- Olga Zbarskaya, Ph.D
Engaging Your Mind Through Creativity and Self-Determination
in Learning and Co-Creation
Standard measures of learning include knowledge, behaviors, values, skills, and responses. Improvement across these measures through the learning process is based on engagement, creativity, and self-determination. Learner engagement concerns one’s degree of curiosity, interest, attention, and personal involvement. Engagement requires a learner to invest both mind and emotions into education. When learning relates to an individual’s experience or inquisitiveness, or what that individual finds inspiring, it results in better comprehension and improved personal responsibility for the learning process. Creativity is a practical way of looking at things one is accustomed to seeing from a novel perspective. It is also a complex response toward statements, decisions, deficiencies, gaps in knowledge, or missing components. Implementing creative thinking in contemporary society is necessary for improving productivity, reducing stress, and increasing achievement. Self-determination is a complex phenomenon of amalgamated attitudes and capacities. The multiple processes involved in self-determination include decision-making, self-advocacy, setting personal goals, planning, and setting priorities by confronting issues, searching for problems, or questioning opportunities. If creativity is concerned with idea flow, originality, flexibility, and fluency of thoughts, self-determination involves inner balance, persistence, and self-confidence. Both self-determination and creativity play important roles in making choices and solving problems as well as improving the self-esteem, motivation, and achievement of learners. The development of the skills associated with creativity as well as self-determination is a continuous practice that begins in early childhood. At that early stage, creativity is established in the forms of curiosity and inventiveness. Creative performance in childhood predicts adult achievements more accurately than do high scores on intelligence tests. Learning increases capacity to produce creative ideas—one of the most valuable traits of the mind. All minds are wired differently. Approximately ten billion neurons in the human brain form thousands of chemical connections between neurons. The learning process increases the number of connections between neurons and creates new pathways for information. Engagement, nurturing, support, and a creative learning environment contribute toward people’s well-being, satisfaction, and success. Education provides opportunities to improve the quality of those responses viewed as survival skills in a complex and rapidly changing environment. These responses include creativity and self-determination, which are codependent. Individuals with a high level of self-determination tend to produce original ideas, and most innovative individuals are also independent thinkers. Both creativity and self-determination are skills that can be learned. While creativity theories focused on improving innovative thinking abound in contemporary American, it is important, in developing true creative thinkers, to build an educational system based on these codependent qualities: creativity and self-determination. The goal of this article is to offer various techniques that should be incorporated in various educational processes, including child care, academic experience, vocational training, and professional development for the learners of different ages to promote their efficient knowledge and ability to deal with complex problems. The offered methods evolved from many years of quantitative and qualitative research, conducted by the author, on self-determination, learner engagement, and creativity.
Learning through engagement, creativity, and self-determination is based on flexible comparison, experiential analyses, reasoning, and restructuring existing postulates. This type of learning encourages students to think both critically and creatively, and to be eager, intuitive, considerate, and free of stigma. In order to engage a learner, educators should create a project appealing to that student’s desires. Based on the age and objectives of the learner, an educator should extend choices regarding the techniques that can fulfill the learner’s needs. Learners may travel, actively investigate causes, participate in discoveries, create videos, write poetry, perform, etc. Engagement makes a learner more receptive to the learning process. Learner engagement is based on optimism and passion rather than attending class and doing homework. Multiple physical activities may be implemented to stimulate effective learning: walking, jumping, dancing, swimming, playing games, competing in tournaments, and more. Additionally, special tasks, clubs, community activities, and cultural engagement are effective venues for learning.
The incorporation of creativity into learning requires proficient educators who remain open-minded and who question arguments. Creative learning is based on entertaining various possibilities as well as suspending judgment. Learner-centered creative education encourages the learner to become familiar with a given concept through the prism of self, considering personal values and interests. Creative learning embraces imagery and associations. It’s multidimensional, complex. It promotes openness toward alternative conventions. We can teach learners to find new possibilities only if we teach them openness to new ideas and how to own their innovative ideas. We should promote their curiosity and imagination to empower them and boost their potential. Learning aided by creativity incorporates associative learning, multimedia learning, play, enculturation, episodic learning, meaningful learning, informal learning, and other types of learning. Combined approaches boost a deeper learning. Educators can help learners master proficiency in certain areas by leveraging tangential learning as a form self-education based on passion and enjoyment of a particular theme or area of expertise.
The relationship between creativity, self-determination, and engagement in the process of co-creation is shown in Figure 1.
