Clarifications of terms and a broad outline of the philosophy

Final Vocabulary Definitions:

Teaching and learning – these exist as poles on a spectrum for the development of understanding.

Teaching – the act of articulating, demonstrating, or reinforcing understanding

Learning – the act of creating new understanding based on experiences

Creativity – the process of creating in a non-algorithmic manner

Innovation – broadening or expansion of understanding

Justification of Vocabulary Usage

For module one I took the terms – creativity, innovation, learning, and teaching – and applied some broad meanings to them. As a result, many people have commented with some perplexity about the definitions I have chosen to use.

It is my intention, with this post, to clarify exactly what I mean, and why I have decided to approach this discussion in such a way.


This course is called “Innovation in Teaching and Learning” which is a very interesting idea.

In a previous post I argued that there are two ways we can interpret the terms creativity and innovation, we can view it from a societal sense as well as from the perspective of an individual. More fundamentally, from this perspective, teaching and learning take on very different characteristics.

A lot of the challenges I am facing when attempting to articulate my ideas, is the re-codification of vocabulary. Partly, I feel that the terms we have been asked to explore carry latent meaning that leads to some prejudiced understandings.

Teaching and learning can be perceived as two different roles within an environment – for example a classroom. A teacher imparts knowledge and acts as a guide, while a learner absorbs knowledge and follows directions so as to grow “properly.”

This assumes many ideas. First of all, it continues to reinforce the “sage on stage” mentality and hierarchical conceptions of teacher in relation to student. Secondly, it presumes correct methods of approach and understanding to certain problems.

The hierarchical model of education actively combats critical agency by electing an expert, which as we can know from the readings leads to greater levels of uncertainty and discomfort, thereby disincentivising creativity.


My intention is to first create a new model of learner that considers the agent of learning from a holistic perspective. It aims to free understanding from the confines of the classroom, look at how we psychologically engage with new concepts (teaching and learning), how these new understandings are explored in the world (creativity) and the ramifications and expansions they lead to in the psychology of the agent of learning (innovation).

I believe that once we have redefined our learner model, we can then begin to reconsider the role of “educator” in a holistic classroom (I am deferring from the term teacher because of its similarity to teaching).


While I feel like the spectrum model of teaching/learning which I have introduced (and will revisit in more detail below) is a break hierarchically from traditional conceptions of the terms, it is not a big stretch from the terms’ traditional meanings.

Creativity, as defined previously, is also different, but not dramatically so. It considers creativity as any novel creation with reference to the learning agents own understanding and not that of the greater community. It also views creativity as a primary mechanism for developing deeper understandings.

The difficulty arises with the term innovation. How I am using it in my discussion is a foundational part of the model I am trying to espouse, however, it does break in some ways from traditional conceptions of the term.

If we consider technological innovations as leading to different ways of living, and having dramatic effects on our daily lives, then I do not see it as being a large stretch to consider psychological innovations as deeper developments of understanding. I am using this term to refer to something of an individualistic manifestation of Kuhn’s paradigm shifts (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1991).

What does it mean to gain understanding?

When we experience something – no matter what it is, we understand it through the mechanisms of our constructed “reality conceptions.” By this I mean, we have developed complicated systems of understanding that are foundational to our social lives. Most complicated of these is language, but even driving, eating, and other social conventions are the result of highly developed structures of understanding and interpretation.

Perhaps it is easier to consider it from a child’s perspective, though I would argue that most adults would be able to critically engage with this idea through introspection as well.

When a child is first introduced to a new object – in this case let us consider a new kind of candy, they will first position it broadly – perhaps as an object of interest (due to colourful packaging). They will reach out and try to take it, if the parent allows them to, then this action is validated. Therefore, the candy has become an object of interest that the child can also hold ownership of.

In developing understanding of what the candy is, there might be a variety of different mechanisms the child employs with which to engage with the candy. Visual, tactile, and auditory interactions would probably lead to various degrees of satisfaction, but the action of eating the candy, would reinforce its value as a food.

Later understandings to develop would be – when should you eat candy? How much candy should you eat? Deeper understanding can continue to grow in a sort of fractal pattern (the fractalization of knowledge is a topic for another time), which is to say it can continue endlessly, due to the malleable constructs of understanding that constitute human intellect.

What does this mean of teaching and learning?

In discussing with classmates, I have met some resistance to the terminology I am using, and so I am attempting to better explain myself here.

First of all, we need to consider how we want to approach the terms “teaching” and “learning.” Are these simply relegated to the classroom or do they happen outside of the class? Do teaching and learning happen separately? Can learning/teaching be unintentional? Do we only learn from others, can we also learn from situations and objects? Do they happen independently from each other? Do they denote a hierarchical relationship?

I will argue that teaching and learning are two poles of a spectrum upon which understanding is developed. Often the two happen simultaneously.

In past posts, I made reference to the Hegelian dialectic as being a model of how understanding is developed. I still agree with this, and see it as a valuable construct.

To clarify my understanding of it (which very well could be wrong), understanding develops across three distinct steps:

Thesis – the introduction of an idea

Antithesis – disproving the idea and finding the limitations of it

Synthesis – the incorporation of the idea into understanding

To put it simply, my understanding is that we are exposed to a new idea. It has a very broad and ill-defined construct in our psychology (thesis). As we explore and engage with it in more detail, we find the limitations, or borders of the idea (antithesis). Once we can clearly articulate it, we add it to our understanding and it takes its place in our psychological construct of reality (synthesis).

