Creativity and education: can they coincide?

I recently listened to a talk given by Dave Snowden through the MOOC course, Dave is a well spoken man with passion and conviction about cognitive processes. My understanding of the theory he follows is that humans react to cause and effect situations through simplistic, complicated, complex or chaotic thinking drawing on environmental cues, cultural nuances and/or past experiences while always dealing with uncertainty. And he states we react and think differently depending on our predisposition and past experience where our “styles of creativity produce different patterns of behaviour.” I can’t attempt to summarize his work unless I read it more thoroughly.

During his presentation he implied that formal education stifles creativity and innovative thought – one reason he did not pursue a PhD. Having studied the higher education field and spending most of my adult life pursuing formal degrees I have to agree with him somewhat, and I’ll address that in a minute. However, I become cautious when statements are made that negate a particular system to propose another. In my graduate studies we were taught to balance all ideas to build our argument. Detesting something is more an emotional response than an intellectual one. In that way, formal education did provide me with a balanced outlook among other skills.

My sense of Dave’s point about creativity was that freely exploring ideas, visions, and perhaps passionate thoughts would most likely need to take place outside of academia. I think he is right based on my personal experience. In my formal education, I was quite aware of the hoops I had to jump through (requirements, restrictions, supervisory advice and committee approval, and even journal submissions) when developing my work, whether a paper, exam, or dissertation. All through my studies I tried to keep a part of myself and thinking that was mine, though difficult at times. I remember my doctoral supervisor advising me to keep the exploration of ‘risky’ theses for a time when my degree was complete and to see the formal program as a place to learn the methods of deep study and critical thinking. This made sense and I appreciated the advice.

Today, I read and explore as I wish and develop my own thoughts; however, there is a trade-off  – applying it to sensible things, like paid work. Again, I’ve learned to balance my idealism with pragmatism to apply fresh concepts to client’s educational needs. And sometimes clients want their educational products developed into more conventional forms, which I do.

A recent post about informal learning, called the Accidental Learner, nicely supports Dave’s perspective and reflects how we learn outside the formal setting.

Here is how I develop innovative thinking and creativity:

Rhizomatic possibility

Dave Cormier spoke this week via the change MOOC venue on rhizomatic learning – a model meaning that “curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process” (Cormier, 2008). I can appreciate Dave’s attempt to define and theorize the learning taking place in a networked, information-heavy world to illicit it and to  present an argument that formal education should apply it, as well.The distributed knowledge/network learning/chaos theory movement, as played out through MOOCs, is a good attempt to forward new ways of learning due to the affordances of technology and the learning hunger of people.

Yet, I can’t help feeling that measures are taking place to ‘name’ what is happening to justify it as the BIG way to learn while diminishing traditional formal ways of learning. To me, this is an attempt to throw the baby out with the bathwater and not learn from the earlier work of others (okay, that might be a bit harsh – he does draw on constructivist type learning, etc.). Emerging as modern day critical theorists, Dave et al. are showing how traditional modes of learning are antiquated and ineffective. I do think there is truth to that but I also see the amazing work some teachers are doing within their imposed structures.

However, my concern is not that they are exploring new horizons (which I am following with them) but that the slate is being wiped clean in order to make way for another suggested mode of learning. If they can mix in the old by considering other foundational thinking and theory, I can buy in more. It takes time to think through these things and I appreciate how Dave, Stephen and George are being open and sharing in their thought process.

I rarely criticize others in a public venue but Dave has something and has my interest. So, Dave, my criticism is a good thing and I encourage you to keep developing your ideas and I will, too!

New MOOC –

Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Dave Cormier are at it again – delivering another freely accessible massive open online course about “Being connected changes learning.” This is my third attempt at joining one of their MOOC and have the following comments:

  • I appreciate all the time they have put into creating the MOOCs and developing a large, international learning community
  • as an independent scholar my world can be lonely pursing self-study – accessing this community is very helpful
  • the line up of speakers is impressive focusing on current and emerging topics on connection, networks and e-learning
  • they have refined the delivery of the MOOC, opportunity for participant input, and provide suggestions for following, interacting and reflecting on the copious amounts of information.  See:
Consider joining this ride and take as much or as little from it as you need. Many people are generously giving to this efforts.
The course homepage: