Cultivate Thinking Skills for Student Success

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Thinking is a Skill

Five minds

“I concern myself…with the kinds of minds that people will need if they – if we – are to thrive in the world in eras to come…To meet this new world in its own terms, we should begin to cultivate these capacities now.” – Howard Garner, Five Minds for the Future

Cultivating your mind is more important than anything else you can do to prepare for personal and professional success. Why? Because the modern world is unpredictable. The whirlwind of technology changes our lives so quickly that there’s no way to anticipate how the future will look. Your industry, your job, and even your day-to-day life may be very different 10, 20, or 30 years from now. The only way to get ready for what comes next is to create the mental infrastructure to thrive in any environment. The best online colleges today are helping students develop the independent thinking and learning skills they need to not only carry them through their formal education but to help them navigate throughout their life.

In past times, people could “finish” their education and move on to professional life. Today, learning is an essential part of just about any job. Imagine if a computer repairman, doctor, teacher, or librarian decided he was done learning just a decade ago. The results would be disastrous.

Developmental psychologist Howard Gardner’s book Five Minds for the Future focuses on the most important ways to cultivate your mind for future success. Learn about each of his five “minds” as well as how you can adopt them as an online student.

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Mind #1: The Disciplined Mind

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“The disciplined mind has mastered at least one way of thinking – a distinctive mode of cognition that characterizes a specific scholarly discipline, craft or profession.”

People need to know how to do at least one thing really well. The ability to focus and develop a deep knowledge will help anyone stand out from the generalists. Whether you’re an athlete, a professor, or a musician, learning how to embrace your subject on an expert level is the only way to excel.

Online student suggestion: Research shows that becoming an expert takes around ten years or 10,000 hours of focused work. If you know what you want excel at, set aside daily time to develop your abilities. If not, take a few moments to contemplate your passions.  Formal college work counts, of course. However, you may want to allocate additional hours to independent learning or extracurricular options (such as internships, research projects, or work-study programs) that are provided through your online college.

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Mind #2: The Synthesizing Mind

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“The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesizer and also to other persons.”

They call this the information age for a reason. With internet access and a library card, a person can look up just about anything. The problem is that many people don’t know how to process the massive amount of information they encounter. Learning how to synthesize this knowledge (i.e. combine it in a way that makes sense) can help you find meaning and see the big picture in your profession and life in general.

Online student suggestion: Take note of new-to-you ideas, theories, and events whenever you’re reading or having a class discussion. Then, watch to see where you hear about them a second time. You may find yourself surprised when you read about something for the first time and then see references to related topics three or four times during the following week. Combining this additional information can help you have a deeper understanding of the whole.

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Mind #3: The Creating Mind

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“The creating mind breaks new ground. It puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, arrives at unexpected answers.”

Unfortunately, schools often have the effect of squelching creativity in favor of route learning and conformity. But, the creative mind is an extremely valuable asset both in one’s professional and personal life. If you have a creative mind, you can think of ways to change your own circumstance for the better and contribute cures, ideas, and products to global society. People who can create have the ability to change the world.

Online student suggestion: Watch just about any young child playing and you’ll see that creativity comes naturally. If you haven’t developed this trait as an adult, the best way to get started is by experimenting. Try new things, play around. Take risks with your assignments. Don’t be afraid to look silly or fail.

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Mind #4: The Respectful Mind

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“The respectful mind notes and welcomes differences between human individuals and between human groups, tries to understand these ‘others,’ and seeks to work effectively with them.”

Now that technology has made worldwide travel and communication possible, the ability to understand and respect other people is essential.

Online student suggestion: The more people you know, the easier it becomes for you to value and respect ideas that are different from yours.  Although it can be a challenge, try to develop ongoing friendships with your peers. Visiting other countries and communities and meeting new faces can also help you become more welcoming of differences.

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Mind #5: The Ethical Mind

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“The ethical mind ponders the nature of one’s work and the needs and desires of the society in which he lives. This mind conceptualizes how workers can serve purposes beyond self-interest and how citizens can work unselfishly to improve the lot of all.”

Thinking ethically is the unselfish trait. You benefit from living in a world where people do right by each other.

Online student suggestion: Even if it’s not included in your general education requirements, consider taking an ethics course from your online college. You may also want to take a look at the free Harvard video course Justice with Michael Sandel.

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Many More Ways to Develop Your Mind

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Don't just stop at Howard Gardner's 5 minds. Keep focusing on preparing yourself to be a lifelong learner.

Think about taking a free massively open online course (also called a MOOC) from a program or school such as: 

Consider learning a language online such as:

You may also want to research ways to: