“Critical thinking” is a term that turns up everywhere. On job listings for high-paying roles, you’ll often see a requirement that reads, “Must be able to think critically.” In university learning outcomes, you’ll often find “must apply critical thinking skills to x, y and z” as part of the curricula. Parents encourage you to “think critically” about the future. PSAs warn us to “think critically” about advertising and media. Countless online articles hawk quick-fix listicles like “10 easy steps to become a critical thinker.”
And, of course, you’ll find critical thinking front and centre in Ontario English courses. It even gets its own unit in Grade 12 U-level English.
But what is critical thinking? And how can you hone this essential skill right here at your online high school? In this blog, join us as we draw a direct connection between important critical thinking skills and your online English education.
What Are Critical Thinking Skills?
At the risk of sounding like the most cliched wedding speech imaginable, we’d like to begin with a few dictionary definitions for critical thinking. With a concept this broad and technical, it’s essential to set parameters before we can discuss it in relation to online learning. So here goes:
Miriam Webster calls critical thinking “the act or practice of thinking critically (as by applying reason and questioning assumptions) in order to solve problems, evaluate information, discern biases, etc.” Meanwhile, the good people over at the Cambridge Dictionary highlight what doesn’t belong in critical thinking, calling the practice “the process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinions to affect you.”
Lastly, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy doesn’t mince words that critical thinking’s “definition is contested,” with various people using the term for multiple purposes. Still, according to the philosophers, there’s a concept underpinning all definitions of critical thinking: “careful thinking directed at a goal.”
Right, so let’s do what educators always do – let’s synthesize the information above. Critical thinking involves applying reason and skepticism to information; it requires you to leave knee-jerk emotional responses and biases at the door; it asks you to be deliberate and careful in your thinking, and it results in problem solving and truth-finding. Sounds like a noble pursuit!
Under the wide umbrella of critical thinking, you’ll find several definable and tangible skills. Below, we list a few skills related to critical thinking that will help you get ahead in life.
Deductive, Abductive and Inductive Reasoning
This fundamental component of critical thinking involves using various methods of reasoning to determine the solution to a problem.
Deductive reasoning involves making inferences based on commonly known facts (e.g., “We know that geese fly south during the winter, so we can assume that goose over there will fly south this winter”). Inductive reasoning involves inferring based on observation (e.g., “that goose is flying across Lake Ontario away from Toronto, so we can assume it’s flying south”). Abductive reasoning involves drawing conclusions based on incomplete but reasonable facts (e.g., “There was some goose droppings on my car this December morning, which must mean the geese are flying south now”). Together, these methods for the backbone of intellectual investigation.
If that sounds highly technical and tough to parse, don’t worry. You don’t have to take the hardest courses online to master these reasoning styles. As we uncover below, you can learn them at your own pace in an English course.
A subsection of critical thinking, media literacy is concerned with how we digest things like news, entertainment and advertising. It involves separating fact from fiction, determining biases, spotting incomplete information, understanding cynical sales practices, etc. Media literacy is very important these days. Some advertisers try to sell us products based on false assumptions about necessity or beauty. Some news stories try to make us irrationally fearful of outsiders. Some movies normalize violence, etc.
Creative thinking can be a subsection of critical thinking that allows us to approach problems using outside-the-box methods and inherent human ingenuity. The inventors of the wheel, for instance, used creative thinking to develop a solution for travel where no precedent “wheel-like” concepts existed. We see creative thinking applied critically all the time in technology and other fields of invention.
Effective problem-solving is a skill based entirely around critical thinking. We see an issue, locate the source of the problem, evaluate the systems surrounding the problem, and then retroactively work to engineer a scenario to bypass or address that problem. Effective problem solving is a key skill in various settings: professional careers, interpersonal relationships and even day-to-day life.
To summarize this section briefly, critical thinking is a powerful tool in our lives. It helps us stay alert, informed, reasonable and creative in our thinking.
How, you might ask, does this tie into our online English courses? Let’s move onto the next section to evaluate the benefits of online English courses.
The Benefits of Online English Courses: The 4 S’s
If you haven’t noticed yet, this article assumes a classic style of “logically constructed argument” (this is an article about critical thinking, after all). First, we defined the role and importance of critical thinking. Next, we’ll define the benefits of online English class. And finally, we show how these two are interconnected – thereby logically supporting our thesis that “Online English courses develop critical thinking skills.”
We’re in the second part of our argument now, so let’s turn our attention to the benefits of online learning. What inherent qualities of online English make it so beneficial to students?
Returning students at OES will undoubtedly be familiar with the idea of self-paced learning. But for all the newcomers in our readership, allow us to explain.
Ontario eSecondary School proudly follows a self-paced, asynchronous model for learning. That means every student learns the English curriculum at their own pace, taking as much or as little time as they need to work through their courses. Self-paced learning allows students to approach their English courses individualistically, developing key skills in their own time – without worrying about how they compare to other students and peers. They can spend a month on their ENG4U Shakespeare unit, two weeks on their critical thinking unit (nudge, nudge), a week on literary theory: Whatever they deem necessary.
