When Beau Lotto, a professor of neuroscience, spoke at DevLearn several years ago, he explained that we create our understanding of the world from the fragments of information that our senses provide us. When we want to truly learn a new way of thinking, we need to create new frameworks for our brains to construct reality from. Many books on neuroscience make this connection between learning and creativity.
It’s no surprise that so many people who are drawn to learning are creative people. Learning and development (L&D) departments are full of artists, actors, musicians, and writers. Unfortunately though, much of what is created expresses limited creativity. Even when the content is exciting and vibrant, the experience for the user is not.
This is because too many L&D teams are stuck in the old paradigm of learning where the experts give knowledge to the learner who then must retain it...unchanged. This approach puts pressure on instructional designers to be very exact, and it leaves the learner with little to engage with.
Change the paradigm: Invite learners to create
Learning leaders can change this by encouraging their teams to add creative activities for the learners to participate in. Here are some examples of what participants in a learning program can create:
- Stories from their own workplace or from the work they aspire to do
- Presentations with diagrams showing new processes that can be put in place based on what was learned
- Vision boards made from collages showing their hopes for an improved environment
- Zoom improvs portraying interpersonal relationships in a playful way
- Answers to a question from the facilitator in a chatroom
Clearly, there is no limit to what can be done. Learning designers can start with something small and simple. As long as they have a safe place to explore, people tend to overcome their initial resistance quickly.
Integrate creativity into early stages of learning design
How would these activities fit into the design process? This integration would need to start at the beginning, when the entire training program is being planned—not when working on an individual module. That’s another reason that learning leaders need to be involved.
Since most training programs are blended from modules of different formats, creative activities can be added as components but only if the team has a strategic plan that allows for building these activities into the curriculum. Here are some examples:
- Create shared online presentations or documents that enable a learning cohort to collaborate on assignments
- During a video, ask viewers to write their ideas about a particular point in the comments section
- In an eLearning module, provide a link to a hashtag for that course on the company social media platform for people to post pictures about what they learned
- As pre-work for classroom training, ask participants to describe what they want to achieve, using whatever medium they choose
Adding creative activities as components to a learning program provides the flexibility needed for learning that is less rigid than traditional sage-on-the-stage training. These activities allow your team to build in room for creativity—without disrupting the flow of the learning content.
It also adds opportunities for additional learning: Glen Keane, another wonderful Learning Guild keynote speaker, said, “If you are offered the opportunity to do something that you don’t know how to do—say yes, dive in, and do it anyway.”
When leaders create a safe space for people to “dive in and do it anyway,” participants in these programs get the opportunity to create new frameworks for thinking, expanding their capacity for learning. And companies that encourage creativity tend to outperform their peers.
Creative engagement sparks learners’ creativity
I’ve always gotten the most out of teaching when students created new ways of using the tools I was providing. I loved it when someone found a trick I hadn’t thought of. So, although it may be scary to give up some control to the unknown journey of creativity, the opportunity to spark learners’ creativity makes it worth the risk, in my opinion. Creativity will engage our learners more than any flashy new technology; more importantly, it will also help learners integrate what they learned into their own thinking.
In his talk, Beau Lotto also said, “Play is the mind’s answer to uncertainty.”
Learning designers are often told that we need to have the “beginner’s mind” to be empathetic with the learner. We need to experience the learners’ uncertainty about seeing new ideas for the first time and encourage them to play with those ideas to create something new. Maybe they will create something that you will learn from.
Learning Leaders Alliance offers opportunities to connect with peers
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