The Internet’s Effects on Critical Thinking and Learning
Jodi Ripley, Karan Muns, Shaun Hensley
Texas Wesleyan University
Critical thinking has become an endangered learning skill. Critical thinking is the process of using information to make logical conclusions. The introduction of the internet and edutainment, a teaching system that turns learning into games, or entertainment, created a generation that does not think for themselves. The eight concepts of critical thinking are easily forgotten when google provides information with the click of a button. Critical thinking is a skill necessary to everyday life. Critical thinking is used in decision making as well as school work. The internet can hinder or enhance critical thinking depending on how it is used. People typically believe what they see on the internet simply because it is on the internet. However, the internet can provide information to aid in the critical thinking process as long as it is viewed as research and not a fact just because it is on the internet.
Currently, the world is in a fast paced arms race with technology. It seems as though a new product to make people’s lives easier is presented to the masses on a daily basis. Most can access the internet through a smart phone, most are practically never out of touch with one another, and information has never been more accessible than it is today. The problem with these new developments is, “What exactly are people paying when these new products are being used so frequently?” This question does not refer to the monetary value people spend, but more so what intellectual value are people spending, or wasting, by not being pushed to think critically. Many educators feel as though technology is a driving force into the limited amount of time students are truly focused, and processing information through reflection. A concern is that technology will create a society that does not possess the capability to critically think on their own.
What is Critical Thinking?
There are many variations when defining “critical thinking”, but in its most basic form critical thinking is defined as, The intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action (University of Tennessee, Chattanooga).
In the layman’s terms, critical thinking is the ability of a person to problem solve, gather information from context clues, decipher which information is pertinent, and using logic to summon a logical conclusion. Critical thinking involves eight different characteristics; 1. Asking questions, 2. Asking a problem, 3. Examining evidence, 4. Analyzing assumptions and biases, 5. Avoiding emotional reasoning, 6. Avoiding over simplification, 7. Considering other interpretations, and 9. Tolerating Ambiguity (University of Tennessee, Chattanooga). These characteristics describe how critical thinking can be complicated, all while being extremely important in getting the most out of students as educators can. The fear of students losing this capability is real for educators because they, more than anyone, see how students can struggle without utilizing critical thinking.
Critical thinking in children is an important aspect for daily living that needs to be formed and nurtured early on to provide the individual with a better base to draw upon when making choices. Research has found that more often a student is exposed to critical thinking; the greater the student will transfer critical thinking to other areas of their life (Importance of Critical Thinking, 2005). Critical thinking skills give students the ability to not only understand what they have read or been shown but they will also have the ability to build upon their current knowledge base (Importance of Critical Thinking, 2005).This empowers students to be independent, innovative, creative and also helps them succeed in school and in daily life (Importance of Critical Thinking, 2005).
Critical thinking is often placed in a standalone category, but this should not be the case because critical thinking is more useful when it is also applied to additional cognitive processes. Applying critical thinking to the decision making process is an excellent example of how one process can benefit and aid in another process (Critical Thinking in Decision Making retrieved from http://www.globalcognition.org/critical-thinking-in-decision-making/). Using critical thinking can help to improve decision making and judgement in general, critical thinking can also be thought of as reasoned thinking with a purpose. Some of the core critical thinking processes should include;
- An understanding that your opinions could be incorrect
- Accepting statements as factual even when they conflict with your views
- The temporary adoption of a position that you disagree with and then reason from that point
One difficulty with teaching critical thinking is presenting it in such a way that the student can transfer what they have learned from one situation to a new or different situation (Critical Thinking in Decision Making retrieved from http://www.globalcognition.org/critical-thinking-in-decision-making/). When an individual comes across decisions that need to be made, they need to pay attention to the stories that they are telling themselves during the process. Writing a strategy down can also be a useful way of coming to a fully developed and thought out conclusion (Critical Thinking in Decision Making retrieved from http://www.globalcognition.org/critical-thinking-in-decision-making/).
The internet can either help individuals think critically in a more efficient manner or cause them not to think critically at all. Children, college students and everyday adults are directly affected by the internet. Children born during or just before the internet era grew up on “edutainment” which has taught them that learning should be fun and colorful all the time and not require any type of grueling work (Okan 2003). Children, young adults, and some adults believe everything on the internet just because it is on the internet. The internet does not require individuals to think critically unless the individual is aware that not all information on the internet is accurate even if it seems to come from a reputable source. Many people are simply too lazy to fact check and take things at face value simply because it is more convenient (Graham & Metaxas, 2003). However, even though the internet can hinder critical thinking drastically it can also provide information to students and individuals that can then base an opinion or generalization off the information given to them. They can use the internet as a tool to arrive at their own conclusion instead of using the internet to find someone else’s conclusion to use as their own. The internet is an extremely useful tool to access information and share ideas with other scholars, which increases the advances of knowledge rapidly (Browne, Freeman & Williamson, 2000).
Today’s society does not force anyone to think critically. In order to reflect and process information an individual has to make a conscious effort since information is so easily accessible because of technology and the internet. Children growing up on the internet have learned that learning is supposed to be entertaining and simple instead of learning to think for themselves through research or even reading. This causes them to be relatively unfamiliar with the eight components of critical thinking that most people learned in grade school. Adults can choose to think critically but most don’t because it is simpler to just take everything at face value without even fact checking most information they find.
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