How do I learn critical thinking and improve on these skills?
In the book Asking the Right Questions - A Guide to Critical Thinking by M. Neil Browne and Stuart M. Keeley (both are well-known critical thinking experts), they propose two types of thinking style: the sponge and panning for gold.
The sponge thinking style is the most common thinking approach that you absorb every information you receive, just like how a sponge reacts to water. This thinking approach can be known as non-critical thinking.
However, if you think by panning for gold, it means that you decide what to absorb and what to dump by actively taking part into your thinking process, which can be regarded as critical thinking.
But how to separate out gold from gravel? Here are several tips and activities that are helpful to improve your critical thinking ability.
Challenge your assumptions by asking why
Challenging an assumption doesn't necessarily mean denying what's been proved to be right, but it definitely changes your original inclination to draw conclusions based solely on your previous thoughts.
A good question transforms the way we perceive the world. A person who is good at asking questions must be a keen observer. On the contrary, if you take everything for granted, you'll only stop at what's obvious.
Try reversing things
Contrary to providing great ideas to solve problems, reversed thinking encourage people to come up with ideas that won't be helpful.
For example:
A typical brainstorming question in a team: What should we do to improve our service?
A reverse brainstorming question will be: What should we do to make customer service worse enough to drive away our customers?
By figuring out what's invalid, you'll see much clearer as to what exactly is missing in the goals you're trying to achieve.
Mind mapping
Simply receiving information won't influence the development of critical thinking skills. According to Paul and Elder, "Much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced."
That's why you need mind maps to facilitate your critical thinking.
The process of creating a mind map helps to explain a main concept explicitly with keywords and associations in a well-organized structure. Therefore, you're more likely to have a deeper understanding after mind mapping.
The above three tips help you to better organize your thoughts while thinking. But you won't make any improvement until you embed critical thinking into practice. Here are several activities you can try to better practice such thinking skill.
Syntopic reading
Instead of reading one piece of article around a topic, syntopic reading encourages you to read as many books and articles for the same subject, and make comparison among the ideas and arguments presented.
By practicing syntopic reading, you'll gradually understand two or more sides of the same coin so that next time you won't jump to conclusions without thinking through.
Public speaking
Public speaking is a great way to enhance critical thinking skills.
A good speech requires an impeccable ideas with a well-organized structure to help your target audience fully understand your points. In order to achieve that, you need to make sure you speech comprehensive enough to avoid any lack of evidence.
Therefore, the whole process of preparing a speech requires you to think critically about a topic before deliver your ideas to your audience.
While debating, as you're trying to challenge the point of view of the other side, you need to find weaknesses and inconsistencies in their arguments.
With practice, it'll become a habit of you to stop believing the information you receive blindly. You'll raise questions or look for the missing points or arguments before taking it for granted.
Hope this helps!