Contemporary research and observable outcomes prove that an unbalanced education with strictly academic requirements results in overwhelmed individuals with limited self-expression and diminished self-realization. Learning regimens that do not challenge minds and emotions are unlikely to produce individuals able to think both creatively and symbolically, to establish relationships, and to balance their own needs and responsibilities. Exploring the world through fun learning involves transdisciplinary investigation, with the educator viewed as a companion. A new, creative approach to education, based on a culture of self-determination, should incorporate separate disciplines into a model of self-perception as part of a larger conceptual world. Students should learn the various disciplines by starting with their immediate surroundings and then expanding their knowledge and skills to other spheres (Author, 2012). This management tool will boost relatedness and deepen involvement in learning. It will also help learners advance their own motivation, conscientiousness, imagination, and self-determination. An educational curriculum should be an integrated approach that reflects evidence of observation and original thinking. A holistic educational paradigm that embraces meaningful relationships and relatedness should replace the existing system of distinct informational particles. Learning based on self-determination allows a learner to understand his own strengths and vulnerabilities and to acquire better control of the learning process through setting personal goals and mastering autonomous thinking. It will also help a learner to make better choices and meet personal needs. Educators should teach the learners to become causes rather than effects and to conduct their own learning processes as well as their lives—rather than being directed from the outside. An education based on self-determination promotes improved responsibility of the learners. Learners can develop self-regulation as they are taught goal setting and decision-making. In working with licensed professionals and educators, we have taught them to identify obstacles to achieving goals and making good choices based on individual preferences. We have also taught them to manage their daily plans by considering pros and cons of their solutions and possible outcomes. Providing opportunities for a learner to make choices from the very early age is an important component of teaching problem solving. It is also important to teach learners how to implement ideas and evaluate the results.
Because early childhood development plays an important role in future success, there is a need for an educational revision, one that favors a complex approach based on merging various disciplines. The standardized system of memorizing and testing strangles creativity and imagination. Furthermore, it does not promote the abilities to compare, contrast, and analyze. As a result, more creative and knowledgeable learners may end up failing the class due to their natural inability to perform multiple choices that require precise linear thinking. On the other hand, linear thinkers or intuitive guessers may succeed.
Creativity and intelligence are constantly being quantified in our educational system. Learners’ self-esteem and passion should not be based on test scores and competition results alone; the ability to make connections and produce ideas should also be involved. Learning should involve emotional experience, conflict resolution, and decision-making. It should be built on effective collaboration, with the freedom to make mistakes along the way. A learner should be taught how to break through creativity blocks while connecting thoughts and emotions. In junior high school, learners should know how to set their academic goals and manage their schedules. Actively engaging them in planning their own learning will provide great opportunities for improving self-monitoring and self-regulation. Within an educational system that values diversity and offers choices, students can more readily master their sense of importance and independence, which, consequently, will result in deeper and more meaningful learning. Self-motivated and self-determined learners are able to adjust more easily than those whose motivation is controlled from the outside. A pleasant learning environment based on relatedness and personal satisfaction can promote autonomous motivation. This type of learning will support autonomy and boost flexibility, interest, and self-worth. When educators are sensitive to learners’ needs and values, and when they are responsive to learners’ feelings and feedback, they offer their students tools that enable competence. When educators focus on guiding their students to pursue and identify external and internal potential for their personal growth, they provide optimal autonomous motivation for a deep learning. Encouraging learners’ initiations and respecting their feelings are the powerful tools for successful education. Creating an optimal environment for making choices and dealing with obstacles are the techniques for more effective teaching and learning.
Throughout middle school and high school, it is important that students be given the best chance to prosper and increase their self-determination and self-advocacy. Humor and funny associations in learning encourage flexible thinking, shift the boundaries of ideational categories, and enhance productivity. This type of learning contributes to the ability to generate multiple solutions and make connections between objects or concepts; it additionally increases motivation. Educators should assist learners in planning purposefully and manipulating information in a logical way. They should promote in their learners the ability to think visually, manipulate objects, create patterns, and find unusual associations. They also should teach their students to try something new without immediate judgment. This will increase appreciation for novelty and learning. Learning is based on forming opinions, putting ideas to work in practice, classifying information, comparing and contrasting and evaluating, and adapting to new attention patterns—all of these contribute toward competency. Some of the most critical factors to promote in these educational aims are openness to experience, willingness to take risks, ability to ignore distractions, and sense of responsibility. Learning based on self-regulation promotes persistence and higher achievement in learners. It also boosts retention and depth of cognition. Learning based on creativity promotes fluency, flexibility, and originality in learners. It assists learners in becoming more interested in discovering novelty and more open to challenges. Students with a greater ownership over their learning and regular opportunities to invent become more effective learners. There are many techniques to promote creativity throughout learning:
- providing opportunities to experiment and solve problems
- initiating collaborate work
- identifying failure as a step toward discovery
- using emotional connections and establishing self-expression through the arts, music, play, etc.
