The problem-based learning path to creative thinking
How can creative thinking be developed in school and the workplace?
Research described in a recent Newsweek cover story, “The Creativity Crisis,” indicates that schools in the United States are heading in the wrong direction by emphasizing rote learning. Analysis of creative capability scores for nearly 300,000 children and adults determined that scores have been moving steadily downward since 1990.
Meanwhile The European Union has been “instituting problem-base learning programs—curricula driven by real world inquiry—for both children and adults,” while “in China there has been widespread education reform to extinguish the drill-and-kill teaching style. Instead, Chinese schools are also adopting a problem-based learning approach.”
I had the good fortune to be introduced to problem-based learning (PBL) in 1995 by Dr. John Premi at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. McMaster’s medical school is known internationally for having pioneered the use of PBL in the 1960’s. As well, Dr. Premi and his colleagues developed a groundbreaking PBL program to support continuing education for physicians.
After fifteen years of applying this approach to collaborative inquiry and reflection in the context my life in the field of design, I believe PBL (along with action learning, project-based learning and other inquiry based methods) is far more effective than oxymoronic “teaching creativity.” To my mind, creative thinking is a by-product of wrestling with ambiguity, seeing opportunities within constraints and thinking critically. Needless to say, my own doctor was educated via PBL.
As the Newsweek article points out, the need for ingenuity is too urgent for any country to “just hope for inspiration to strike.” Authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman note, “All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others.”