Many studies have shown that experts in military tactical command treat decision making as a problem-solving process. Experts have large collections of schemas, enabling them to recognise a large number of situations as familiar. 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, plausible, and consistent story that can explain the actual problem situation. Novice decision makers, on the other hand, lack such elaborated schemas and critical thinking skills. They tend to interpret situations more superficially, and often assess the nature of a situation on isolated cues, without taking the larger pattern into account.
If we want novices to become experts, training tactical command therefore needs to address two components: (a) expansion and refinement of tactical schemas, and (b) practice in solving complex and unfamiliar tactical problems.
For all Netherlands military forces, TNO developed training programs fostering the development and application critical thinking skills. Effects of training were studied in laboratory and field studies. Furthermore, the principles underlying the training of tactical command and critical thinking were documented in handbooks.
Critical thinking training produced 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). The method supports not only individual commanders in situation assessment and decision making, it is also particularly suitable for team members to clarify their assumptions and perspectives on the situation to the other team member(s). This is especially important for developing shared mental models and to co-ordinate team actions.
Results show that it is best to start CT-training in a simple learning environment, with sufficient time and support to practise all components of the strategy. When students have sufficiently integrated critical thinking into their tactical planning and command, then exercises in more dynamic and interactive learning environments are in order.
Karel van den Bosch
Anne Helsdingen (current affiliation: Effat University, Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)
Marlous de Beer (current position: Owner of "De Beer Training & Advies")
start 2000 - completion 2008
Helsdingen, A. S., Bosch, K. van den, Gog, T. van, & Merrienboer, J. J. G. van. (2010). The Effects of Critical Thinking Instruction on Training Complex Decision Making. Human Factors, 52(4), 537-545. [pdf]
Helsdingen, A. S., Bosch, K. van den, & Ven, J. van de (2009). Learning to Make Sense. In: Proceedings of COGIS 2009 conference. Held at: Paris, France. [pdf]
Bosch, K. van den, & Beer, M. M. de (2007). Play a Winning Game: An Implementation of Critical Thinking Training. In: R. R. Hoffman (Ed.), Expertise out of Context (pp. 177-198). New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum. [pdf]
Bosch, K. van den, & Helsdingen, A. S. (2007). Critical thinking in Tactical Decision Games Training. In: M. Cook, J. Noyes, & Y. Masakowski (Eds.), Decision Making in Complex Environments (pp. 213-222). Aldershot, UK: Ashgate. [pdf]
Beer, M. M. de, Bosch, K. van den, Helsdingen, A. S., & Willeboordse, E. (2005). Handboek Tactische DubbelDenk Games (in Dutch). Unpublished handbook. [pdf]
Bosch, K. van den, & Beer, M. M. de (2004). Handboek DubbelDenk Training (in Dutch). Unpublished handbook. [pdf]
Helsdingen, A. S., & Bosch, K. van den (2003). Naval Technology. Naval Forces, 2, 32-41. [pdf]
Bosch, K. van den, Helsdingen, A. S., & Beer, M. M. de (2003). Training Critical Thinking for Tactical Command. In: Proceedings of Human Factors and Medicine Panel: Advanced Technologies for Military Training. Held at: Genua, Italy. HFMP. [pdf]
Bosch, K. van den, & Helsdingen, A. S. (2003). Critical thinking in Tactical Decision Games-training. In: Proceedings of conference on Human Factors of Decision Making in Complex Systems. Held at: Dunblane, Scotland. Dundee, Scotland: University of Abertay. [pdf]
Berlo, M. P. W. van, Stroomer, S., & Bosch, K. van den (2003). Training van Crisimanagementteams. Onderwijs & Opleiding, 4(13-16). [pdf]
Bosch, K. van den, & Helsdingen, A. S. (2002). Improving tactical decision making through critical thinking. In: Proceedings of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. Held at: Baltimore, MA. HFES. [pdf]
Bosch, K. van den, & Ingen, D. C. van (2002). Betere commandovoering door training in kritisch denken. Militaire Spectator, 171(5), 276-289. [pdf]
Bosch, K. van den, & Helsdingen, A. S. (2001). Critical thinking in tactical command: a training study. In: Proceedings of Conference on Simulation Technology for Training (SimTecT). Held at: Canberra, Australia. SimTecT. "Best Paper Award" [pdf]