critical reflective thinking

June 14, 2022 •

4 min reading

Critical reflective thinking: From observation to well-reasoned evaluation

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Fostering critical reflective thinking (CRT) in students prepares them for their future careers in the global economy where the demands are complex, interconnected and often uncertain. CRT takes a student from observation to disciplined and well-reasoned evaluation.

Critical reflective thinking - why it's important

Often, people consider reflection and critical thinking as two separate entities when, in fact, they are intertwined. The process of reflection encourages students to seek beyond the descriptive and straightforward response to deep, critical thinking and, effectively, make better choices. 

Typically, students are faced with navigating through an ocean of information. It is easy to get lost in so much flow of material. They have little time to consider their options, criticize without bias, or identify potential solutions. They are in such a rush to produce that they are deprived of the opportunity to think about what they are doing. They have no time to weigh the options nor analyze the potential effects of what they have produced. 

In higher education, students need to encounter authentic intellectual challenges based on thought-encouraging questions to develop their CRT skills. Faculty must prepare tasks that have meaning to encourage students to work harder and perform better. In a recent conference, one participant mentioned creating tasks that are so immersive and engaging that students forget about being assessed. They focus on the CRT rather than the grade. This is authentic learning. Instead of struggling to get students to work on ‘pointless’ busywork, faculty members guide excited students through a learning journey with well-prepared and thought-provoking CRT tasks.


Thinking vs. doing

Yet, while the benefits of CRT are clear, it is not smooth sailing. The complexity of implementing and embracing CRT in education, in general, is often met with resistance. Many believe that someone who is reflecting is doing ‘nothing.’ After all, we cannot see them doing anything, so they must be doing nothing. For many managers, the question arises: Why waste time reflecting when you should be acting? In a bustling industry like hospitality, managers may agree that CRT is important, but there is simply no time to do so. However, when done correctly, CRT is an active process that is initially started alone and collaboratively completed by a group - for the greatest impact. 

Further, like so many other skills, CRT can be trained. With training, this skill becomes second nature. Imagine being able to critically assess a situation to come up with the optimal solution in record time! Sounds like a dream? It shouldn’t. By making CRT a daily practice, encouraging employees to be inquisitive, listening to their reflections, and embracing the CRT process on all levels, companies will find that this ‘wasted’ time was not wasted at all. In fact, they may find that it was the best strategic decision they have taken in a long time. 

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Innovative solutions - CRT & Covid

These past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic have been eye-opening regarding CRT. For once, the hospitality industry was forced to slow down and reconsider how it was doing business and how it could continue to thrive moving forward. This was beyond a typical crisis affecting one property or area; instead, this was a global pandemic beyond our collective imagination. And for the first time, all industries were on equal par regarding resilience and CRT.

Through CRT, stakeholders were forced to find innovative solutions and implement practices that seemed ‘impossible’ or ‘too expensive’ or ‘too resource-intensive' in the past. Instead of closing shop, the industry leaders decided to push forward. For the hospitality industry, this resulted in offering food takeaway options or work from home alternatives. For tourists, a shift from global travel to domestic staycations was the rage. In a people-dependent industry, the hospitality industry found how they could bounce back, stronger than they were before. All of this was possible through CRT.


Business practices and CRT

Nonetheless, though the hospitality industry dreams of returning to ‘normal,’ all of the lessons we learned must be reinforced. If we could take time before to reflect on our choices critically, why would we stop now? Moving forward, we need to find ways to include active CRT into our business practices. To do so, it all begins in higher education. Let’s form a new generation of CRT leaders who are more robust and better equipped to face future pandemics or other crises. Let’s provide them with a new toolbox of skills that help not only one person, one property, or one industry; rather, let’s provide the tools we have so that they can develop the new tools they need for the future. 

To accomplish these ambitious goals, higher education must encourage CRT as a solid, formative pedagogical tool at all levels, regardless of degree program or discipline. They need to reinforce CRT practices in their programs that translate into fundamental world skills that future employees can put into action.  

At EHL, students develop critical thinking skills to make decisions quickly and propose solutions to complex hospitality business problems. For over 125 years, our aim has been to offer innovative, exciting programs that take hospitality management to a higher level of thinking. Are you ready to join us on this journey?

Written by

PhD, faculty member at EHL Lausanne

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