- slowing space and time for curiosity and feedback
- providing a structure and setting goals
- colliding ideas from different fields
Throughout the years, I have navigated learners of different ages, cultures, backgrounds, and attitudes toward learning. The ages of learners I’ve worked with vary from three years to seventy-six. Besides having deep knowledge of the subject, successful teaching requires understanding the developmental milestones, needs, interests, values, and abilities of the learner. In order to engage my learners in a purposeful mental process, I conducted preliminary research on the above-mentioned qualities and characteristics. My awareness of my students’ individual characteristics along with my reflection upon their personal needs helped me to turn education into a meaningful process of co-creation.
When the classroom is full of positivity and the learners are fully engaged, the door is open to the world of co-creation. One factor educators must take into account is that learners, regardless of age, can lose interest quickly. I observed similar processes with both children and adults of decreasing attention and “psychologically exiting” the learning zone. The process of co-creation, shown in Figure 2 is based on three stages: entering, staying in, and finally exiting the zone. It is very important, first of all, to allow enough time for the learner to enter the learning zone. During this stage, effective communication and socialization of knowledge resources should boost learners’ motivation and initial engagement. During this stage, the learner is predicting and visualizing. “Staying in” the zone is based on information exchange and knowledge construction. During this stage, the learner questions information received and tries to make connections. The longer learners can stay in the zone, the more chances they get to generate new ideas, make connections, solve problem, postpone judgments, etc. The process of exiting the zone is composed of checking predictions, initiating judgment, and summarizing the outcomes. When exiting, the process of learning takes a new route. The individual is elaborating learned knowledge and experiences; connecting these to previously learned material; rearranging, reducing, and evaluating the knowledge and experience.
While working with children, I noticed that they lost their interest as soon as I stopped surprising them with novel experiences and emotions. Once I engaged them in co-discovery, active investigation, decision making, or humorous activity, they displayed curiosity. The best strategy was to keep connecting prior knowledge to the next task and bridging the subject matter to concepts closest to the learner, including “I,” “Family,” “Friends,” “School,” etc. I was exposing children to new information through surprise and excitement, investigation and creative collaboration. Clear goals and visual directions are powerful tools for creative learning. I was continuously “stretching” my students’ cognition by implementing group scientific projects, role play, book publishing, song writing, concerts, and art exhibitions.
I observed that emotional connection and learning about the self promoted internal motivation and a sense of belonging. Understanding one’s own cultural background, personal values, and personality patterns, along with the strengths of one’s learning style, help the learner identify a starting point, increase self-efficacy, initiate ownership, and improve self-direction. I provided various activities that helped my learners to get to know their personal characteristics. For instance, I offered them the chance to create a “Book of Self” with pictures and drawings that described personality trends, strengths, weaknesses, desires, etc. This activity can also be modified for adult learners to help them identify their goals, fuel their ideas, and increase productivity. My learners also created an “Aha moment” journal in which they kept track of those experiences in which they suddenly understood, through self-talk, a previously inexplicable problem. This journal helped them to better understand their thoughts and logical flow. My students additionally did a “positivity project” in which they combined those positive moments connected to their culture, family, childhood, and friendships that help them to succeed into a collage of various pictures, geometric shapes, recycled materials, etc. This activity placed a focus on drawing the inspiration from different sources of life, as well as drawing on personal resources, improving self-guidance, and playing to personal strengths that are essential to learning. For every lesson, we came up with a theme, and we made our surroundings match this theme. Furthermore, I found it very effective to conduct classes outside –in recreational areas, museums, shipyards, or laboratories, based on the goals.
When I was training educators and administrators, I realized that the same principles of meaningful learning, with slight modifications, improved the process of co-creation with them. My adult learners were eager to discover and investigate, to set goals, to have a structure along with spontaneous “Aha” moments.
The preferred learning style for both—children and adults—was drawing on personal experiences, participating in hands-on activities, analyzing case studies (for adults) and stories (for children), having choices, and participating in fieldwork. Both children and adults preferred to try rather than observe, to make decisions rather than strictly follow the rules. Scaffolding and responsive feedback were important for most of the learners. Providing parallels and making unusual connections, along with expressing self through the arts, music, and role play, were efficient strategies for improving learning outcomes. Emotional focus, cultural interpretation, and social connections contributed toward the learners’ engagement. I could keep learners in the loop of co-creation by emphasizing individual interpretation of general knowledge based on personal values and needs. Various activities, from cooking to recording a song, were successfully utilized to explain the topic in a way that everyone could understand. Visual presentations, music, natural sounds, electronic devices, and many other tools can assist the educator in conveying fun and meaningful learning based on creativity and self-determination of the learners. Engaging the students through creativity and self-determination results in meaningful co-creation and contributes to their future success in creative endeavors—in their careers, at home, and in multiple other areas of their lives.
Author. (2012). The Impact of Theory-Based Trainings on the Level of Creativity of Family Day Care Providers in
New York City. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (Publication No. 3518811)