General capabilities: A perspective from cognitive science

This report was originally published 26 June 2019.

Image: General capabilities: A perspective from cognitive science



General capabilities: A perspective from cognitive science, uses insights from cognitive science to explore the most effective ways of supporting students to develop key capabilities such as critical and creative thinking.

Key findings

  • This paper contributes to the conversation about how school systems can best support their students to develop the capabilities they will need to thrive in the future.
  • The debate to date has been hampered by a lack of clarity about key terms and concepts, and a range of assumptions that are not supported by evidence.
  • Cognitive science research shows that developing capabilities such as critical thinking is dependent on having content knowledge.
  • As such, general capabilities need to be developed through a deep and rich knowledge of content in each of the curriculum learning areas.

Practical implications

The publication is accompanied by a professional learning protocol to support educators to consider the implications of this research for practice in their schools.

The publication complements the findings from the department's Education for a changing world report: How to teach critical thinking by Professor Daniel T Willingham.

Further information

For more information on cognitive science and the insights it offers for education, see CESE's Cognitive load theory: Research that teachers really need to understand, and Cognitive load theory in practice.


  • Research report

Business Unit:

  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation
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