Learning to see the structures within which we operate begins a process of freeing ourselves from previously unseen forces and ultimately mastering the ability to work with them and change them.
- Peter Senge, “The Fifth Discipline”
There is no learning without thinking. Effective learners know how to engage different types of thinking and how to think systematically and strategically. Thinking about your own thinking is a meta-skill: it enables you to use your other skills in a more productive way across different disciplines and subject areas. The Thinking Portal at Wikipedia includes a long list of thinking-related topics:
Abductive reasoning, Abstract thinking, Analogy, Attitude, Calculation, Categorization, Cognition, Cognitive restructuring, Cognitive space, Cognitive style, Common sense, Consciousness, Concept, Conjecture, Concrete concepts, Convergent thinking, Critical thinking, Deductive reasoning, Definition, Divergent thinking, Estimation, Evaluation, Explanation, Gestalt psychology, Heuristics, Historical thinking, Holistic, Hypothesis, Idea, Identification (information), Inductive reasoning, Inference, Instinct, Intelligence, Intelligence amplification, Intentionality, Introspection, Intuition, Knowledge management, Language, Lateral thinking, Linguistics, Logic, Logical argument, Logical assertion, LogoVisual thinking, Meaning (linguistics), Meaning (non-linguistic), Meaning (semiotics), Mental calculation, Mental function, Metacognition, Mind's eye, Mindset, Multiple intelligences, Morphological Analysis, Multitasking, Nonlinear, Pattern matching, Personality, Picture thinking, Prediction, Premise (argument), Problem finding, Problem shaping, Problem solving, Proposition, Rationality, Reason, Reasoning, Reasoning event, Self-reflection, Sapience, Semantic network, Semantics, Semiosis, Semiotics, Six Thinking Hats, Speech act, Somatosensory, Stream of consciousness, Syllogism, Synectics, Systems intelligence, Systems thinking, Thinkabout, Thinking, Thought act, Thinking maps, Thinking Processes, Thought experiment, TRIZ, Visual thinking, Working memory, Writing
There is obviously a lot to learn about thinking. To keep it is simple, let’s begin with just a few types:
Convergent thinking - This type of thinking is cognitive processing of information around a common point, an attempt to bring thoughts from different directions into a union or common conclusion.
Divergent thinking - This type of thinking starts from a common point and moves outward into a variety of perspectives. When fostering divergent thinking, teachers use the content as a vehicle to prompt diverse or unique thinking among students rather than a common view.
Inductive thinking - This is the process of reasoning from parts to the whole, from examples to generalizations.
Deductive thinking - This type of reasoning moves from the whole to its parts, from generalizations to underlying concepts to examples.
Critical thinking - This is convergent thinking. It assesses the worth and validity of something existent. It involves precise, persistent, objective analysis. When teachers try to get several learners to think convergently, they try to help them develop common understanding.
Creative thinking - This is divergent thinking. It generates something new or different. It involves having a different idea that works as well or better than previous ideas.
To hone your meta-skills and to bring more focus and clarity to learning through a structured thought process, try applying the above types of thinking to a topic you are studying. Pay attention to how you think about the subject matter, as opposed to what you think about it.
Do you have favorite thinking models?
Orientation Series: 21 Steps to Becoming a Better Learner:
Step 1: Setting your learning objectives
Step 2: Taking an inventory of your skills
Step 3: Taking an Inventory of Your Learning Tools
Step 4: Finding opportunities for cognitive apprenticeship
Step 5: Determining the "IIQ" of what you read
Step 6: Choosing helpful books for law students
Step 7: “The Three 'P's of Performance” in Action
Step 8: Tapping into your social networks
Step 9: Identifying your learning barriers
Step 10: Finding your sources of motivation
Step 11: Managing your energy