According to a meta-analysis of existing studies, argument mapping classes are by far the most effective at improving critical thinking.
Claudia María Álvarez Ortiz completed an in-depth analysis regarding the most effective forms of critical thinking education in 2007. Her MA thesis was Does Philosophy Improve Critical Thinking Skills? It can be downloaded for free right here in PDF format. She wanted to know how effective philosophy classes are at teaching critical thinking compared to other classes. Her study provides evidence for the following conclusions:
- Philosophy classes aren’t significantly more effective than many other classes at teaching critical thinking (when the classes aren’t focused on primarily teaching critical thinking) (86).
- Critical thinking classes are effective at teaching critical thinking (ibid.).
- Critical thinking classes taught within the analytic philosophy tradition are generally more effective than the alternatives (ibid.).
- Critical thinking classes that have lots of argument mapping practice are by far the most effective at teaching critical thinking (87-88, 100).
The meta-analysis suggests that the most effective class for critical thinking meets the following criteria:
- It’s taught in the philosophy department.
- It’s focused on critical thinking.
- It has lots of argument mapping practice.
It should be mentioned that the meta-analysis equates “critical thinking” with “informal logic” (11). I don’t know everything that is measured by informal logic tests, but I know that informal fallacies would be involved.
There is a “broader conception” of critical thinking that includes formal logic, creative thinking, and so on. I think formal logic (at the very least) should be included in the definition and I’m not sure why it’s usually excluded from critical thinking classes. Formal logic skills should be even easier to test than informal logic skills.
Additionally, the actual benefits various classes have on us as human beings was not mentioned in this study. At the very least, there is evidence that philosophy for children helps children in many ways (see “Philosophy for Kids”) and there’s evidence that philosophy for adults helps them do better on standardized tests (see “Philosophers Excel on Standardized Tests”).
Finally, I am confident that there are benefits for attaining informal logic skills as well, but I do not know of any studies that tell us exactly what those benefits are. Even so, I would expect the following benefits to be included:
- Better ability to persuade others.
- Better ability to correct one’s beliefs that rely on poor reasoning.
- Identifying deception, such as the manipulation commonly used by politicians, quacks, and cults.
- Introduction to Critical Thinking & Argument Mapping
- A Study Finds That Formal Logic Can Help High School Students