A compilation of Helen Lee Bouygues’s regular column in Forbes on critical thinking research and education.

Artful Thinking is a pedagogical approach to critical thinking that the National Gallery of Art has been sharing with local teachers for more than 10 years. In January 2019, the museum rolled out Teaching Critical Thinking through Art, a free online course making Artful Thinking available to everyone. A year later, it had been used by 9,800 people in 149 countries, 80 percent of them educational professionals, including classroom teachers.

Different businesses will, of course, face very different challenges. But I’ve run more than a dozen companies, many following periods of serious upheaval, and there are a few core approaches that are applicable to all firms in the present crisis. 

Navigating these volatile conditions will be an exercise in critical thinking. Consider the situation a high-stakes case study in improved reasoning. 

As distance learning becomes the norm, there’s a lot parents can do to help kids at home learn the skills that they need to succeed in life. Parent-assisted education is nothing new, to be sure. Many parents homeschool their children, and until the mid-19th century, most education took place in the home. Things have obviously changed since then. Academic standards are way higher, for one. Our culture has changed too, and children today by and large do not see their parents as educators. But parents should — and can — take an active role. 

A new report from the Reboot Foundation reveals that, not only is social media rife with misinformation on Covid-19, but the more time people spend on platforms like Twitter, the less informed they are on the virus’ spread and its prevention. Heavy users of social media are also more likely to take a lackadaisical attitude toward the pandemic in general, the report found. Given the current pandemic, such erroneous beliefs and misinformation among the public could have dire consequences and may be deepening the crisis. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about my early experiences as I’ve read about the protests in Hong Kong. I have been struck, in particular, by the role civics education has played in the conflict. Specifically, a course called “Liberal Studies,” which has been blamed for fueling the energy of the young protesters.

Research released today by the Reboot Foundation sheds new light on the effect of devices on learning.

The new analysis builds on an earlier study. Last summer, the foundation released a paper that showed a weak link between technology use and student learning. 

“Traditionally, the way labs have been run is, students are given a procedure that they follow and conduct an experiment to observe a particular phenomenon,” explains Natasha Holmes, an assistant professor at Cornell University specializing in physics education. “But there’s not a lot of critical thinking there. Most of the decisions are laid out for the students.”

The Reboot Foundation, which I founded to advance critical thinking in education, recently published a Parents’ Guide to Critical Thinking. A group of experts — led by researcher Sébastian Dieguez at the University of Fribourg — spent more than a year pulling together the guide, relying on the latest research in the sciences, and the document brims with tips on how parents can help their children learn to reason in the Digital Age. 

Next-generation cell phones have commandeered our attention spans with their constant demands, and according to a study released last year, most people check their phones every 12 minutes or so. Ten percent of people check their phones every four minutes.  

The incessant distractions can have a negative impact on our lives, and studies show that too much cell phone use harms everything from learning to relationships. 

Expeditionary Learning schools are grounded in the philosophy that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. To students at Two Rivers Public Charter School, critical thinking is simply school culture. In addition to classroom lessons, they work on subject-specific projects and showcase their findings to classmates, parents and teachers. The school has designed a critical thinking curriculum, including assessment tools and core constructs of effective reasoning.

Innovations in educational technology have often sparked dramatic pronouncements, to be sure. Socrates, for example, famously observed that writing tools would impair people’s ability to remember. The Reboot Foundation recently explored the efficacy of education technology by analyzing two large achievement data sets. A growing body of evidence suggests that technology can have negative effects on student achievement.

Pseudoscientific beliefs can lead to weak or irresponsible decisions. Conspiracy theories, the paranormal, climate change and evolution denialism, Bigfoot: many Americans belive in these phenomena. In response, educators are testing ways that instruction on human error of perception and logic can train more critical thinkers.

Groupthink is the tendency to make decisions based on consensus, even if, individually, group members may find those decisions to be weak. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to avoid groupthink. There are new and powerful ways to teach people to be better, more independent thinkers. For one, people should be encouraged to play the devil’s advocate and help break up the norm of agreement. Along the same lines, people with a dissenting opinion should be encouraged to speak up, without negative consequences, so long as their opinion is fact-based and well-researched.

“Calling Bullshit,” got its start as a lecture series covering the various ways in which news agencies, corporations, and even scholarly institutions sling, well, bullshit. Now also a college-level course, Calling Bullshit provides people with tools to look critically at what is too often considered unassailable — data. The founding University of Washington professors continue to make a wealth of course materials available online including syllabus readings and case studies.

Last year, the Cornell University SC Johnson College of Business launched an online certificate program that focuses exclusively on developing critical thinking skills. The economy is changing, driving demand for richer forms of reasoning and independent thought. The university recognized that their students would be attractive future employees, whose improved decision making skills would help forge thriving teams and organizations in the professional world.

Concept mapping is far from a new educational approach, but it can help students engage in improved thinking. It typically involves creating diagrams that visually represent a set of ideas. Argument mapping is a variation of concept mapping, and the approach encourages people to create diagrams of an argument’s contentions. A forthcoming research review argues that helping students create online organizers leads to stronger reasoning skills. The authors declare that mapping tools are simply “a very effective way to teach critical thinking.”

The 2002 war game known as the Millennium Challenge exposed gaps in the critical thinking training of the US military. In fact, it has been 100 years since the last comprehensive review of its education system. In the meantime, “conventional warfare” has evolved into adversaries and insurgencies without a discernible front line. The U.S. Navy is now conducting a major study that’s expected to lead to a radical shift in the education of its personnel. The Navy will almost certainly recommend doing far more to emphasize critical thinking skills in its training and development programs.

Cedric Villani is sometimes called the “Lady Gaga” of math. Bearded and long-haired, he typically wears a three-piece suit, a lavallière (a cross between a cravat and a bow tie) and a spider brooch on his lapel. But most importantly, Villani is an educator. As a teacher, Villani has found that math gives young people a way to think more effectively. For Villani, math is not just for thinking, though. It’s also about action. Despite contemporary challenges, such as fake news and complex global problems, the future is ripe with opportunity for better forms of thinking.

Few of us are taking the necessary steps to develop and improve the critical thinking skills that we so covet. A Reboot study found that more than 95 percent of Americans believe critical thinking is necessary in today’s world, but less than 25 percent regularly seeks out views that challenge their own. Furthermore, parents are overconfident about their ability to help their children reason in more effective ways. Most parents believe that they know how to teach critical thinking skills to their children, but only 20 percent frequently or very often ask their children to consider an opposing view.

A free online game called NewsFeed Defenders helps train students to spot disinformation online. iCivics — an education nonprofit founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — co-created the program along with the Annenberg Public Policy Center. This and other organizations offer media and digital literacy resources for students. Many digital literacy resources are for middle- and high-school aged youth, but kids as young as three are capable of casual reasoning and improving their critical thinking skills.

CUREs (course-based undergraduate research experiences) are becoming increasingly popular, implemented at hundreds of colleges and universities across the US. One widely-cited study found that at least 45 percent of students in its sample did not demonstrate any statistically significant improvement in their reasoning and communication skills during their first two years of college. Spurred by such findings, educators have sought to engineer new approaches. One that seems to be working: asking undergraduates to conduct actual scientific research through CUREs.

A recent study may explain how people whose intelligence and talent landed them some of the most coveted jobs on the planet can make huge, forehead-smacking — possibly career-ending — mistakes. While raw intelligence accounts for certain successes in life, smarts do not guarantee future well-being. Indeed, critical thinking skills are far more predictive of making positive life decisions than raw intelligence. Unlike IQ, which is largely genetic, critical thinking can be learned and developed.