Researching, problem solving, critical thinking: same ship, different bay.

The cognitive skill set for researching, problem solving and for critical thinking are the same. Agree or disagree, contribute your perspective in the comments section of this blog or in the upcoming webinar on Friday 5am Coordinated Universal Time.

Eight years on since Kerry O’Regan and I produced the early version of the Research Skill Development framework (RSD: see , it seems to me that the 6 facets of the RSD cover the broad territory of engagement in rigorous thinking, whatever label that thinking may have. For example, in recent times:

  • The University of the South Pacific has utilised the facets of the RSD for teaching Problem Solving skills
  • The University of Adelaide has used the RSD facets to clarify the processes around Clinical Reasoning for First Year Medical students
  • James Cook University has used the six facets, adapted in language but not in substance, to assess Work Integrated Learning.

This made me reflect on the following characteristics of the facets of the RSD:

  1. They are based on the six Australian and New Zealand Institute of Information Literacy Standards (ANZIIL, 2004).
  2. Kerry and I broadened the standards to capture the full dimensions of research, where for example the second ANZIIL (2004) standard was ‘find information’ and we modified this to ‘find information and generate data’, and so included many forms of empirical data generation.
  3. Further, these were simultaneously modified to include Bloom’s et al (1956) six taxa, knowledge, understanding, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. However, the notion of hierarchy in Bloom’s was over-ridden by the emphasis on the processes of research, prioritising the logical sequence of ANZIIL standards.
  4. Just as important ANZIIL standards were modified by feedback from academics and students, so that they would speak a language that a broad audience could relate to.

So, given that the six RSD facets are based on two umbrella frameworks, and these were synthesised and expanded, it is not completely surprising that the RSD facets would hold, not only for the processes associated with researching, but also with problem solving, clinical reasoning and critical thinking.

This idea highlights a huge problem that spans formal education; we as educators may be talking about the same underlying processes, but the similarities of the processes are hidden from students by the use of different terminology.  This means that opportunities for reinforcing skills sets across the years are minimised, even sacrificed for our own attention to detail and subject or disciplinary nuances.

For example, while evaluation is very different in the sciences compared to the humanities, both require students and professors to weigh up evidences, to be discerning about assertions made and to critique all processes, whether one’s own, or others. The RSD facet of Evaluate and Reflect is in common, whereas the details differ.

Do you think there is legitimate overlap between the cognitive processes associated with researching, critical thinking, problem solving and clinical reasoning? If so, what are the consequences for all education for making these processes explicit, in common, and reinforced over the years? If not, what are the consequences of suggesting similarity?

If the underlying skills are the same for researching, problem solving, clinical reasoning, critical thinking  and work integrated learning, then students are taking the same educational cruise, same ship, but different bays.


The webinar on this topic ran on 17th of May and the recording is available

Author: johnwillison

Senior Leturer, Discipline of Higher Education, School of Education, University of Adelaide.

3 thoughts on “Researching, problem solving, critical thinking: same ship, different bay.”

  1. I agree that for the most part form appears to have prevailed over substance. However, I am not optimistic that this approach will be abandoned any time soon due to the reality of issues such as discipline-related (and broader academic) politics.

    1. I dont think that having different terminology is such a problem- language that best fits the context makes sense. But if this shrouds the potential for cognitive skills to be reinforced in many contexts, then thats a big problem. Maybe six facets in common can crispen up differences in substance in a helpful way.


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