Creative Thinking & Adult Education

What is Creative Thinking?

Before we jump into the relationship of Creative Thinking to Adult Education, we should first define what Creative Thinking is. According to Infinite Innovations Ltd. (as cited from here:, “Creative thinking is the process which we use when we come up with a new idea. It is the merging of ideas which have not been merged before.”

Moving away from the abstract, here’s an example of Creative Thinking (Source:

3M chemists were experimenting with glues and accidentally came up with one that was so weak you could peel it right back off. A glue that won’t hold? Quite a problem. But this problem was also a solution, as it inspired the creation of Post-It Notes.

Pairing this example to the definition, we see the merging of two ideas: Paper and Weak Glue. We also see that the problem (weak glue) is an opportunity for innovation.

Creative thinking could also be seen as using something or a concept in an unordinary way. See the next image of binder clips used to organize wires.

Binder clips are intended to keep papers together, but here, it is used outside of what it is intended and is an effective solution for organization.

What are the benefits of Creative Thinking?

Here are some of the benefits of Creative Thinking according to the The Network of Public Sector Communicators (source:

  • Lets you explore new avenues of thought
  • investigates a wider range of solutions to the problem
  • allows everybody to contribute ideas
  • can lead to ground-breaking achievements
  • focuses on getting results

From what we’ve seen from the two examples, creative thinking allows us to become better problem solvers and to rise to the occasion when faced with a challenge. Tim Brown in his TedTalks speech about creativity and play supports this and states that the sense of play (i.e. creativity) helps us to get better solutions and do our jobs better.

By practicing creative thinking, students can transfer the skill and benefits out of the classroom and into their professional and everyday lives.

Instructional Strategies for Creative Thinking in Adult Education

To foster Creative Thinking in the classroom, the very first factor to consider is building a positive learning environment.  In his speech, Brown mentions that adults can be conservative with their ideas because they fear being judged. Look for posts about Positive Learning Environments by clicking on the Category in the sidebar.

Brown mentions the following for fostering creativity:

  • Exploration: Going for quantity over quality. For example, Brown asked his audience to fill up as many of the circles on a sheet of paper in a 30 second timeframe. It could be smiley faces, patterns, objects, etc. My interpretation of this is that quantity is key as it forces the participants to speed up and not think about whether the idea is feasible or not. Essentially, it is to lower any barriers to creative thinking.
  • Building and thinking with your hands: This typically involves making low-end prototypes out of ordinary objects. Brown gave the example of roll-on deodorant and the first commercial computer mouse for Apple Lisa and Macintosh.
  • Role playing: This can help us have more empathy. For instance, acting out the problem and solution and seeing how it works. Brown gives an example of how one individual wanted to understand the pain felt by chronic care patients and had his chest waxed.

Role playing is used primarily in my virtual training sessions. For example, I teach students about creating forums, and reading reports. However, there is a module of the course where the students need to go through what the experience is like for their forum participants. The purpose of this module is so that my students can empathize and understand what that experience is like for their intended audience so that they can focus on building an engaging forum.

Looking for more instructional strategies that foster creative thinking? Try this website: It lists Assumption busting techniques, brainstorming, Edison’s Idea File, Koinonia (Generate by brainstorming with others in your field), Lateral Thinking, The Lotus Blossom Approach, Mind Maps, Introduce a Random Element, Reverse Brainstorming, and Scamper. Some of these techniques will be discussed in later posts. To pull up all posts about Creative Thinking, click the Creative Thinking Category in the sidebar.


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