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Training Critical Thinking for Tactical Command

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Conference paper

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Recent studies have shown that experts in military tactical command treat decision making as a problemsolving process. Experts have large collections of schemas, enabling them to recognise a large number of situations as familiar. Another capacity of experts are their problem solving skills if an immediate match between the actual problem situation and available schemas in memory cannot be established. When faced with an unfamiliar tactical problem, experts collect and critically evaluate the available evidence, seek for consistency, and test assumptions underlying an assessment. They then integrate results in a comprehensive story. This expert s approach has been used to develop critical thinking training. This paper presents empirical studies into the effects of critical thinking training. Individual commanders and commanding teams played scenario-based exercises in both simplified and high-fidelity task environments. Half of the participants received instruction, guidance, and feedback in critical thinking. The other half received the same scenarios, but without specific support. After training, test scenarios were administered to all groups. Results showed positive effects on the process of tactical command i.e. better argumentation for situation assessment as well as on the outcomes i.e. more and better contingency plans. In addition, members of critical thinking training teams were more inclined to clarify their perspective of the situation to each other. Critical thinking training supports commanders in situation assessment and decision making, and stimulates team members to engage in activities required to develop a shared mental model and to co-ordinate actions. For the Netherlands Navy and Army, the results of the studies are now being used to implement critical thinking into tactical decision games in order to develop new military training programs that will enhance the acquisition of sophisticated domain knowledge and decision making skills.

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  • Psychology
  • Military Forces and Organizations

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