Creativity and self-led learning

All effective or meaningful learning depends on a good balance between Creative and Methodical modes.

MODES Creative Methodical
Ways of communicating Connotative Denotative
Ways of thinking Divergent and open-ended Convergent and judging
Ways of perceiving Inward and reflecting Outward and observing
Ways of making Poietic and generative Technical and imitative

Creative modes can flourish even in areas of learning that are not expressive, performative, or making-based, such as Science. On the other hand, some delivery of the more ‘creative’ subjects does not allow creativity to flourish because it can be too Methodical. For example, drama education can be driven too much by set methods for performing established repertoire and how to ‘make it’ in a stage career, leaving out Creative modes such as the interpretation of scripts, improvisation, personal emotion and imaginative writing.

Young people using a Double Diamond to consider the future of creative learning

The Methodical modes are not bad per se, but they can be too dominant. When they are, this is like walking with one leg, or breathing in without ever breathing out. The Double Diamond of the design process demonstrates how generation of new ideas flows between open ideation to closing down, and then repeats. (We are using this Double Diamond in the Future Views workshops, see illustration above.) Unsurprising then that a discipline such as Design, while becoming so vital across industries, is becoming devalued in our schools. It is too balanced!

It may be that when we bemoan the lack of creativity in a school, or curriculum, or in our work, we should more precisely be criticising the lack of self-determined and balanced learning. Where self-determined learning is allowed and nurtured, whether through the design of learning settings or deliberate ‘deschooling’, this balance is more likely to occur because self-motivated learners naturally draw from each mode in an integrated flow. They respond to the context, for example, their peers doing activities they’d like to try, or to problems that clearly need solving, and they are pushed on by their feelings of joy, absorption and curiosity about these tasks.

Self-determined learning approaches are repressed in our schools, where the Methodical mode has been forced to dominate along with high stakes testing. Subjects that allow balanced learning are being dropped, from schools’ own offer (e.g. numbers taking Design and Technology are falling) and from exam syllabi (e.g. History of Art will no longer be offered as an A level) because they are ‘discounted’ in data regimes. They require too much imaginative enquiry or original inventiveness to be objectively examined.

The dominance of the Methodical mode (combined with high stakes tests) can be worse than ineffective, leading to daily demotivation, mental stress from a sense of failure and ultimately to a society that lacks imagination of the future and empathy for others. At this time, we have never had such an urgent need for self-care, for imagination about the future and empathy for others.

Schools have so many formal requirements to measure children’s progress and attainment that they lack the capacity to reflect on progress in areas of learning that grow self-motivated and balanced people who can do well in life and work.

Schools and informal learning programmes (e.g. run by cultural organisations) need to explore alternative systems to fill this gap. Digital tools such as Open Badges could be really helpful here. These systems need to help young people be aware of their own preferences and motivations, and of what skills are needed for any context they find themselves in. Such a system would help learners identify and describe skills across their formal and informal learning experiences.

These seem to be the skills that are developed through balanced self-determined learning and which are also increasingly needed in future work:

Critical skills: Questioning, challenging, comparing, analysing, evaluating

Ethical skills: Being able to think fairly about the needs of others when working, including people with particular needs, different cultural values, or the environment.

Interpersonal and social skills: Co-operation, empathy, listening, putting others at ease

Communication skills: Presenting, writing, speaking, visual communication, using social media effectively. (Applied and multimodal literacy, beyond the emphasis on skills measured in English Language GCSE.)

Technical skills: Using equipment and materials to make things and solve problems, following instructions, refining processes, keeping on top of digital technology as it changes.

Aesthetic skills: Understanding and using elements such as colour, sound effects, shape and movement when creating or appreciating art (e.g. in music, dance, digital art, craft etc).

Imaginative skills: Visualising images or inventing stories, seeing new ways of doing something, inventing a new game, creating social media content, creating original films, artworks or designs.

Physical, spatial and manual skills: Creating maps of places, making 3D drawings, building a structure, choreographing a dance, kinaesthetic prowess in sport.

Project management: Organising or leading a creative project, managing a work schedule and other people, including numeracy and financial skills.

Self-management: Awareness of your own learning goals and preferences, caring for your mental and physical health, timekeeping, maintaining intrinsic motivation and discipline.

One thought on “Creativity and self-led learning

  1. I’d really like to discuss Arts Award in relation to this because it develops children and young people’s leadership through an art form they choose and through an individual portfolio which can be online or physical or performative. It is very accessible for a wide range of learners and types of learner and its accessibility can make it life changing. Used in contexts like special schools and youth justice settings it can provide a framework allowing a young person to achieve a recognised qualification on their own terms, often for the first time


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s