Tonya Davis, Ph.D.

Cognition Cafe

Do You Think Before You Type?

What is the impact of instant technology on critical thinking skills?

Posted Jan 12, 2018

21st-century classrooms are experiencing an infusion of technology-based tools designed to enhance student learning and engagement.This technology allows learners to be connected with enormous amounts of information in an instant using biometric interfaces such as voice commands and finger swipes. However, given the copious amounts of information students are expected to process both inside and outside of the classroom daily, what is the impact of instant technology on critical thinking skills?

Critical thinking skills are a set of skills that underlie our ability to think reflectively and judge skillfully. These skills also allow us to decide what information is reliable and what actions should be taken during reasoning and problem solving tasks (Ennis, 2002). While critical thinking skills were once thought to be complementary skills, current research has shown that critical thinking skills are necessary core skills that allow learners to make judgements about the reliability of information that is obtained (Kong, 2014).

Since students spend an inordinate amount of time on digital devices where they are besieged with moving images on screens, how do they make judgments about visual information? For students with developed critical thinking skills, they see these images as related to basic ideas and conveying knowledge that must be processed before moving to higher-order types of activities (Cheung, & Jhaveri, 2016;Yang, & Chang, 2013) whereas students with less developed critical thinking skills tend to perceive the images as having little connection or conveyance of knowledge. The outcome may lead the learner to experience a collateral effect referred to as “information avoidance” (Souza, 2016). Information avoidance can create an overreliance on the Internet which may diminish the brain’s ability to process creatively or to engage in complex problem solving processes.

So the next time students have a complex problem to solve and want to "type first" using the words “G-o-o-g-l-e,” instead encourage them to “think first” and allow their brain's cognitive processes to kick in and lead them to their own original answers.


Cheung, C. K., & Jhaveri, A. D. (2016). Developing students' critical thinking skills through visual literacy in the New Secondary School Curriculum in Hong Kong. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 36(3), 379-389.

Ennis, R. H. (2002). Goals for a critical thinking curriculum and its assessment. In A. L. Costa (Ed.), Developing minds (3rd ed.) (pp. 44e46). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Kong, S. C. (2014). Developing information literacy and critical thinking skills through domain knowledge learning in digital classrooms: An experience of practicing flipped classroom strategy. Computers & Education, 78, 160-173.

Sousa, D. A. (2016). How the brain learns. Corwin Press.    

Yang, Y. & Chang, C. (2013). Empowering students through digital game authorship: enhancing concentration, critical thinking, and academic achievement. Computers & Education, 68(1), 334-344.



About the Authors

Karen Ethridge, Ph.D., is co-founder of the Learning and Prevention Lab at Alabama A&M University. 

Tonya Davis, Ph.D., is co-founder of the Learning and Prevention Lab at Alabama A&M University.

More Posts