Critical thinking is different from common sense

Learntec: "One should critically review learning methods"

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FRANKFURT BUSINESS MEDIA GmbH

Management consultant, philosopher, skeptic - Nikil Mukerji questions pretty much everything that cannot be proven with scientific methodology. At Learntec 2018 he will give a keynote on his ten commandments of common sense.


Human Resources: Mr. Mukerji, in your keynote at Learntec you speak of “learning with common sense”. What do you mean by that?
Nikil Mukerji: This includes various things. Those who learn with common sense, for example, do not rely on myths that are popular in teaching circles and further training organizations - such as Edu-Kinestetik / Brain-Gym or that we only use ten percent of our brain. Much of it has no scientific basis - just like the existence of learner types.

So you don't believe that people learn differently?

But. Some learn faster, others slower. And those who already have previous knowledge in one area will probably acquire further knowledge more easily. The theory of learner types, however, states that some people learn better when they hear, see, touch or approach a topic in an abstract and intellectual way. But has this hypothesis ever been scientifically tested? A research team led by the American psychologist Harold Pashler has found that the existing studies on learner types are practically meaningless or even provide negative results. How best to learn does not depend on the learner, but on the subject. You don't learn to ride a bike in an abstract way, mathematics isn't a haptic one. Nevertheless, the learner type theory persists.

How should one convey different topics in a company?
In my opinion, a decisive factor is motivation. You have to understand why a topic is important. Then you want to deal with it too. Because people basically follow incentives. However, this can also backfire. In the case of intrinsically motivated employees, incentives can even reduce the learning success, because if they cease to exist, behavior changes in a problematic direction.

But how do I do boring compulsory exercises such as compliance training for my self-interest?
These training courses secure the workplace. That is why employees who work in relevant areas automatically have a self-interest in it. However, one should also include intrinsic motivation. The best way to do this is to put the right people in the right positions in the first place. Those who are really interested in their professional activity will also be more motivated to approach supporting training.

How do you learn the smart way?
By using methods that have been proven to work and not wasting time doing things that are believed to not work.

That is a truism. Could you be more specific, please?
The third commandment in my book says that one should make credible assumptions (see box). Anyone who relies on the learner type theory is violating this requirement. Accordingly, the assumption that learning can be optimized by differentiating between types of learner is implausible.

Speaking of "bid". Isn't that pretty presumptuous? Wouldn't “rules” have been enough?

I deliberately formulated it provocatively. You can call them what you want - "rules", "principles" or something like that. In my opinion, however, the word “commandment” conveys the binding character better: every reasonable person must adhere to it. You can understand this yourself by asking your own common sense and trying to find a plausible alternative to one of the commandments. Instead of the first commandment, you could say, “Think chaotically.” Instead of the second commandment, “Skip important steps in your thinking.” If you try, you will find that the ten commandments of common sense are uncontroversial.

What “unwise” learning methods have you encountered - and why are they unwise?
It is problematic when people have already married their own views. We notice this in many areas, for example when it comes to gender issues, alternative medicine, politics or the like. They put their heart and soul into the matter and stick to their convictions, even if you point them out to facts that refute them. This can be seen even in highly educated, intelligent people.

Where do you draw the line between intelligence, education and common sense?
A distinction is made between crystalline and fluid intelligence. The latter consists, for example, in the ability to recognize patterns, think spatially, solve math problems or continue series of progressions. In this sense, intelligence is the computing power of the brain. If you have a high IQ, you learn quickly and remember most of it more easily. Crystalline intelligence is what is left after thinking. People who have learned and understood a lot have a lot of knowledge. This is often equated with education. But there are also more substantial educational terms that include aspects such as personality, character and judgment. Such a broad understanding of education overlaps what I call “common sense”.

Learning is often defined as the acquisition of knowledge and skills. What is your definition?
In the Duden there are different definitions, for example the acquisition of knowledge - whereby "knowledge" is a technical expression. Whoever wants to acquire knowledge in this sense has to achieve a lot: He has to understand something, believe it, have a justification and it has to be true. An alternative term of learning relates to the acquisition of skills. Knowledge and skills are different things. I can know something without being able to - and vice versa.

What do your bids have to do with e-learning?
One should critically review learning methods and not rely on dogmas. Today there is a belief that digital natives are particularly good at multitasking because they use different channels - hear, see, write and chat. However, for all we know, multitasking reduces cognitive performance. This also applies to learning. Because we can't really do two things in parallel. This only works with automatic processes. For example, you can go for a walk and talk, because that is an unconscious and a conscious act. But you cannot paint a picture and solve an arithmetic problem at the same time, because these are two conscious actions. When young people learn with their smartphones, they quickly jump back and forth between two cognitive tasks. That is detrimental to the learning process.

