Critical thinking, biases and dual processing: The enduring myth of generalisable skills
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CONTEXT: The myth of generalisable thinking skills in medical education is gaining popularity once again. The implications are significant as medical educators decide on how best to use limited resources to prepare trainees for safe medical practice. This myth-busting critical review cautions against the proliferation of curricular interventions based on the acquisition of generalisable skills. STRUCTURE: This paper begins by examining the recent history of general thinking skills, as defined by research in cognitive psychology and medical education. We describe three distinct epochs: (a) the Renaissance, which marked the beginning of cognitive psychology as a discipline in the 1960s and 1970s and was paralleled by educational reforms in medical education focused on problem solving and problem-based learning; (b) the Enlightenment, when an accumulation of evidence in psychology and in medical education cast doubt on the assumption of general reasoning or problem-solving skill and shifted the focus to consideration of the role of knowledge in expert clinical performance; and (c) the Counter-Enlightenment, in the current time, when the notion of general thinking skills has reappeared under different guises, but the fundamental problems related to lack of generality of skills and centrality of knowledge remain. CONCLUSIONS: The myth of general thinking skills persists, despite the lack of evidence. Progress in medical education is more likely to arise from devising strategies to improve the breadth and depth of experiential knowledge.
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