Managing a vocational education organisation: Part Eight – Thinking ability


Ball (1989) documented the emergence in OECD countries of policies, programs and projects designed to develop what he terms ‘enterprise skills’ which are defined as:

“. . . those personal dispositions, abilities and competences related
to creativity, initiative, problem-solving, flexibility, adaptability, the
taking and discharging of responsibility and knowing how to learn
and relearn. (Ball 1989, p. 10)

According to Ball, the impetus for these new initiatives derives from a range of
social factors:

  • youth unemployment,
  • changing labour markets,
  • organisational changes, and
  • concerns about education.

It is evident to me that critical thinking/logical reasoning skills are prerequisites for most of what he identifies as “enterprise skills”.

VET is part of the tertiary education sector. It would be an enterprising venture, on the part of “VET System”, to insist that vocational trainers and trainees/learners undertake some training in critical thinking.

Based on this line of reasoning, there are good grounds for the introduction of critical thinking courses in vocational teacher education qualifications.

Critical Thinking Ability of VET Trainers/Educationists/RTO Managers

As long ago as 1991, Kaye and Hager conducted an exploratory study of the critical thinking skills of vocational teachers. The findings of the study indicated that both trade-level and sub-professional vocational teachers in the NSW TAFE system have low levels of competence in thinking critically, especially when their abilities were compared with those of American adults. They concluded that there is a real need to include critical thinking as an integral component of TAFE/VET teacher education courses. The same conclusion can be made today.

Critical Thinking Ability of VET Trainees/Learners/RTO Managers

In 1999, Pithers and Soden found that the employers of vocational education and training graduates as well as many national governments are increasingly arguing that it is important for tertiary education to prepare job-ready individuals who are capable of ‘good’ thinking. ‘Good’ thinking and ‘thinking well’ are commonly used terms closely associated with what is called ‘critical thinking’ in much of the published literature in this area.

In this paper, however, evidence is presented which suggests that many vocational education and training graduates may not be good at critical thinking in practice. There is also evidence that some vocational education and training teachers do not appear to be effective in teaching or in helping students to learn ‘good’ thinking skills.

Boosting critical thinking skills

Kaye and Hager (1991) said, “There would seem to be benefits in overhauling the entire vocational curriculum so that the amount of first year discipline-specific content knowledge could be reduced to allow the students time to engage in activities which are likely to develop their thinking ….. The question of how much discipline knowledge is good for students needs to be examined.

Research also suggests that staff development initiatives may need to focus more on teachers’ conceptions of learning and teaching if they are to deploy the [appropriate] teaching approaches…… Empirical research indicates quite strong relationships between teachers’ conceptions and teaching approaches (Kember 1997). Teachers who just slavishly follow subject matter guidelines in curriculum documents [training packages] do not seem to teach thinking well.

A student-centred, learning oriented, rather than a teacher-centred, content-oriented approach is more consistent with approaches outlined above for developing students’ thinking.

In the UK, Anderson et al. (1997) demonstrated that students’ thinking could be significantly improved ….. Boosting ‘good’ thinking may not be an easy process but it can be done and needs to be addressed if vocational education students are to become workplace competent and flexible problem solvers, life-long learners who are to able to achieve the national goals set for them.”

Types of Thinking

Bloom’s taxonomy lists six types of thinking skills, ranked in order of complexity: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  “Types of Thinking Skills” , below, outlines each skill and what is involved in that type of thinking.

All of these thinking skills are important for training and work (and life in the “real world,” too). The higher-level thinking skills are the most demanding, and require invested focused effort to develop them.

Are you using all six thinking skills?

Thinking Verbs

Notice that there are certain verbs that apply to each skill set.


Key Points

  1. We use different types of thinking skills to address different requirements, and these skills are classified in Bloom’s taxonomy.
  2. You have been using many thinking skills since childhood.
  3. Two very important thinking skills you will need to develop for success in training, work and in life are critical (or evaluative) thinking and creative thinking

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