Based on this, let us consider how we can view learning and teaching within this spectrum. Learning is the act of creating new understanding based on experiences. Teaching is the act of articulating or demonstrating understanding. We cycle between these two states in order to develop comprehensive understanding of a concept.

Looking at this in more detail:

This is a strictly non-hierarchical approach to teaching and learning. As well it is very individualistically grounded. While it is limited as a result of this, it does create a great opportunity for expansion.

To briefly explore this idea in greater depth, let’s consider a common classroom situation – that of a teacher (myself) introducing a writing structure to a student.

I will take a specific situation for clarity’s sake.

Situation: Students have brainstormed a variety of ideas related to a prompt. They now need to think of an effective thesis statement.

Leading up to this situation, we have looked at the prompt, and generated a bunch of different ideas to write about.

My instruction develops from asking students to consider the prompt, and their examples. They are to find commonalities between their examples and the prompt (especially thematically) and develop from there.

Instruction is facilitated around ideas of thematic identification, figurative and metaphorical continuity (for advanced students), etc.

In this situation, my students are developing a concept of how to construct a coherent essay (learning), and I am articulating and presenting my understandings of a coherent essay format (teaching). They then apply the instruction and attempt to develop their thesis statements.

Once they have written their thesis statements, they also write a rational justifying why their thesis is effective. When I conference with them (or check their work outside of class), I read their thesis and rational (I am learning and they are teaching), and look to see how their understanding aligns with the essay constructs I have been trying to teach them (I am developing understanding and making connections, therefore I am learning from their work).

This activity helps me find deficits in their understanding and leads to revisions in my teaching protocol, highlighting new areas to address.

From this, I am trying to demonstrate that teaching and learning are not fixed roles in the classroom, rather teachers and learners interact with each other and alternate roles. While the “teacher” is leading the students towards specific understandings.

Using rationales and broader reflective activities, the classroom can be a creative space that facilitates the development of a breadth of understanding.

If this model is adopted, we can see education as a process of creating understandings (and therefore at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy), rather than a product of repetition and rote learning.

What is important to remember is that this can also apply to autodidactic (self-learning) processes. Through interactions with our environment, we develop conceptions and frameworks of causality (learning). We apply these to our environment (as an expression of our understanding), and our hypothesis is validated. In this situation we can claim that the environment is “teaching” us, or we could claim that through the use of trial and error, we are therefore creating a situation to teach ourselves. Dependent on the results of our instruction (the testing of our hypothesis to see if it lines up with our own understanding), we then alter or cement our understandings (learning).

What of creativity?

The process of developing understanding is fundamentally a creative process. We need to approach situations in new ways and establish new connections to develop our understanding.

There is no algorithmic method to the creation of understanding (rather algorithms are the product of deep understanding), it is inherently heuristic.

I argued previously, that there is a danger in considering creativity from a broad perspective of social groups (or even society as a whole). This is dangerous because for many students, they are not the most objectively creative in their peer group. As a result, if we judge creativity by contrast to others, we devalue the expressions of certain learners.

Therefore, I propose a broader consideration of creativity, while remaining in line with the definition of Amabile, Goldfarb and Brackfield.

  • Creativity requires a heuristic task (such as knowledge development)
  • Creativity is a novel approach to a situation that serves the goal

From here, we can begin to consider creativity as a mechanism for developing understanding. If the intention is to develop understanding, then the teaching/learning spectrum outlined above is a creative process (to break it down to its component verb we are creating understanding).

If we view the development of understanding as a creative task, then we can start to understand the idea of education as creative exploration.

In previous posts on my blog, I have considered various readings to see how established protocols and expert groups lead to a lack of creativity and independence in thought. I attributed these to the development of social hierarchies in learning, and sense of self-worth tied to proficiency in a task.

By taking creativity as the fundament of the development of understanding, and considering education as a process or journey, we can hopefully lessen some of the anxiety that is created in our education systems.

Plateaus of Learning

When we consider the development of young minds, we can see how understanding undergoes dramatic shifts and changes. As well, we can reflect on our own lives, and notice how as we have gotten older, our understandings of the world have also changed – hopefully growing deeper.

I believe that we can consider innovative thought as being thought that transforms our perceptions and understandings of the world.

By celebrating transformations and broadenings of understandings (rather than the meeting of external learning goals), we ground our education system in intrinsic motivational standards. We celebrate our own understandings and the developments of our worldly conception, rather than extrinsic goal completions. This is doubly important, because as we can see from the readings, extrinsic goals lead to lower manifestations of creativity among participants.

Again, I prefer the term “paradigm shift” rather than innovation, because it is more culturally attuned to the meaning I am trying to impose on “innovation.”

I am reticent to discuss technical innovations (because they do not often occur in the classroom), as well as teaching innovations, because without a fundamental understanding of the processes through which understanding is created, we cannot innovate meaningfully.

I hope that this long article helps to articulate my meaning more deeply and outline the construct I am exploring.

This merely establishes a broad outline of the concepts I am looking to explore over the course of this … course.

Further questions and debates are welcome!

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