Home Opinion CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION IN EDUCATION – The Virtuosity of Virtuality


Paul Vadas – Master Degree in Political Science, California State University, Northridge; Twenty years of experience in executive functions at Brazilian Higher Education Institutions, including: Director of the Executive Education Program at Universidade Anhembi Morumbi, São Paulo; Pro-Rector of Professional Education at Universidade Potiguar, Natal; President of UNEB College, Brasilia; Chief Executive Consultant at Vadas Educational Consulting. Lives in California.


June 12 2017

“Visioning and Imagining are the starting points for all creativity and innovation. A fertile imaginative mind has the capacity to envision possibilities when solving problems by using visioning and imagining as the transformative ingredients that make the future happen.”

For me, creativity is based on new ideas that tend to be revolutionary and disruptive, while innovation has to do with ideas that tend to be evolutionary and that improve on what already exists.

Creativity is primarily a natural phenomenon, a talent, so to speak, innate to every individual and spurred by natural curiosity, the capacity to imagine, and to dream. It is often born from insight, spontaneous inspiration, and intuition. It is an individual, solitary process, rather than a communal activity.

In our view, definitions and assumptions about creativity, and based on our perceptions of how creativity manifests itself, we can safely say that the brain is the “crystal ball” of the creative mind. It’s where thoughts, dreams, imaginations, and visionings occur in random, spontaneous, inspired and, even, many times, in calculated, critically thought out ways. Visioning and imagining are the starting points of all creativity. A fertile imaginative mind, with the capacity to envision possibilities for solving problems, is the transformative force that makes the future happen.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) clearly alluded to the essence of the creative mind when he said: You see things, and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were, and I say “Why not?”.

Innovation, on the other hand, is a nurtured phenomenon, learned by the individual from his/her perception of the world around and his/her desire to improve that particular environment, be it a product, a service, and/or a process. It is often born from observation, experimentation, and the desire to make things more efficient. It is, often times, a communal process, rather than an individual’s.

Both, creativity and innovation are problem-solving activities that promote some kind of change, either revolutionary (creativity) or evolutionary (innovation), and depend on some kind of research, critical thinking, and visioning for long-term improvements, and should not be confused with improvisation, a situational approach to problem-solving based, primarily, on intuition and inspiration on the spur of the moment to solve a momentary problem. If curiosity is the mother of research, and imagination is the mother of creativity, experimentation is the mother of innovation. Both, curiosity and imagination are inborn characteristics of every child and need to be promoted, not stifled, by formal education. Research and experimentation are, as products, natural consequences of the curious, inquisitive, open, observing, and imaginative mind.

Although, more recently, schools have strived to promote innovation by “allowing” students to engage in more critical thinking and team projects, in general, traditional formal education has been the antithesis of creativity and innovation since, in essence, schools are, by their very nature, society’s way of promoting common order above individuality. In many ways, schools are systems of “conditioning to conform” to the “right” way of behaving and to the “proper” way of doing things. Schools have, as their main objective, the spreading of their particular society’s values, norms, and acceptable behavior. Ken Robinson, famous British educator, explains very succinctly and effectively how schools tend to stifle creativity.

In the traditional formal education systems, the process has typically occurred in what I call Process Oriented Teaching (POT), whereby the transfer of specific, pre-planned, purposefully structured sets of information are transferred from a designated instructor to a set of learners, at a given time and place. This teacher centric system is, to this day, the most common method of formal education used around the world.

For over five thousand years, POT has been the model of education for one simple reason: bona fide information was centralized in the school’s libraries and delivered by the “experts”, known as teachers, who controlled knowledge.
Based on pure habit and paradigm, we forgot that education is, fundamentally, nothing more than the transfer of information or, in other words, education is part of the communication system, and that, as such, new methods of educational systems, more effective and accessible than the traditional model, were possible to be created as information technology has, is, and will continue to improve communication systems. While most educators and educational institutions continue bogged down on the 5000-year-old educational model paradigm, visionaries are now embarking on disrupting the traditional method and creating new, experimental models that, even at an early stage, have proven to be of great value and efficacy.

The most significant aspect of the new educational models springing all over the world is that they are permeated by the use of personal computers and the internet as the great mediators of information transfer. These new tools allow for huge innovations on how, where, and when information can be acquired by the learner, breaking totally away from the structured, time/place, unimediated, teacher centric format of the traditional model and moving towards multimediated, learner centric format of personalized education, in a structureless, virtualized world of information transfer. The physical (classrooms, libraries, teachers, etc.) is being replaced by the virtual/digital, ethereal. It’s a new world of images, sounds, and experiences that are intangible and that allows for the creation of forms that are impossible to create in the physical world. It’s a “magical” world that allows for the imagination to run wild, transforming the tangible, physical world, into virtual reality.

In education, this virtual reality can, and in many schools are already being used in many of its virtuosities that include, among others:

  1. Information, of all sorts, in the palm of one’s hand, anytime, anyplace (virtual multi formatted information);
  2. Asynchronous teaching/learning processes;
  3. Non-linear, flexible, personalized learning;
  4. Massively personalized education, to scale;
  5. Competency based evaluation and certification;
  6. Active, thematic networks of sharing communities;
  7. Virtualized coaching;
  8. “Debabelization” of languages through instant simultaneous translations;
  9. More audio/visual information than textual;
  10. Virtual books, articles, and other texts, instantly updatable;
  11. Virtual participation in events around the world;
  12. Interactive, computer based simulations (stimulus-response), in 3D;
  13. Interactive, instant discussions with participants around the world;
  14. Focus on interrelated, comprehensive thematic approach to problem diagnosis and solutions, as opposed to independent courses in specific fields of study;
  15. Lifelong, continuous education, with certifications with expiration dates;
  16. Individuated learning systems, facilitated by instant access to pertinent and relevant information that suits the learner’s personal, social, and professional needs;
  17. Deburacratization of formal education: from POT to ROL and credentialed evaluation and certification entities;
  18. More accessible, more competitive, and less expensive educational systems;
  19. Objectives of well rounded learning to include personal, social/civic, and professional competencies (the first two known as “soft, attitudinal competencies”, and the last one as “hard or technical competencies”;
  20. Purposefully designed audio/visual educational contents:
    1. Holographic representations;
    2. Simulations and dramatizations;
    3. Specific audio/video productions
    4. Games

The ways schools and enterprises foster or discourage ideation and execution of innovative projects is a subject which, in the digital, globalized environment we live in, need to be studied in depth as we approach issues of survivability, sustainability, and improvement of the human condition in a highly competitive, high-tech, internationalized context.
So, how will schools change and operate in this digital, virtual reality age? That’s the challenge posed and the question which only the more creative, innovative school officials will be able to answer as they cope with the virtuosity of the virtual world we live in.