to think through all aspects of the objective.

Why Do Asynchronous Learners Need to Practice Critical Thought Processes?

In a classroom, it is possible to have a discussion about a topic. Individuals can share experiences and immerse themselves in the subject matter. Facilitators can see the lightbulb that is about to illuminate and push to get participants to come up with it on their own.

eLearning has obvious limitations that limit interactions. The easiest path to give our learners information is a short video or text on screen. While the eLearning equivalent of a lecture may work in some cases, it rarely forces our learners into a critical thought process.

How to design critical thinking into eLearning

I don’t believe there is any one right way to design a module that moves participants to come up with solutions on their own. However, there are a few guidelines that may help.

Ask: What Is the Answer?

This interaction isn’t difficult, you ask them a question or give them an opportunity to interact, and they give you the answer.

Ask: Why Is That Your Answer?

This interaction goes beyond something being correct or incorrect. Going a step further with an interaction that goes beyond memorization (unless that is your goal) and asks people to assemble information that supports the original answer pushing the critical thinking process.

Ask: What Resources Support Your Answer?

Did they phone a friend? Did they guess? Or is there evidence that supports the original answer. This interaction isn’t difficult to set up, but it should be well thought out.

As you develop your training, look at your interactions to see if you are digging deep to help your learners really think about what they are learning. It doesn’t need to be redundant or belabor your point. Use some creativity to go beyond asking for a best guess answer and dig into the why behind your training. How do you encourage critical thought in training in the classroom or in eLearning? Let’s keep this conversation going in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Critical Thinking in eLearning

  1. Hi Heather,

    I completely agree with your guidelines for challenging learners to think critically in e-learning models. As an e-learner myself, I often become very disconnected to the content when I feel it is redundant. When others ask me about online coursework, my first response is how it often feels like busy work. I understand the discussion methods used in online courses and they are invaluable tools when implemented correctly. However, I have experienced courses in the past where my professor wouldn’t even read the posts made by students. The discussion posts felt like such a chore!

    Based on my own experiences in e-learning, I try to be very mindful when assigning work to my e-learners. My organization uses a program for online courses for our high school curriculum. The courses are designed by a third party company and teachers have no input as to how the content is presented. What I’ve found is that the courses are designed for the “average” student. However, there is no average student! After working with different students over the past year, I have built a tool box of e-learning resources to pull from so that I can supplement the “average” course and make it more meaningful for my learners. It has made a profound impact on my student engagement and achievement!

    • There is no average student, indeed. When you say toolbox of eLearning resources, do you mean types of interactions that have proven useful in the past? If so, that is an excellent idea. Making course content meaningful by interacting with it is exactly what we should all be pushing ourselves to do. Great work, Elizabeth!

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