The first commandment is: "Bring order to your thinking." How do you manage that with all the many distractions such as the Internet, advertising, smartphone apps, games, television, et cetera?
The answer is already in the question. There are numerous distractions: you turn on your computer, want to do a certain thing, but first check your e-mails, the latest posts on Facebook, then windows pop up with advertisements and so on. The basic evil is that you allow these distractions. You should set up your environment in such a way that you are not distracted. Bosses are often interrupted by employees who urgently need something. These interruptions can be reduced by coming to the office at eight o'clock on Mondays, for example. Then you usually have your peace of mind and can work away a lot. Then you set the smartphone to silent, turn off the email program, make a daily schedule and stick to it strictly. Unless, of course, something unexpected happens. If, for example, the computer goes on strike, you have to take care of it immediately.

What should such a daily plan look like?
There are different possibilities. One that I favor is the Pomodoro technique: you divide your day into blocks and in each block you only concentrate on one task or one type of task. One block lasts 25 minutes. There is a five-minute break after each block. After four blocks there is a longer break of 30 minutes. If you stop one second before 25 minutes, you are not allowed to credit yourself for this block. It's good for self-discipline. You should do at least twelve units a day, then you can work really productively.
There are other helpful methods for self-organization. Tasks that take less than two minutes to complete should not be postponed, but should always be completed immediately, and you should answer your e-mails at lunchtime because you normally don't have to be particularly fit to do so. In addition, 98 percent of all e-mails can be postponed for a few hours. If you constantly interrupt your work for e-mails, you increase the set-up costs. Because if you are interrupted, you have to reread paragraphs that have already been written before you can continue working.

As a dog owner, I am naturally interested in your eighth commandment. How can you be smarter than a young hunting dog?
It's just a metaphor. Young hunting dogs are said to be easily turned off the track because they chase all kinds of smells they come across on the way. Buddhists have known this phenomenon for a long time and speak of the “monkey mind” in this context. Her recommendation: meditation exercises. There are now neuroscientific findings that suggest that meditation can improve our ability to concentrate. However, that is not enough. You also need to be able to spot what's a distraction when you get off the track. Again, to do that, you need to have a clear question that regulates your thinking. You won't get them from your Zen teacher. That takes common sense.

But how can you be smarter than a young hunting dog?
You have just answered this question yourself.

In what way?
Well, you've just shown how to avoid being distracted from the question. You recalled what your question was and reiterated that you would like an answer to it. This is the first and foremost step you need to take to be smarter than a young hound.

What are the next steps?
You should familiarize yourself with typical examples of wandering thinking so that you can reliably identify them in your practice. Let's say we are discussing a question. You make your arguments, I make my arguments. Let's say you have better arguments than I do and are getting me into a bit of a mess. That's why I start a counterattack and suddenly say: “How do you want to know? You don't have the qualifications to judge it! ”If you fall for this rhetorical trick and start telling me your qualifications, you are behaving like a young hunting dog. You are following a wrong track and you begin to argue with me about a question that wasn't really the issue - namely the question of your qualifications. You don't even have to answer this question as long as your arguments are transparent and sound.

Can you learn common sense or is it innate?
The ability is innate, but you have to develop it if it is important to you. In this regard, common sense is just like any other skill. For example, those who do not have a physical handicap have the ability to run. But some can run faster than others because they've trained to do it.

Has common sense increased or decreased since the Enlightenment?
There is no general answer to that, but I am generally optimistic. However, there are temporary setbacks. Whenever we are faced with emotionally charged debates, the danger increases that people will become unreasonable and start to believe all sorts of nonsense. This was last seen in the US presidential elections and the Brexit debate.


The 10 commandments of common sense
First commandment:Bring order to your thinking.
Second commandment:Think seamlessly.
Third commandment:Make believable assumptions.
Fourth commandment:Ask about the burden of proof.
Fifth commandment:Think clearly and precisely.
Sixth Commandment:Stay logically clean.
Seventh Commandment:Don't fall into the language trap.
Eighth commandment:Be smarter than a young hound.
Ninth Commandment:Look with both eyes (if you have to).
Tenth commandment:Don't let a bear tie you up.

By: Kirsten Seegmüller, freelance journalist



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