Next month i have been asked to run a session on ‘Curiosity and Creativity’ in the design of effective remote learning, which has given me an opportunity to revisit this work and build out some practical design ideas. I’ve decided to do that within the notion of the ‘Landscape of Curiosity’, a metaphor i have used widely in my learning design work, to explore how learning is about more than just finding ‘knowledge’, but rather is a process of ‘sense making’, individually and collectively.
Often at the start of programmes i will explain how we will explore our own Landscape of Curiosity: the idea is that we will all traverse the same plains and valleys, but we will each place our feet in different places: we may all see the same landmarks, but our individual views will each be slightly different. It’s a simple way of recognising that effective learning design is not about making everyone take the same steps, but rather creating landscapes to explore, and providing sketch maps of the routes that you can take.
In my work i would call this a Scaffolded Social Learning design approach: it’s scaffolded because there is a rigorous structure (the landmarks and relative positions of those), and because the scaffolding creates the segregated space for learning to happen. Remember, scaffolding simply defines the space in which a building is built. The scaffolding does not cause the building, but it enables the builders.
As well as being ‘Scaffolded’, the approach to learning design is ‘Social’, because it differentiates between plain knowledge, and socially constructed ‘meaning’. The divide between knowledge and meaning may sound abstract, but it’s vital: it’s about connecting the things we know to the things that we do. So in that sense, it’s about practical capability development, rather than abstract capability. And whilst knowledge may be given to us, meaning is again socially constructed, both individually (internally), and collectively (socially).
So a Scaffolded Social Learning design approach to learning is one that creates structured, guided, and supported learning journeys, which are typically remote/virtual in delivery, and which contain both knowledge (which we give people), and communities for sense making.
If we flip that around to the learner perspective, we experience a journey through our Landscape of Curiosity: ‘Scaffolded Social Learning’ is the methodology, the design approach that lets us construct and support this space, and the ‘Landscape’ is what learners explore.
So where does the Mountain of Creativity come into it?
In this context, i am looking at Creativity both in terms of learning design, but also as an approach for learners to explore and contextualise new knowledge, and in the synthesis of that knowledge into skills and broad capability. Essentially creativity as both insight, and synthesis, so both abstract and applied.
But why a mountain for creativity?
I didn’t really want to use a mountain to imply dependency: it’s a weakness in much learning design to imply that learning is like building blocks, which stack one upon the other. Not because there are not dependencies (there are), but because we all have a different set of building blocks, and the dependencies are typically not common. In other words, my dependences for learning, my critical paths, may not be the same as yours.
Neither do i want to imply that creativity is difficult, a hard mountain to climb: it can be, but equally it can be as simple as breathing. Often the challenge is not creativity itself, but understanding the forces that work against it, and the learned constraint.
It’s a mountain because creativity is referential in many cases: it references what we already know, what others say and do, the context that we are in. So whilst creativity itself is not a heavy thing, it typically references or builds upon vast bodies of established norms, or knowledge. So in that sense, creativity is a mountain.
Possibly it’s also a mountain because, in the wrong contexts, either too much creativity, or not enough, can kill us.
So to relate it all back to the Landscape of Curiosity: we could journey across the Landscape without being creative, but we would miss the view (and perspective) that we can gain from the mountain top. And from a learning design perspective, it’s a mountain because you had better be prepared before you climb it: you need the right gear, and the right mindset.
Much Organisational learning design is poor, not because of any innate factors that would make it poor, but because it’s poorly designed, forced to conform to templates and systems, abstract from everyday reality, badly conceived and even more poorly assessed, measures the wrong things, utilises substandard technology, patronises learners, or simply fails to do something as basic as setting a context and actually teaching you anything at all.
If you want to climb the Mountain of Creativity, you had better be prepared: the right tools, the right companions, and the right mindset.
So this is the approach i will take around these sessions: from an Organisational perspective, how can we equip learning designers, and learners, to be prepared to explore. From a learning design perspective, how can we use Scaffolded Social Learning Design approaches to create landscapes of learning to explore. And from a learner perspective, how can we support the individual skills, and surrounding learning communities, to ensure that we create the meaning, and creative synthesis, to enable people to apply learning fast, and be supported in building out capability.