Using Assessment to Promote Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills in Adults

Using Assessment to Promote Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills in Adults

Bridget D. Arend (University of Denver, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-745-9.ch010
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Abstract

Adult education in the twenty-first century is tasked with developing skilled workers with critical thinking and problem solving skills that will allow them to succeed in a fast-paced and rapidly changing economy. Most adult education takes place in structured educational settings and course-level assessment is seen to be the strongest factor directing students‘ time and energy in such settings. Therefore, course-level assessment methods, which are the grading practices and methods within a course environment, should be used to promote critical thinking and problem solving skills in adults. This chapter describes formative and summative assessment methods and techniques that promote these higher order thinking skills in adults.
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The Need For Higher Order Thinking Skills

Adult education in the twenty-first century is tasked with developing skilled workers with critical thinking and problem solving skills that will allow them to succeed in a fast-paced and rapidly changing economy. Technological advancements and globalization are changing nearly every aspect of the workforce. Our world is transitioning towards a society and economy based on ideas, creativity, and readily available but constantly changing information. The future workforce will depend on workers that are innovative, flexible, adaptable, and able to retrain themselves to support new industries (Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, 2008). In 1950 it was estimated that 80% of jobs in the United States involved unskilled labor, but in the next 10 to 15 years, the vast majority of job openings will be classified as “skilled” (Council on Competitiveness, 2008).

Skilled workers need a different kind of education than one that is based on the accumulation of information. Technological innovations have made information readily available to anyone with a computer and Internet access. Skilled workers need the ability to process complex information, interpret and make judgments about information, and make decisions based on multiple sources of information. The kind of education required to prepare productive twenty-first century workers “must empower the individual to think as an autonomous agent in a collaborative context rather than to uncritically act on the received ideas and judgments of others” (Mezirow, 1997). Adult education needs to focus on the development of higher order thinking skills such as critical thinking and problem solving.

In addition to economic needs for more skilled adult workers, adults themselves stand to gain from the development of higher order thinking skills. Higher educational levels among adults correlate with many personal and societal benefits, including civic engagement, health, and higher earnings (Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, 2008). Further, it appears it is the higher cognitive skills themselves, rather than higher education levels, that translate to these benefits (Tyler, Murnane, & Willett, 2000). More than just a certification or degree, producing more adults with higher order thinking skills is beneficial to individuals and society at large.

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