How can transferable academic skills like critical thinking, academic writing and assessment literacy assist in the process of shaping, presenting and building knowledge?
Over time, experts representing numerous different subject areas and philosophies have identified theories which help to explain how learning takes place. These learning theories are relevant to academic contexts and broader learning environments. In many ways, the universal interest of this aspect of education is unsurprising, as knowledge acquisition and the application of knowledge is something which transcends any individual academic discipline or learning situation.
The theory of Constructivism
One prominent theory, Constructivism, developed and popularised by Jian Piaget, acknowledges that learning happens through people’s active involvement in the process. Constructivists argue that people learn in an incremental way, through building on existing knowledge. This view of learning shows it to be a multifaceted procedure. It involves consideration of new situations and the shaping of new findings in order to add to previous experiences and concepts which have already been formed.
The constructivist view of learning clearly identifies that building knowledge requires much more than just knowing facts. As a result, if learning is to be understood in this way, there is a key role for transferable academic skills in the development and application of knowledge for educational purposes and beyond. Transferable academic skills can assist in the process of shaping, presenting and building knowledge, and in the sharing of those understandings more effectively with others. In this way, what we know can be more easily determined, articulated and, when necessary, measured.
Three particular academic skills which illustrate this point well are: critical thinking, academic writing and assessment literacy.
Critical thinking is an essential skill as it allows us to discern the difference between strong and weak arguments; it also helps us to identify reliable and unreliable sources of information. This transferable skill is useful in the world of academia, but also in work and society. In our everyday lives there are many situations in which we strive to build understandings and approaches which are built on firm foundations and which are drawn from an evaluation of a range of perspectives.
Academic writing is an important communication skill which so many students grapple with during their education. It is so common that we might even take it for granted, but the essay remains a mainstay of assessment plans across many differing disciplines. In essence, the academic essay is an exercise in answering a question precisely and succinctly with reference to strong supporting arguments and evidence. Although, outside of academia, your life or work may not involve this type of writing in its purest form, the process of honing your writing skills in this manner has obvious transferable benefits. This includes assisting you to make an argument in writing in an unambiguous and well-structured manner. The continuing need for so many of us to engage with complex email communications springs immediately to mind.
When it comes to assessment literacy, from the student’s position, this transferable academic skill can be considered as a gateway or threshold to further learning. Assessment literacy provides individuals not only with the necessary skills and knowledge about good practice for assessments, but also facilitates the evaluation of educational situations and decision-making regarding which assessment-related skills should be used in different situations for particular purposes. This involves the review and consolidation of what has been studied or learnt, allowing people to gain a better understanding of the criteria used for assessment and how to aim to achieve the areas of attainment which have been set as objectives. Again, this process helps with your approach to tests at school or university, but it is also good training for the organisation of your preparation in other settings where your work or capabilities will be judged or measured.
These examples of important transferable academic skills are just the tip of the iceberg. They represent a broader range of key competencies, which can interlock with facts and concepts in order to form reliable, robust and multi-layered forms knowledge. As the examples have illustrated, it would also appear to be logical that forms of knowledge constructed in this way, with the help of enabling transferable skills, may also be more easily communicable and applicable to the real-world challenges which we face in many different cultures and walks of life, outside of the world of Education.
About the author
Dr Anthony Manning is Dean for Internationalisation at the University of Kent. He has worked in the field of International Education for more than 20 years and specializes in the teaching and assessment of English for Academic Purposes, languages and academic skills. He currently teaches on modules which are part of degrees in TESOL at the University of Kent and frequently gives guest talks at other universities across the UK and overseas. Anthony has a Doctorate of Education and is Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He has lived and worked in five different countries and is passionate about language learning and intercultural communication. Anthony has published widely in the areas of English for Academic Purposes, academic skills and language assessment.
Transferable skills have been embedded from the start in the development of Pearson qualifications and resources: Pearson Edexcel International GCSEs (9-1), Pearson Edexcel International Advanced Levels, as well as the iPrimary and iLower Secondary for 5-14 year olds.
Read Transferable skills: A guide for schools to find out more and see examples of how the skills are signposted across Pearson qualifications and resources.