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Extending and developing your thinking skills
Extending and developing your thinking skills

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2 Understanding the importance of thinking skills

We would like to start by asking you to consider some fundamental questions about education.

Activity 1

Note down your responses to the following questions.

  • Why do people become university students?

  • What do you see as the purpose of higher education?

  • How do you think your answer(s) to the previous question would be different from the answers that the government, employers or university teaching staff might give?


There are, of course, no set answers to questions of this sort. People and organisations have their own reasons and views. People give a range of reasons for becoming Open University students. For example, to improve job prospects, to explore and gain knowledge of a subject area for interest, to develop themselves generally, to have contact with others. Perhaps your responses to the second question were the same as to the first. Or maybe you mentioned more general skills and attributes that can be gained such as confidence, communication or interpersonal skills.

Did you include extending or developing thinking skills in any of your responses? If you did, how important was this in relation to other reasons you listed for study and higher education? The ability to think, particularly the ability to think critically, is often cited as one of the main purposes of education by those involved in delivering higher education today. Look at the following quote and compare it with your answers.

Traditional aims of higher education

  • adopting a distinctive way of thinking about concepts, evidence and theories

  • taking a distanced, critical stance towards subject matter, assumptions and explanations

  • tackling issues systematically, logically, and effectively

  • examining the adequacy of evidence and checking alternative interpretations of it

  • demonstrating a thorough understanding of complex, abstract concepts within the discipline

  • writing clearly and cogently, following appropriate academic styles and conventions

  • being able to set and solve problems by applying concepts and techniques appropriately

(Entwistle, 1994)

Activity 2

Can you suggest why thinking skills are considered to be so important in education today?


Education can be seen as the main way of developing individuals and society. There are a range of possible reasons you might have suggested for thinking being an important area to develop. Perhaps your reasons were related to economic factors, or perhaps social, cultural or educational factors. A strong argument these days is that knowledge is central to our information age and movement towards a knowledge-based economy. The creation and use of knowledge depends on our ability to think. Good thinking could be viewed as empowering for individuals and society. Education can be seen as a process of joining a community in a subject. So you may become, for example, a social scientist or mathematician by learning the thinking styles, language and other characteristics of that community.

Your reasons for studying and what you see as the purpose of higher education will influence your thinking, styles of study and other aspects of learning.