Critical Thinking and Adult Education

In recent times, critical thinking and it’s implications for adult learning has become debatable issues in the literature of education. Particularly, in the current context of emerging globalization, many scholars have begun to question and re-evaluate about the role of political parties, role of gender, and religious views on human well-being. Such a thinking process is known as critical thinking (Merriam and Bierema, 2014). Currently, many post-secondary institutes and faculty members consider that critical thinking is a central theme of adult education. Critical thinking leads learners to change their focus from the individual learner to the social structures that shape their interactions and experiences in various socioeconomic settings (Barkley, 2010; Brookfield, 2012).

Nowadays, critical thinking is practiced in various fields such as civil rights movements, economic liberalization, and good governance (Brrokfield, 2012; Merriam & Bierema, 2012). In critical thinking process, students examine the assumptions held by scholars in a particular field of study related to the relevance of such assumptions to analyze the real world issues and the contribution of such assumptions to the advancement of knowledge. For example, I taught international economics to students in bachelor of commerce degree program at the Faculty of Management and Finance, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Neoclassical trade theory indicates that trade is an engine of growth. This means that trade leads to create economic growth in developing countries. In this class, I facilitated the group discussions about the relevant assumptions and empirical evidence on this hypothesis. These group discussions revealed that the assumptions of neoclassical trade theories are not consistent with socioeconomic structures in developing countries and therefore, trade did not work as an engine of economic growth is such countries.

In addition, students investigate their own thinking and actions. Both researchers and educators agree upon the importance of critical thinking on adult education. However, there is no common consensus among them about the best ways to promote it through teaching. However, critical thinking does not require university education or advanced knowledge of any discipline. It is also not based on the problem solving skills or creativity (Merriam & Bierema, 2014). Similarly, critical thinking does not mean that somebody criticize a person or thing. However, critical thinking is associated with three aspects such as critical theory, critical perspectives, and critical action. Critical theory is the philosophy, which leads to critical perspectives and approaches. It provides a foundation for critical thinking. It is an objective assessment of what we believe or do. Critical action is related with interventions when somebody critically evaluates his/her behavior, actions, and thoughts (Barkley, 2010; Merriam & Bierema, 2014).

According to critical theory, powerful groups in a society create the truth. Then, other people accept it regardless of the real world validity of such a hypothesis. For example, international NGO’s such as World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Asian Development Bank show that market economy is the best approach to address socioeconomic problems in developing countries. Many recommendations made by such organizations are based on this assumption. However, in reality market economic approach does not work well in developing countries where there are numerous structural rigidities (Dale, 2005; Brinkley undated).

Critical perspectives are derived from various theories such as post-modernism, race theory, and multiculturalism. Educational experts and instructors can apply such theories in designing curriculum in post-secondary institutes. For example, multiculturalism shows that at present class rooms at post-secondary institutes in Canada are filled of diversity. This means that there are students from different culture, socioeconomic background, and ethnic groups. As a result, instructors at post-secondary institutes have to address such diversity when she/he prepares curriculum and conducts lectures at post-secondary institutes (Conference board Canada; 2016; Brinkley, undated).

In the class room, critical thinking can be practiced effectively through activities such as introducing critical theory, facilitating critical thinking, and implementing critical actions. Analyzing power relations, practicing democracy, and identifying ideological manipulations are associated with introducing critical theory in the class room environment. Furthermore, when an instructor facilitates critical thinking he/she should lead adult learners to foster critical reflection, build learning community, and practice dialogical conversation. To encourage critical action an instructor should help adult learners to engage in activities related to care and empathy. In addition, an instructor can assist adult learners to engage in networking with other groups for access to resources, services, and support (Barkley, 2010).

Barkley, E. F., (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint.

Brinkley, I., (Undated). Defining the knowledge economy, Knowledge economy program report,retrieved from, on 30th August 2016.

Dale, R., (2005). Globalization, knowledge economy and comparative education. Comparative education, 41(2), 117-149.

Merriam, S.B., & Bierema, L.L., (2014). Adult Learning linking theory and practice. CA: John Wiley & Sons Inc


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