Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Why Are They Important?

What are higher-order thinking skills? Why are they so important, and how can we develop them?
Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Why Are They Important?

Last update: 12 October, 2019

Learning is a process that involves not only assimilating and memorizing information. It also involves being able to significantly understand, apply and reflect on what we learn. In this article, we’ll be looking at the so-called higher-order thinking skills. We acquire these through all the learning processes that we go through.

Human beings, from birth, are continually learning through language and communication with others, and also with the environment.

Learning takes place in a social and cultural context. Each individual acquires knowledge through study, exercise, or personal experience.

What does learning mean?

As we’ve said, learning is a process of acquiring knowledge. However, this doesn’t only mean memorizing, but also understanding and valuing what we learn. In order to do this, other cognitive operations are necessary. These include the ability to analyze and also to synthesize the information.

These cognitive operations will allow people to assimilate information about concepts, procedures, and values. With this information, they’ll build new functional mental representations in order to apply them in different contexts and circumstances.

Learning, then, is a skill that allows people to develop other skills, learn and acquire habits. It also lets them build and modify attitudes and behaviors. In short, human learning allows us to develop the necessary skills to adapt our motor skills and intellect to our surroundings.

Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Why Are They Important?

Higher-order thinking skills

Within the skills or abilities that people develop through learning processes, there are more complex ones known as higher-order thinking skills.

Matthew Lipman, in his book Complex Thought and Education, talks about building better quality thoughts that develop superior psychological functions. The author refers to a way of reasoning which is similar in many ways to the type that’s used in criminal investigations. This type of reasoning constantly asks questions of itself.

Lipman argues, therefore, that we should develop higher-order thinking skills, and he defines them as:

The set of internalized, organized, and coordinated actions that favor adequate information processing, focused both on the information to be processed in itself, as well as the structures, processes, and strategies that are being used to process it.

The higher-order thinking skills are as follows:

  • Analysis. The ability to distinguish and separate the different parts of a whole until they get to know their principles or elements.
  • Synthesis. The ability to reach the composition of a whole from the knowledge and coming together of its parts.
  • Conceptualization. This is the ability to extract the necessary traits in order to be able to describe a situation, phenomenon or problem.
  • Information management. This is the ability to visualize the constituent elements of a situation as a whole. These are then split into sets of rules, principles or measures that all relate to each other.
  • Critical thinking. An individual’s ability to think on their own, thus analyzing and evaluating the consistency of different ideas in what they read, hear, or observe.
    Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Why Are They Important?
  • Investigation. This is the ability to propose precise hypotheses of what a person studies. In addition, it involves collecting data and information with the purpose of verifying the hypotheses and, subsequently, formulating laws and theories.
  • Metacognition. This is the ability to reflect on one’s own thoughts.

The importance of higher-order skills for higher-order thinking

Behind higher-order thinking lies the development and management of the higher-order intellectual abilities that we’ve already mentioned.

Higher-order thinking is only really possible when we’re adults. However, it’s important to let the capabilities that allow it to develop from an early age. This can be done in both family and educational contexts, as well as in other formal and informal areas of education.

In short, higher-order thinking skills are important in order to structure a complex thought process that is capable of attending to both content and procedures. These are important because they enable rational and reflective thinking which is, at the same time, critical, innovative, and creative.

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