How Do We Decide What to Believe?

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By Anne Guetschow

“What is the relationship between information and knowledge? How do we decide what to believe? How do we go from being presented with a claim like, ‘Using instructional design skills and educational technology will improve student learning’ to evaluating and deciding to take that on as part of our knowledge? As you know, even the best theories are subject to revision in light of new information.

So, even though you’re being presented here with the best knowledge [OLET] has available, it might turn out that some of it is false, it’s very likely to turn out that it’s at least INCOMPLETE. When presented with a claim, how do we decide whether or not to believe it and, more generally, how do we maximize our chances of coming to have knowledge and of believing those things that will give us the best understanding of the way things are?” (Source: Bob Bain).

Is There a Way to Get to the Truth? 

With information coming at us from so many directions these days, it’s difficult to know what to believe. We need tools to help us deal with information so we can be discerning and selective. How do we develop skills to become better believers? How do we achieve balance between accepting too much on the one hand and not accepting enough on the other?

There are such tools. To illustrate what they are, we are borrowing from a free Massive, Open, Online Course [MOOC] called, Big History. They call these tools, “Claims Testers.”  Let’s take a look at how expert Bob Bain explains what Claims Testers are and how to use them.

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Claims Testers

Critical thinking involves testing claims using all the tools at our disposal.

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These are the four ways that humans test claims (according to Bob Bain):

  1. We use our intuition, which helps us determine which claims we want to investigate.
  1. We rely on authority because none of us can master all disciplines, and as modern humans, we’ve come to rely more and more on collective learning to share both information and the burden of collecting that information. Of course, the source should be reliable and credible.
  1. We use logic, which is our mental capacity to reason, infer, and synthesize information; it allows us to sift through claims to determine what, if anything follows from our initial beliefs.
  1. We use evidence to test claims against verifiable information that allows us to gain knowledge. We look for what evidence is available and weigh how strong it is to support or refute a claim.

Help your students hone their critical thinking skills by testing claims using their intuition, authority, logic, and evidence. 

For information on the Big History MOOC, visit: https://www.coursera.org/learn/big-histor

Anne Guetschow is an Instructional Designer & Trainer with OLET.

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