Archive for the ‘ Creative Thinking ’ Category

Critical Thinking, MetaCognition, Creative Thinking: What’s the Diff?

I was recently asked by a colleague what the difference is between the three types of thinking discussed in this blog thus far:

  • Critical Thinking
  • MetaCognition
  • Creative Thinking

Although I go in depth about each one in previous entries here, here, and here, defining them here in one post can give us clarity.

This the way I see it is outline briefly below.

Free images from

Critical Thinking

This type of thinking requires that students objectively judge new information for its credibility and integrity. This skill is used to piece together information from multiple sources and to make sense of a concept.


An educator provides an article to students and asks them to evaluate the credibility of the source and to identify any bias. They are also asked to identify how the content of the article fits in with their frame of reference…and to be objective about their own stance.


This type of thinking, is “thinking about thinking”. It’s an awareness of the approach one takes towards a task or problem. I see it as a closed loop. A student develops an approach, implements it, and then evaluates it for effectiveness. Metacognition plays a large role in Learning to Learn.


An educator asks the students to take a quiz about their learning styles and to identify their approach to a certain project based on the quiz and their previous experiences. The students implement a strategy and then are asked to review how it worked for them.

Creative Thinking

This type of thinking is about coming up with new ideas/solutions with no judgements of whether they are good or bad.


An educator provides students with a problem. For example, “How to solve poverty” and students come up with solutions. Instructional strategies that foster creative thinking would be used.


Instructional Strategy for Creative Thinking: Reverse Brainstorming

The following video introduces the concept of Reverse Brainstorming in the context of business. However, the main concept can also be used in education.

I could see this instructional strategy being used for case studies, or small group discussions where a problem or challenge is posed.

According to Mindtools (source:, the steps in using Reverse Brainstorming are as follows:

  1. Clearly identify the problem or challenge, and write it down.
  2. Reverse the problem or challenge by asking:
    “How could I possibly cause the problem?”, or
    “How could I possibly achieve the opposite effect?”.
  3. Brainstorm the reverse problem to generate reverse solution ideas. Allow the brainstorm ideas to flow freely. Do not reject anything at this stage.
  4. Once you have brainstormed all the ideas to solve the reverse problem, now reverse these into solution ideas for the original problem or challenge.
  5. Evaluate these solution ideas. Can you see a potential solution? Can you see attributes of a potential solution?

Let’s look at these steps in an example from my own teaching situation:

  • Step 1 & 2: My students often wonder how they can build engaging online surveys. Rather than asking, “How do I build an engaging survey?” they can ask instead, “How do I bore respondents so that they drop out of the survey?”
  • Step 3: Some possible solutions for the reversed problem are…
    • Visually boring questions
    • Same type of questions page after page
    • Question after question in the survey
  • Step 4: Reverse the solutions in Step 3 to solve the problem identified in Step 1:
    • Use Visually Rich Questions
    • Use a variety of questions. There are even varieties of the same type.
    • Consider using images, video, and pages with a sentence or two. These do not demand that your respondents answer questions.
  • Step 5: All of these solutions could be implemented to solve the problem posed in Step 1.


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.