Yarnall, L., Haertel, G., & Gallager, L. (2009). Measuring how a college education lays the foundation for “thinking like an expert.” SRI International, Menlo Park, CA.
A college education has long been viewed as a way to improve students’ capacity to think critically and argue rationally. Yet cognitive psychologists and philosophers studying the development of general reasoning have found such skills to be profoundly shaped by the depth of students’ core content knowledge of the “big ideas” in different domains (Chi, Glaser, & Farr, 1988; McPeck, 1981). Knowing big ideas differs from one’s capacity to recall the random facts, procedures, and concepts of any given domain. Rather, studies of expert thinking suggest that “big ideas” serve as schematic organizers of facts, procedures, and concepts, enhancing the efficiency of higher forms of reasoning, such as argumentation, problem solving, and creativity.