The Study-Dude – Learn or Die

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to be the first to figure out what all this “critical thinking” rant is about.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

Today’s study tips are based on a reading of Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization by Edward D. Hess.

Our Biases that Impede Critical Thinking
The Study Dude heard a lot of ranting about being engaged in critical thinking in graduate school, yet no one ever took the time to explain what the conundrum behind critical thinking precisely is. In reading Learn or Die by Hess (2014), I began to gain insight into why no-one articulated the meaning to me: it’s a science unto itself (and rest assured, the Study Dude is going to delve into more books on the topic of critical thinking to unravel this behemoth for you, the valued readership).

In Hess (2014), critical thinking is activated when we engage a more deliberate, logical thought process as opposed to an automatic emotional process, although, as you will soon see, the emotional aspect, or gut feeling, can be very telling in helping make decisions.

We have biases that impede our ability to engage in deliberate, critical thinking?biases that inhibit our ability to evaluate alternatives and block our investigation of underlying assumptions (gasp!):

– Confirmation bias: This is the tendency to seek information or data that confirms our existing or desired belief system. We tend to rely on the past when we meet new experiences or stick to what we initially think is right without exploring in depth the alternatives: “[W]e tend to quit thinking too soon” (p. 15).
– Availability bias: This is when we use the quickest information or data immediately available without delving further?especially if strong emotions were involved in working with that data.
– Self-interest bias: This is when we go with the data that advances our personal interests.
– Anchoring bias: This occurs when we get a sort of mental anchor on a certain data point or view and it proverbially shackles us to that idea, and we don’t examine further options.

(Hess, 2014)
What Constitutes a Good Learning Environment
The Study Dude entered learning environments where, on the first day, I knew I was in a safe, learner-centric environment. It didn’t matter what the subject was, years later, the teachers that I remembered the most, whose words I cling to this day, are the ones who treated me with compassion, friendship, and love.

Here is what counts as a good learning environment for me, and I hope you too always find it:
– You are intrinsically motivated (for your own betterment) rather than extrinsically motivated (for just the grade or degree).
– You have a high degree of autonomy.
– You have good, caring role models or teachers (or supervisors, for that matter).
– You are encouraged to express creativity.
– You are engaged in a learner-centric model.
– You feel unique and authentic, yet socially connected.
– You have growth versus performance (i.e., showing off) goals.
– You are safe, free of fears of failure, free of stress.
– You are respected.
(Hess, 2014)

The aim is to create these types of environments as much as possible in educational and work-related environments to get the highest engagement and learning possible.

Critical Thinking Tool: Klein’s Insight Process (Finding Anomalies)
As the Study Dude, I favour myself as a kind of anomaly. I hope you see yourself in a unique light, too, and recognize everything that makes you a one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable, precious, uncompromisingly necessary addition to this world.

Dr. Gary Klein (as cited in Hess, 2014) provides a framework for the type of critical thinking that recognizes the unusual, the anomalous:

– Notice contradictions, anomalies, and inconsistencies.
– Deliberately connects ideas in new ways.
– Examine ideas that go against what you believe.
– Look for anything out of the ordinary or unusual and find meaning in it.
– Redefine your question or the idea such that it potentially opens up new insights or a new way of looking at the problem.
– Seek out disconfirming data.
– After examining concepts, listen to your gut feeling to help let you know if you are on the right track.
(Hess, 2014)

Critical Thinking Tool: The Learning Launch: Unpacking Assumptions (The Scientific Method)
The Study Dude is enamoured by the thought of the scientific method, although the only scientific courses I ever undertook have been mathematics and computer science, neither of which delves meaningfully into the underpinnings of the scientific method as a construct. Yet the Learning Launch, developed in Darden in 2007, is a tool that aims to unpack assumptions?a tool that takes up a kind of scientific method that is used for testing and experimenting with business assumptions. However, the Study Dude thinks that you, too, can use such a tool to examine your own underlying assumptions in your every day and academic thinking.

It is important to note that Klein (as cited in Hess, 2014) later says that unpacking our mental models, or automatic thinking, is typically done only when there is a crisis in our lives that cause us to question our underlying beliefs.

Yet, with that said, the Learning Launch tool is presented for a systematic approach to critically unpacking our assumptions, crisis or no crisis:

– State your idea as a hypothesis.
– Examine the underlying assumptions behind that hypothesis. Look for gaps in thinking or even irrationality. Look for confirming or disconfirming data. Ask yourself what must be true for the assumption to also be based on truth.
– Examine the most important assumptions first.
– Design some sort of experiment that would test that assumption, such as hosting a focus group, interviewing subjects, or other methods.
– Conduct the experiment and evaluate the findings.
– Decide what to do next based on the findings (i.e., examine further (layers of) assumptions, alter the hypothesis, etc., etc.)
(Hess, 2014)

Critical Thinking Tool: High Risk Scenarios (Klein’s RPD — Pattern Matching and Simulation)
To top off the discussion of critical thinking, the Study Dude wanted to discuss Klein’s (as cited in Hess, 2014) Recognition-Primed Decision Model (RPD) which looks at decision making in high risk scenarios, such as firefighting or military service where you have only a short time frame to react:

– Quickly process the situation.
– Compare the situation with patterns that you recognize from prior experiences.
– Then slow down thinking by simulating the solution and visualizing the process/outcomes (i.e., the crux of deliberate thinking in high risk scenarios).
– Pay attention to what doesn’t feel right in your gut.
– If your gut is sending out warning signals, consider re-evaluating what it is that doesn’t feel right by engaging in additional deliberate thought.
(Hess, 2014)

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Hess, Edward H. (2014). Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading Edge Learning Organization. New York, NY: Columbia Business School.