By contrast, traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms adhere to an “instructor-led,” “synchronous” model. All students must follow the same pace, which is set by a teacher. Some students thrive in this model. But many feel that the strict pace and competitive pressure either holds them back or leaves them behind. They can’t dig their proverbial heels into a topic, giving it the breathing room it deserves.
An essential component of that self-paced model is student self-reliance. Because there’s no physical teacher to peer over your shoulder and keep you on task, you must rely on yourself to summon the confidence and motivation.
This process builds self-reliance. Students come to rely on their ability to develop skills and interests independent of any authority. They learn how to think for themselves, guide their own curiosity and – as trite as it might sound – follow their own hearts.
Just because our students are self-reliant doesn’t mean we leave them in the deep end without a paddle. We still adhere to the fundamental guiding principles of education – namely, that students should feel supported throughout their high school life to achieve their highest possible potential.
At OES, we embody those principles in three ways. First, our expert teachers are at your disposal to answer questions, expand on course materials, guide you through tricky topics and listen to your ideas. They are your main points of contact in your English courses – and any other courses you take with OES.
However, we understand that teachers can’t be on-call all the time. And because you’re a self-paced, flexible learner who can choose to study whenever you please, we developed an alternative to fill in the gaps. Our second support method is a 24/7 tutoring service complimentary to all OES students. If you have burning questions at 2 AM on a Tuesday or 3 PM on a Sunday, our fantastic team of tutors can help.
Lastly, several administrators and academic guidance experts will come to your aid. Our staff is at your service if you need help shaping your future, planning for post-secondary school, or simply getting through the year.
Several Different Resources
At OES, we don’t just teach the English textbook. We understand that everyone learns differently. Some people learn best by watching videos, others by interactive modules. Some students prefer audio resources, and others excel with traditional written information.
At OES, we respect the diversity of learners by designing English courses around a range of media resources: PowerPoints, videos, sound clips, interactive content, e-textbooks and more. Studies show that multimedia approaches to learning yield better results in the classroom.
Self-paced learning, self-reliance, support and several resources – the four S’s of an excellent online English experience. But how does that apply to critical thinking? In our last section, we tie together the thesis with a nice bow.
How Online High School English Fosters Critical Thinking Skills
To recap, critical thinking skills represent an array of fundamental skills pertaining to careful and deliberate thought. And online schools like OES give students the freedom, time, support and resources they need to think carefully and deliberately. What we propose, then, is that online English courses are uniquely suited to teaching students crucial critical thinking skills.
Let’s expand on that.
Critical Thinking Requires Time and Personal Discovery
Learning how to think critically isn’t something you can force. Reasoning capabilities, outside-the-box thinking, media literacy and problem-solving each require time and practice. With self-paced English courses, students get the time and flexibility they need to unlock these skills. In comparison, brick-and-mortar students need to learn these skills within a predetermined time slot. If they do not, then it’s too bad – the class moves on to the next unit.
The self-reliance honed through online studies also comes in handy when learning critical thinking skills. Because critical thinking involves internalizing and personalizing an array of logical, creative and observational tools, it requires students to be self-starters – to believe in the power of their own thinking abilities. The self-reliance you practice in classes like ENG3U and ENG4U will benefit you on your journey toward becoming a critical thinker.
No One Learns Critical Thinking in a Vacuum – It Requires Lots of Help!
Imagine a world where no one taught you anything! You were raised in the wilderness without any mentors or other humans. It would take you an awful long time to learn anything – and you’d probably cap out at the survival basics.
Now, let’s consider the other end of the spectrum: You are surrounded by instructors, tutors and mentors, each of whom is eager to ensure that you absorb as much knowledge as possible. That’s OES.
We believe that our robust support system helps fast-track skill acquisition by giving students constant access to the answers and explanations they need. This applies directly to critical thinking skills in online English classes, which often require reflection and dialogue to master.
Critical Thinking Is Best Learned Through a Range of Resources
Reading about critical thinking is fine. But you know what’s better? Immersing yourself in critical thinking through interactive problem solving, engaging videos, presentations and other media. Online English courses make all the difference when it comes to engaging course materials, accommodating all learning styles and individual learners. You won’t just read about critical thinking – you’ll experience it in your English classes online.
The Bottom Line
Developing critical thinking skills is a necessity in modern life, allowing students to grow into fully aware, reasoning, and analytically-minded adults. These capabilities come in handy throughout your life, whether in professional settings, academic careers, personal relationships or media diet. While honing critical thinking skills is tough work, OES’s pioneering approach to online English classes makes learning these all-important skills easier and more engaging.
To learn more about our convenient, self-paced English courses, visit our website or book an appointment with one of our academic counsellors.