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Learning Design : What can we learn from creativity in the arts

March 7, 2016

by Tess Robinson, Director, LAS

I am trying to teach myself to paint with acrylics at the moment. I have a definite idea in my head of what my paintings should look like, but with no painting experience, they don’t exactly come out like that when translated to canvas. It’s very frustratinpaint brushesg!

As with many things, I turned to You Tube for help and found the rather wonderful Will Kemp from Will Kemp Art School. His tips have really helped me improve, although I still have a very long way to go before we’ll be hanging any of my creations on the wall. Whilst going through the tutorials, it got me thinking about how some artistic techniques can be equally applied to designing learning in order to help us see creative solutions and formulate a ‘well-composed’ intervention.

Will advises that to improve your drawing – a key pre-requisite of painting – you should narrow your eyes and really look at areas of light and shade. You need to temporarily hold off judgement and try not to second guess what you think the thing should look like, as oppose to what it actually looks like. This a great metaphorical technique for the research phase of any digital learning project. In getting to know your audience and accurately assessing the business need, you really need to be able to put your own assumptions and prejudices to one side and really look at the shape of what is there.

This suspension of judgement is prevalent in other arts as well and is often seen as vital to the creative process. With David Bowie’s recent death, much has been written about creativity in music. In an interview with Livewire in 2002, Bowie said:

‘I try to put judgement on hold for as long as possible. Then, when I need to listen to something critically, I put myself in a place that has nothing to do with the industrialized process we’re going through, being in a studio and all that. I’ll pretend that I’m on a ship, say, and I’m looking out to sea and there’s a distant fog on the horizon. I will listen to the piece of music from that place and see what it does to me. I use those kind of tricks all the time. It amazes me sometimes that even intelligent people will analyze a situation or make a judgement after only recognizing the standard or traditional structure of a piece. They will then confront the whole thing with a standard reaction and a standard reaction will not allow for deviancies. It’s the kiss of death in creating something’.

I read that and thought, wow, we do that. When we design learning we often take time out for a walk, a quick bike ride or a spot of meditation. Removing ourselves from the task in hand, allows fresh ideas to bubble to the fore and helps us to gain other perspectives – not dissimilar to Bowie’s method.

In researching creativity in the arts further, to see if there was anything else we, as learning designers, could learn from it, I stumbled across this article on the Guardian website from 2012. They asked a number of artists from a range of disciplines how they find creative inspiration. The one that resonated most for me in terms of its application to learning design was from Sunand Prasad, a renowed architect. He said:

  • Keep asking: “What is really going on here?” – like a detective.
  • Immerse yourself in the worlds of the people who will use and encounter the building or place.
  • Forget the building for a while. Focus totally on what people will be doing in the spaces and places you are designing – next year, in five years, in 20.
  • Ask off-piste questions. What if this library were a garden? If this facade could speak, would it be cooing, swearing, silent, erudite?
  • Gather inquisitive and reflective people around you. The rapid bouncing back and forth of an idea can generate compelling concepts at amazing speed.
  • Once there’s an idea, turn it upside down and take it seriously for a moment – even if it seems silly.
  • We all have a sense of the sublime – use it to test your propositions as rigorously as logic and functionality.

If you replace the building references with learning ones, everything above can be equally applied to learning design. It seems that artistic creativity and creativity in terms of learning design are not so far removed.

As for me and my painting, well, as Picasso said ‘I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it’. One day, I will have something wall-worthy!

 

 

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