Lack of “thinking ability” in VET – an urgent matter Policy Reform


 copyright-symbols-and-rules-you-need-to-know-04 2015

Intellectual Property of Dr. Bruce D. Watson, DEd Melbourne and attributed authors as noted.

For Private individual use. All rights reserved.


Guided readings:

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

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

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 vocational students’ 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. Figure 1 “Types of Thinking Skills” outlines each skill and what is involved in that type of thinking.

Figure 1 Types of Thinking Skills

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.


Analytical thinking


Analytical Thinkers are reserved, quiet persons. They like to get to the bottom of things – curiosity is one of their strongest motives. They want to know what holds the world together deep down inside. They do not really need much more to be happy because they are modest persons. Many mathematicians, philosophers and scientists belong to this type.

Analytical Thinkers loathe contradictions and illogicalness; with their sharp intellect, they quickly and comprehensively grasp patterns, principles and structures. They are particularly interested in the fundamental nature of things and theoretical findings; for them, it is not necessarily a question of translating these into practical acts or in sharing their considerations with others. Analytical Thinkers like to work alone; their ability to concentrate is more marked than that of all other personality types. They are open for and interested in new information.

Analytical Thinkers have little interest in everyday concerns – they are always a little like an “absent-minded professor” whose home and workplace are chaotic and who only concerns himself with banalities such as bodily needs when it becomes absolutely unavoidable. The acknowledgement of their work by others does not play a great role for them; in general,they are quite independent of social relationships and very self-reliant.

Analytical Thinkers therefore often give others the impression that they are arrogant or snobby – especially because they do not hesitate to speak their mind with their often harsh (even if justified) criticism and their imperturbable self-confidence. Incompetent contemporaries do not have it easy with them. But whoever succeeds in winning their respect and interest has a witty and very intelligent person to talk to. A partner who amazes one with his excellent powers of observation and his very dry humour.

10 curses of the analytical thinker


“Sure, the analytical thinker can appear to be cold, insensitive, and logical, somewhat akin to the personality of Mr. Spock, but the world needs these attributes. After all, it would take only one analytical lemming to save the others from mythological disaster by telling his friends, “Hey guys, I don’t think this diving idea cliff is so good after all.”

“Every curse is a blessing in disguise. Because analytical thinkers like information in tabular format, ……the 10 blessings for the …… curses:

5 Tips to Think More Analytically


“When you encounter a question or theory, do you accept it at face value or break it down using logic? Being able to think analytically is one of the most important skills any adult can possess, and like many other skills, it’s surprisingly easy to learn.”

“1. Use thought experiments to examine concepts

Thought experiments are great logical tools for examining a situation or argument in full. While some thought experiments encourage you to reach a conclusion, some are designed to keep you guessing and are impossible to ‘solve’ in their entirety.

Thought experiments range from philosophical – like the famous Schrödinger’s Cat paradox – to practical. An example of a thought experiment is hypothesizing on the way you would react in a certain situation with limited options and outcomes.

Many thought experiments overlap with the field of game theory – the study of how behaviors affect outcomes. This list of thought experiments will help you change the way you think to better consider alternative outcomes and human behaviour.

2. Avoid depending on inverse reasoning

Inverse reasoning is using the opposite of a true statement to answer a question or hypothetical situation. For example, an original statement might be: “If you add salt to the meal, the taste of the meal will change.”

This statement is completely logical and accurate. After all, if you add salt to a meal, its taste does change. However, the inverse statement – “If you do not add salt to the meal, its taste will not change.” – isn’t logical or accurate.

This is because there are many ways to modify the taste of a meal. Adding sugar, for example, would modify its taste. Inverse reasoning can be an effective logical tool in certain situations, but it’s a dangerous logical fallacy when relied on.

Inverse statements are just one type of logical fallacy. Others include arguing that a certain outcome is true because it can’t be disproven and assuming a conclusion to an argument before you’ve finished explaining it.

In order to become a more analytical thinker, you need to be aware of the common logical fallacies and understand how to spot them in faulty reasoning. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving exercises will help you learn more about thinking logically and avoiding fallacious reasoning.

3. Check facts using a variety of sources

Facts, figures and statistics can be manipulated and modified to show just about any opinion or trend. From selection biases to deliberate manipulation, the myriad ways in which facts can be twisted makes it essential that you can them for accuracy.

One of the most important aspects of analytical thinking is being able to break down the way in which facts and figures are collected. From opinion polls to graphs based on public data, many numbers aren’t as accurate as they originally appear to be.

For example, a poll about a controversial political issue can easily be slanted in one direction or another by choosing a biased audience. A poll on the question “Should bicycle lanes be built on all streets?” will get a different answer from an audience of bicyclists, for example, than it would from an audience of drivers.

When you encounter an argument that relies strongly on facts and figures, look into the source of these statistics and how they were collected. You may find a revealing factor in the data collection or questions used to interview respondents that shows bias or manipulation.

Not all statistics are manipulated intentionally. Small cognitive biases can alter the way people respond to questions and theoretical situations.

4. Debate ideas to improve your understanding

Think your ideas are bulletproof? Test the strength of your argument by debating against someone with the opposite viewpoint. Exposing yourself to opinions and arguments that oppose yours is the best way to spot flaws in your logic.

When you study a topic in depth and acquire a certain viewpoint, it’s easy to ignore evidence that runs contrary to your opinion. Even with deliberate study, it’s hard to understanding both sides of an argument as well as you understand your own.

Expose yourself to new information, interesting statistics and persuasive evidence against your argument by engaging in regular debate with people who hold views that are different from your own. It might not be easy, but it’s a great way to make your ability to think logically and spot analytical errors far more effective.

Would you like to learn how to debate effectively? Learn how to speak persuasively and present your argument in a format that your audience can easily relate to and understand.

5. Base your conclusions on Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor is a simple principle that will change the way you think about a huge variety of questions. It states that if several hypotheses compete, the hypothesis that has the fewest assumptions is usually the best choice.

Note that Occam’s Razor doesn’t say that the hypothesis with the least assumptions is correct – just that it’s the best selection. A more complicated solution could be the right one, but in the absence of facts proving certainty, it isn’t the best selection.

Think of Occam’s Razor as a strategic tool.


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