Critical thinking can be learned

Science of Productivity: Can you become a better critical thinker?

July 9, 2020

Are critical thinking skills just a gift some are born with and others are not? Or do you just pick them up as you go through life and have more experiences?

That is the question that CEO Matt Plummer answers in this second Science of Productivity segment. The Science of Productivity segment brings you scientific insights you can trust into how to accomplish your goals faster. It is part of the Anything But Idle productivity news podcast.

This segment is part of the second episode of Anything But Idle: Notion Changes Its Personal Plan Pricing, and Other Productivity News posted on May 22, 2020.

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Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

The science of productivity segment brings you scientific insights you can trust into how to maximize the impact of your life and get an edge at work. In this week’s segment, I want to offer an answer to a super important and long-debated question: can critical thinking be learned?

Many efforts to teach critical thinking in the past have failed. Skeptics argue that critical thinking can only be learned and taught in the context of a particular subject area: an engineer requires different critical thinking skills than a marketer.

This highlights the challenge of transferability, but it is not an insurmountable challenge as a meta-analysis (or review) of 341 studies from 2015 concluded:

Results demonstrate that there are effective strategies for teaching critical thinking skills, both generic and content specific…. at all educational levels and across all disciplinary areas.

It’s possible to build your critical thinking skills if you follow the advice of psychologist Diane Halpern and improve in 3 other areas as well:

  • You need a certain disposition or attitude toward thinking and information
  • You need to be able to recognize the deep structures of problems so you know when to apply which tool
  • You need to be able to monitor your own thoughts and pass judgment on the quality of your thoughts and thought processes

The good news is that you can learn to become a better critical thinker. You just need to add these 3 other skills to your training plan.


Strategies for Teaching Students to Think Critically: A Meta-Analysis.” Abrami, Philip, et al. Review of Educational Research (June 2015).

Teaching Critical Thinking for Transfer Across Domains.” Halpern, Diane. American Psychologist (April 1998).

Link for additional reading on Zarvana site: