Creativity and Instructional Design

I’m listening to the most recent toolbar episode with Judy Unrein, Brian Dusablon and their guest, Connie Malamed. They talk about a number of things, but there’s a lot of discussion of creativity – how to be creative, the importance of creativity for problem solving, and the unfortunate lack of creativity that can happen in learning design.

I think that there’s a weird attitude to creativity in our field – that it’s a nice-to-have (and just be clear — this isn’t something Judy, Brian and Connie said, but rather an attitude I’ve bumped into many times elsewhere).  I think that there are a couple of reasons this isn’t true:

  • We pay attention to things that are novel and unusual.  We are constantly concerned with engaging our users.  We know what whatever we build isn’t effective if users aren’t paying attention.  In the same way that humor can improve learning and retention, unusual and novel stimuli break through our cognitive tendency to habituate to an unchanging stimulus (and yes – using big words to make your business case is a legitimate strategy).
  • Well-designed experiences create positive affect in learners, which can improve learning and retention.  The best resource on this is probably Don Norman’s Emotional Design, but his contention is that things that are well-designed do work better.

So, creativity is a legitimate design strategy – not something that is a pretty garnish on the plate.

Here are a few other interesting things on creativity:


22 thoughts on “Creativity and Instructional Design

  1. Great post, Julie! I always enjoy your thoughts on this topic. I hope it didn’t come off like *we* were taking that odd attitude toward creativity… I agree 100% that creativity is necessary, not garnish. (Also — LOVE that thank you note.)

  2. :One of the first lessons in my animations class was that our eyes are attracted to motion, so that if the MOna Lisa is next to a buzzing fly…. I think this extends to our attraction to creative novelty.

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  8. “The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” Khalil Gibran
    In my 9 years as a teacher, I have found that what you say is true. Students respond to novelty. Students respond to encouragement. Students crave inspiration… to be set free. With that said, the difficulty as a teacher/facilitator is in directing and assessing student learning. I have found research projects and portfolio / rubric assessments to be particularly helpful. Do you have any other advice for a relatively young teacher who desires to inspire student creativity and freedom while sticking to strict standards and curriculum expectations?

  9. I really enjoyed your blog post as it really made me think. In my grad class this week we are learning about how the brain works. A lot of what you are saying matches with what I found in my readings. Being a teacher and going through undergrad and now grad school we learn a lot about the different ways the brain works and how we as teachers can ensure that our lessons are reaching out to those differences. Never in any of my readings have I stumbled upon what you are talking about on this blog. Thinking out of the box! I loved this statement “In the same way that humor can improve learning and retention, unusual and novel stimuli break through our cognitive tendency to habituate to an unchanging stimulus “. Bring things into the classroom that students are not used to seeing or relating to. Teach lessons in a way that again students do not see all the time. You are almost guaranteed to keep them engaged because you are forcing them to use a part of their brain that they have not needed before. Yes it is important to know the ways that the brain works and the different learning styles that are out there , but I wanted to thank you for also reminding me that being creative is the key to ALL of those theories.

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  11. I think perhaps people also don’t realize that creativity isn’t something that just happens, or that you’re born with. The skill set of using whatever means your brain talks to its memory (verbal, visual, meta-cosmicness) to see something from a different angle is something that can be taught, practiced and learned. I was lucky enough to be in that “post-Sputnik” era where we all practiced being in the Apollo 13 ship and ahving to figure out how to use What We Had in all kinds of creative enterprises — and that kind of thinking was sought after and rewarded.
    Sadly, now, it really is shoved aside for “but is that on the standardized test ?!?!

  12. Hi, Julie: Just wanted to leave a note saying I really enjoyed your book, and now look forward to reading your posts on this blog. You write well, and your ability to get down to “brass tacks” on relatively complex ID stuff is totally refreshing. Thanks, again.

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  16. First of all, I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for sharing your ideas and all the wonderful links/reviews as well. I am new to instructional design, but not education, and I find your blog to be a great resource for me.

    I’m curious to know if you believe creativity can be taught? My thinking is that if creativity can be taught, it probably cannot be taught without using creative means. Therefore, if designers make it part of their objective to teach creativity (along with their other objectives), then the overall design of the instruction will fall into place and be creative as well.

    • Hmm, not sure, but I suspect that creativity (if you define it as novel ideas or connections between ideas) probably can’t be taught, but methods for accessing creativity *can* be taught. I seem to remember something in “Made to Stick” that talked about how people came up with much more creative ideas for advertising if they were given a set of rules and constraints.

      There’s also some interesting research that Daniel Pink talks about with rewards and creativity

  17. Your post is full of resources to inspire one to seriously consider the creativity factor regarding design instruction. Given the explosion of visual technology, I rarely see instruction being delivered without a creative strategic element. I certainly prefer to have visual aid when I’m learning. I wonder with all the creative options for designing impressive instruction, if the core purpose of transferring knowledge to learner is somehow getting lost.

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