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Epistemological resources approach

Beside the developmental approach, the research tradition of epistemological resources underlines that the capacity of thinking is enriched as the individual gains more knowledge and experience with learning (Louca, Elby, Hammer, & Kagey, 2004). Individuals have a mass of epistemological resources available to them, and the context affects what might be evoked (Hofer, 2004a). A distinctive feature of the epistemological resources approach is that belief development will not follow a stage model and ladder path, but rather a web of developmental pathways (Hofer, 2002). The development of personal epistemology is a cyclical process, not linear or stage-like (Hofer, 2005).

The most remarkable theorists within the epistemological resources approach are Barbara Hofer and Paul Pintrich with their theory of personal epistemology (Hofer & Pintrich, 1997). They have argued that the main scopes of epistemic development (personal epistemology) are the nature of knowledge and the process of knowing (Hofer, 2002, 2004b; Hofer & Pintrich, 1997). Their theory also recognizes the multidimensional aspect of beliefs. Epistemic beliefs can be described by four dimensions that can be expressed as a continuum. The dimensions are certainty of knowledge, simplicity of knowledge, source of knowledge, and justification for knowing (Hofer & Pintrich, 1997). Beliefs are organized into “theories,” instead of independent beliefs, and they operate at the metacognitive level (Hofer, 2004a; Hofer & Pintrich, 1997). The multidimensional aspect of beliefs has been a significant feature of research for the last 15 years and has been adopted by several researchers (e.g., Buehl & Alexander, 2006; Stroms©, Britten, & Samuelstuen, 2008).

According to Hofer (2006), individuals hold beliefs about knowledge and knowing that are coherent and congruent across different domains, but also hold beliefs that are affected by and enacted within particular contexts (e.g., variables related to school, such as pedagogical practices, assessment methods, curriculum, teachers’ and peers’ expectations, and culture). Hofer sees that epistemological beliefs develop from the general to the specific over time and in relation to education and experience (Hofer, 2006).

Connections between the two main approaches to cognitive skills: an example of higher education students

In order to broaden the view on adult thinking, the connections between epistemological beliefs and other cognitive skills have been explored by several researchers. A positive interaction between the development of epistemological beliefs and, for instance, learning strategies, text processing and reading comprehension, mathematical problem solving, and critical thinking has been confirmed (King & Kitchener, 2002; Muis, Bendixen, & Haerle, 2006; Stroms© et al., 2008).

However, research focusing specifically on the connections between epistemic knowledge and the development of logical thinking has been scarce (Seppala, 2013). One example is Seppala’s (2013) study on higher education students’ academic thinking skills, formal operational thinking, and epistemological beliefs.

The research results indicated a connection between the skills of logical thinking and the development of epistemological beliefs. The results showed that the students with higher-level logical thinking skills emphasized more the abilities of knowledge application and logical thinking as key features of academic thinking. Furthermore, it seems that students with good reasoning abilities emphasized more the individual’s active role in knowledge construction and in formulating one’s own perspectives. These findings suggest that good reasoning abilities reinforce the notion about the individual’s own role in knowledge construction, emphasizing the process ofjustify-ing knowledge through the use of rules of scientific inquiry. Conversely, sophisticated epistemological beliefs concerning the individual’s subjective role may support students’ activity in applying their reasoning skills in academic settings.

How to enhance adults' thinking skills?

The aims and expectations of learning in adult and higher education have undergone substantial changes over the last few decades. Especially the mission of higher education which has been diversified along with the changes in society and work life. During their higher education studies, students are expected to develop a wide variety of higher-order skills and competencies to work and to co-operate in the knowledge-intensive society where the role of research and knowledge production as a core element of societal and economic well-being is increased. Also, large international research initiatives have been launched in order to assess and enhance higher education students’ thinking skills (e.g., by the OECD").

Expected learning outcomes in today’s higher education include research-based expertise and competencies such as understanding the processes of knowledge construction, evaluating the source and validity of information, and applying reasoning skills, i.e., critical thinking skills (e.g., Utriainen, Marttunen, Kallio, & Tynjala, 2017). In addition, different self-management thinking skills are highlighted in higher-education curricula. The trends of higher education in Europe and also globally indicate that both the scientific higher education tradition and professional higher education tradition have an effect on the current development of higher education degrees. In both of these traditions the growth of professional expertise can be defined in terms of cultural attendance, knowledge acquisition, or producing new knowledge. In both traditions the degree structures and learning pathways are expected to be flexible. Access to adult and higher education as well as opportunities to create individual learning pathways pose a developmental challenge to future education.

One of the most central features of higher education today is its emphasis on student learning, experience, and well-being as a student. Also, in the standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European higher education area, studentcentered learning is pointed out as an important criterion of quality assurance (Standards and guidelines, 2015). According to these criteria, programs should be delivered in a way that encourages students to take an active role in creating the learning process as well as to stimulate students’ motivation, self-reflection, and engagement in the learning process (Standards and guidelines, 2015). Understanding higher level thinking as a combination of logical thinking and epistemological beliefs is also in line with the current learning objectives in higher education. While the professions are rapidly changing and working environments are becoming more complex, the nature of knowing is changing as knowledge is increasingly created in a dialogue. Promoting thinking skills is even more important, as it has been noticed that general IQ scores are gradually declining in industrialized countries (Flynn & Shayer, 2018).

In order to promote the development of higher-order thinking in students, special attention should be paid to the learning environment, teaching methods, social interaction, and the stimulation of cognitive skills (see also Chapter 7). One example of intentional stimulation for epistemological reflection could be, for instance, different dialogical approaches in classroom discussion, such as neo-Socratic dialogue (Helskog, 2019) or Bohmian dialogue (Bohm, 2014). A learning environment that allows students to discuss, argue, and learn through co-operative methods and project work and to reflect upon their own learning is a significant element in the development of personal epistemology (Hofer, 2006; Kaartinen-Koutaniemi et al., 2008).

In setting the learning objectives, it should also be taken into account that there is a connection between students’ logical thinking skills and epistemological beliefs: students with good reasoning abilities tend to put higher emphasis on an individual’s active role in knowledge construction (Seppala, 2013). Attention should also be paid to learning the essence of domain-specific knowledge and how knowledge develops (Hofer, 2006). Therefore, in order to promote the development of advanced thinking skills, the focus should be on the critical evaluation of conflicting knowledge frameworks and on complex problem solving without single solutions, seeking integration, but understanding the limitations of knowledge. The studies should allow learners to doubt and question, and there should be enough time and space for one’s own thoughts. Adults should be encouraged to share their views and to develop their thinking in dialogue and co-operation with others.

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