Critical thinking is considered to be an important competence for students and graduates of higher education. Yet, it is largely unclear which teaching methods are most effective in supporting the acquisition of critical thinking skills, especially regarding one important aspect of critical thinking: avoiding biased reasoning. The present study examined whether creating desirable difficulties in instruction by prompting students to generate explanations of a problem-solution to themselves (i.e., self-explaining) is effective for fostering learning and transfer of unbiased reasoning. Seventy-nine first-year students of a Dutch Applied University of Sciences were first instructed on two categories of “heuristics and biases” tasks (syllogism and base-rate or Wason and conjunction). Thereafter, they practiced these either with (self-explaining condition) or without (no self-explaining condition) self-explanation prompts that asked them to motivate their answers.
Performance was measured on a pretest, immediate posttest, and delayed (2 weeks later) posttest on all four task categories, to examine effects on learning (performance on practiced tasks) and transfer (performance on non-practiced tasks). Participants’ learning and transfer performance improved to a comparable degree from pretest to immediate posttest in both conditions, and this higher level of performance was retained on the delayed posttest. Surprisingly, self-explanation prompts had a negative effect on posttest performance on practiced tasks when those were Wason and conjunction tasks, and self-explaining had no effect on transfer performance. These findings suggest that the benefits of explicit instruction and practice on learning and transfer of unbiased reasoning cannot be enhanced by increasing the difficulty of the practice tasks through self-explaining.

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Frontiers in Education
Department of Psychology, Education, and Child Studies

van Peppen, L., Verkoeijen, P., Heijltjes, A., Janssen, E., Koopmans, D., & van Gog, T. (2018). Effects of Self-explaining on Learning and Transfer of Critical Thinking Skills. Frontiers in Education. doi:10.3389/feduc.2018.00100