Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course

Digital thinking tools for better decision making
Digital thinking tools for better decision making

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Session 1: The rise of digital thinking tools


We shape our tools and, thereafter, our tools shape us.

(John Culkin, 1967)

I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.

(Socrates, c. 470–399 BCE)

Figure 1 shows an iconic road viaduct across the River Tarn in France, which is the tallest bridge in the world.

A valley is spanned by a viaduct suspended from slender pillars.
Figure 1 The Millau Viaduct in southern France

This outstanding architectural achievement would not have been possible without tools and mechanisation.

But, what tools? And what mechanisation? Some tools are physical, such as the diggers, concrete mixers and cranes that are used to do the heavy lifting. But some tools are mental such as ideas about the design, based on engineering knowledge about these structures. However, there are also digital tools, which do for thinking what machines can do for lifting. They extend and empower our ability to solve mental problems, rather than merely physical ones.

Digital tools made possible the sharing of design principles and ideas, the modelling, sharing and approval of the design, and the realisation of the project. They supplied a kind of mental ‘heavy lifting’ which helped the project team conceive, design and build the elegant bridge that soars above the Tarn valley.

This course is about how digital technology has changed the way we think about problems, by offering ‘mind tools’ that can help us to find solutions. They can help us share information, filter and process that information, discover new facts, invent new ideas, visualise solutions, and share the fruits of our thoughts with other people worldwide.

In this session you will look at what is meant by a digital tool, then at how tools have evolved, and the ways in which they can extend human thought.

You might not have thought of the software you use in that way. But, as you work through this course, you will see that many of the programs and apps you probably use are indeed tools that help you think – often more smartly.

By the end of this session, you will be able to:

  • say what critical thinking is
  • use a pros and cons table
  • outline how digital thinking tools evolved
  • list some ways in which digital thinking tools extend human capability.

The Open University would really appreciate a few minutes of your time to tell us about yourself and your expectations for the course before you begin, in our optional start-of-course survey [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . Participation will be completely confidential and we will not pass on your details to others.