Heutagogy Community of Practice

Advancing the Theory and Practice of Self-Determined Learning

Heutagogy and Creativity


A review of the research on the neuroscience of creativity makes it clear that it is early days in understanding the neural mechanisms involved. However, there are some indications that provide the opportunity for some interesting creative speculation. Given that heutagogy is similarly based on neurological evidence and is concerned with developing creative learning environments, it would seem appropriate, on world heutagogy day (26th September) to discuss the two together.

The neuroscience describing creativity suggests strongly that it is not a simple process. For a while now the idea of the right brain-left brain distinction between the logical mind and the creative mind has now become a metaphor. It seems clear that creativity involves many areas of the brain. These areas may be those that are responsible for imagining the future, remembering personal memories, internal reflection, social cognition and meaning making. And, creativity also seems to involve that area of the brain for daydreaming.

So, the research suggests that creativity involves very many, if not all, parts of the brain. This is an important point because there have been many attempts to isolate a single part of the brain responsible for this important ability. Humans are very good at trying to simplify the complex. There is, of course, a more pragmative advantage to doing this because the entrepreneur can then offer courses and techniques to improve that particular area. Snake oil is easy to take.

Cognitive researchers think that creativity is facilitated by being able to maintain attention that enables exploring internal thoughts and the environment, being able to connect ideas that might seem unrelated, being open to possibilities, forgetting (getting rid of ideas that block new ideas), and being open to imagination.

One area of particular interest in creativity is ability to suppress areas responsible for self-monitoring or what clinical psychologists are fond of calling the ‘inner critic’. This capacity, clearly absent in certain footballers, is useful in making sure we conform to social norms. But when it comes to challenging our perceptions, our understanding of how the world works, this self-checking is less advantageous.

Learning is also a complex activity involving complex memory systems throughout the brain, attention, emotions through the limbic system, dopamine and other neurotransmitters associated with reward, active testing of hypotheses, reflection, pattern making, information gathering, and challenging existing mental models.

Heutagogy contends that there is a difference between the acquisition of knowledge and skills (competencies) , and learning. The latter involves the experience of understanding the world in a different way leading to a sustained change in behavior, the ability to use competencies in novel situations rather than the familiar. We all recognize that we may have acquired some knowledge or skill but it doesn’t make sense perhaps for a long time later when an experience triggers understanding. Perhaps, in some ways learning is an act of creativity.

In any case, heutagogy recognizes that learning is complex and, consistent with the notion of human agency, is in the hands of the learner given it is entirely an internal process. Creativity is of the same ilk and it is unlikely that we can make creativity happen. However, perhaps we can create conditions that will facilitate the opportunity for creativity in much the same way we might facilitate the opportunity for learning.

The principles of heutagogy are listed below:

  • involve the learner in designing their own learning content and process as partner;
  • make the curriculum flexible so that new questions and understanding can be explored as new neuronal pathways are developed;
  • recognize that learning is non-linear;
  • individualize learning as much as possible,
  • provide flexible or negotiated assessment;
  • enable the learner to contextualize concepts, knowledge and new understanding;
  • use experiential learning techniques;
  • facilitate collaborative learning;
  • facilitate reflection, and double loop and triple loop learning (metacognition);
  • provide lots of resources and let the learner explore;
  • develop research skills including how to be discerning about ideas and content;
  • differentiate between knowledge and skill acquisition (competencies) and deep learning;
  • recognize the importance of informal learning and that we only need to enable it 
 rather than control it;
  • have confidence in the learner; and
  • recognize that teaching and teacher control can become a block to learning.

I’d like to suggest that applying these principles to learning situations may be more conducive to creativity compared to more teacher-centric approaches, where curriculum and the ensuing educational processes are tightly controlled. Of particular interest here is the notion of providing an environment conducive to daydreaming rather than a constant focus on tasks and problem solving. This means enabling the exploration of possibilities and reflection, providing the time to think without pressure.





One comment on “Heutagogy and Creativity

  1. Suhana Sarkawi
    September 28, 2016

    Hi Dr Hase.

    Can Heutagogy theory be used in a quantitative research on learner autonomy in learning langugage?

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This entry was posted on September 25, 2016 by .
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