Why are adult learning providers so good at finding innovative ways to engage learners yet often so bad at training their staff? Attending a recent training on innovative practice fuelled by mind numbing Powerpoint presentations, I was struck by Einstein’s definition of madness as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Ironic, that the learning provider in question regularly wins awards for innovation when it comes to engaging learners. It’s clear from colleagues in further education and local authorities that this experience is far from unique. So what’s going on?
It is not through a lack of expertise or even good will. Rather, the problem seems to stem from a growing focus on the bottom line to the detriment of theory and practice. Staff development is configured in a world of book balancing and compliance. This approach sets up silo thinking, creates a trust gap between practitioners and management, and tragically makes no use of human capital.
In his book on creative thinking Bill Lucas1 calls this type of approach as ‘creatocidal,’ as it frames conditions which inhibit development and creativity. Don’t get me wrong. Budgets matter. Bottom line issues around student numbers, costs and quality are important, but so is innovation, motivated tutors, teams which are greater than their sum of parts.
So, what is the opposite of creatocidal? Creactive? Is it difficult or expensive to do or does it just take trust, a leap into the unknown, a willingness to see what happens when fixed outcomes are not the only tool in the box? As Kaufmann2 said, if everything is hardwired, known in advance, what space is left for the new?
What if the new in this instance is motivated staff contributing experience, ideas and taking ownership for developing them? What if professional development accessed people’s innate creativity, became enjoyable, exciting, self-organised? There is a plethora of research demonstrating how this approach can lead to higher levels of motivation, involvement and productivity.
Some ideas to get started:
Enable genuine participation – Setting agendas provides opportunities for meaningful participation. Open Space Technology (OST) takes this to another dimension, but using a mediated version can get people on board and ensure a genuine buy-in. Too often we rush to finding creative solutions to problems without knowing the experiences/expertise in the room. Asking: ‘What do we already know about…?’ can throw up surprising answers.
Ethos – Wanting to impress or give the right answer limits creative thinking. Establish an ethos of trust and ‘accepting enquiry’. Stay open minded. Some of the OST outcomes provide a good framework for this.
Inspire creatively -Use thought provoking examples to set the tone; stories, film, music, pictures. RSA Animate is brilliant for this. Work across disciplines, (mix up finance/learners with educational managers).
Open it up – Use generative thinking activities to provoke different ways to address old problems. Edward de Bono’s Creative Thinking Plan has great activities for groups.
Fun – People want to enjoy it. Build in a feel good factor.
Reflection & Application – New ideas require critical appraisal. Provide opportunities to reflect on ideas before moving to action. Also reflect on the process and learning. Encourage self-organised action plans.
The Creative Thinking Plan, Claxton G & Lucas B, (2004), BBC Books
Kaufmann, Santa Fe Institute (2005) At Home in the Universe (Oxford)
RSA Animate – http://www.thersa.org/events/rsaanimate