Critical thinking is an ability of a person to make judgments and arrive at certain conclusions in response to arguments, observations, or experience. It allows a person to define whether it is possible or not to believe in the observed facts, to justify these facts, and to accept the conclusions as the only truthful ones. In the nursing literature, critical thinking is “clear thinking that is active, focused, persistent, and purposeful. It is a process of choosing, weighing alternatives, and considering what to do.” (“Communication, Collaboration and Critical Thinking”) There are a number of definitions of critical thinking, but the most widespread is Robert Ennis’s definition which states that “Critical thinking is reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do.” (Fisher, p. 4) From this definition it can be concluded that critical thinking is not a mere ability to comprehend things, to evaluate and analyze them, but to make decisions at this. According to Ennis’s conception, “decision making is part of critical thinking.” (Fisher, p. 4) Critical care nurses often have to process vast amounts of information. This is why possessing critical thinking skills is crucial for them (Rogal and Young, p. 28)
There exist certain characteristics which good critical thinkers possess. A good critical thinker is expected to be “inquisitive, systematic, judicious, truth seeking, analytical, open-minded, and confident in reasoning.” (Rogal and Young, p. 29). Truth seeking is one of the most important features of critical thinkers. They strive for the best knowledge “even if such knowledge fails to support or undermines [their] preconceptions, beliefs or self-interests.” (“Overview of Critical Thinking”) Analyticity is another characteristic feature of critical thinkers. It consists in their need of evidence and reason in analyzing a situation, as well as their ability to anticipate consequences and to be ready to meeting obstacles on the way to their goal. Systematicity, self-confidence, and cognitive maturity are also typical for people who excel at critical thinking. This means that they are well-organized, eager to acquire new knowledge, and prudent in making or revising judgments. Good critical thinkers assume a possibility that multiple solutions to a problem exist. They often appreciate “the need to reach closure even in the absence of complete knowledge” (“Overview of critical Thinking”).
Critical thinking is closely connected with learning styles. Critical thinking allows working out approaches and techniques which can help to better absorb information and to assist in learning. For instance, concept mapping is one of the techniques which help to develop critical thinking and assist in learning; it is especially useful for those who keep to a visual (or spatial) learning style. The maps are created by means of linking the already familiar concepts with the newly obtained ones, which allows shaping relational propositions and, correspondingly, developing critical thinking. To construct a theoretically correct concept map, one requires “involvement in organizing and analyzing data, correlating appropriate information, and synthesizing ideas.” (Kostovich, Poradzisz, Wood, and O’Brien 228) Such an engagement into a learning process not only facilitates understanding of new concepts, but allows connecting them with what people already know and attributing new qualities to these concepts. Therefore, learning styles are inevitably connected with critical thinking, because the latter gives a possibility to work out approaches and techniques which can assist in learning in frames of the learning style a person keeps to.
- “Overview of Critical Thinking.” 2008. Livestrong. Demand Media, Inc. Web.
- Dailey, Mary S., Loeb, Barbara B., and Peterman, Cheryl. “Communication, Collaboration and Critical Thinking = Quality Outcomes.” Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare. 2007. Lionheart Publishing, Inc. Web.
- Fisher, Alec. “Critical Thinking: An Introduction.” Cambridge. 2001. Worldwide. Web.
- Kostovich, Carol T., Poradzisz, Michele, Wood, Karen, and O’Brien, Karen. “Learning style Preference and Student Aptitude for Concept Maps.” Journal of Nursing Education. 46.5 (2007): 225-231.
- Rogal, Sonya M. and Young, Jeanne. “Exploring Critical Thinking in Critical Care Nursing Education: A Pilot Study.” The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing 39.1 (2008): 28-33.