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Theoretical Perspectives on Creative Learning and Its Facilitation: An Overview
By: Donald J. Treffinger, Scott G. Isaksen, Roger L. Firestien

Many psychologists and philosophers have advanced “theories” of creativity.  These theories vary widely in their scope and methods and we believe that today, none of them could be considered as providing comprehensive and completely persuasive theoretical explanation of creativity (Roweton, 1970; Treffinger, Renzulli & Feldhusen, 1971).
            Several theories purport to describe the nature of the creative process using unique terms and new mechanisms.  Others seek to explain creativity by relating it through comparison or, frequently, by reduction, to the explanatory concepts of some other, more general formulation of human behavior.  Still others emphasize the development as an expression of creative talent.  It is true that no single theory has really had a pervasive influence on educational and psychological research, as evidenced by the larger number of empirical studies which make no attempt to describe the theoretical bases for the investigation.  While there are many disputes in the literature, such as that over the relationship between creativity and intelligence, there are virtually no examples of critical experiments in which the opposing predictions of two competing theories are sharply and directly examined.
            Existing theories of creativity have been categorized in several reviews, including Getzels and Jackson (1962), Kneller (1965), Roweton (1970), Gowan (1972), and Arieti (1976).  These reviews provide a general framework for classifying the wide variety of existing theories and there is a remarkable comparability among the classifications in these reviews, despite the broad or inclusive nature of many of the theories.
            For example, in 1972 Gowan classified the theories into five groups: 1) Cognitive, rational, and semantic; 2) Personality and environmental factors; 3) Mental health and psychological adjustment; 4) Psychoanalytic and neopsychoanalytic; and 5) Psychedelic.  Although Gowan’s inclusion of the Psychedelic group was unique, each of the other reviewers mentioned above employed similar groupings.  We have generally followed Gowan’s classification system.
The first group of theories to be considered views of creativity as rational, set largely in the cognitive domain, with an emphasis on semantic or verbal concepts or associations.    Although there is usually considerable interest in defining phases or stages of the creative process in this group, most of these theories also stress the products of creative thinking and problem solving.  Early 20th Century theories were largely concerned with identifying steps or stages in the creative process, such as proposed by Wallas in 1926: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.  Subsequent developments have stressed more complex psychological considerations.
            Within the Cognitive, Rational, Semantic theories, we include several specific approaches.  They are Creative Problem Solving (Osborn, 1963; Parnes, Noller & Biondi, 1977); Cognitive abilities (e.g., Guilford, 1967, 1977; Torrance, 1974, 1979); Associative theories (e.g., Maltzman, 1960; Mednick, 1962; Koestler, 1964); and Gestalt theories (e.g., Wertheimer, 1945).  Many theorists have emphasized the affective nature of creative talent rather than the cognitive abilities stressed in the first group of theories.  These theorists are concerned with the personality traits or characteristics of the creative person.  Within this group, theoretical concerns focus more on the nature of the person (and differences among people, in comparisons of highly creative individuals with their less-creative peers) and less upon the processes or products of creative thinking and problem solving.
            Within this group are theories emphasizing personality characteristics research (e.g., Anderson, 1959; MacKinnon, 1978; Barron, 1972) or case studies (e.g., Patrick, 1935; Roe, 1953; Ghiselin, 1952; Rosner & Abt, 1970; Holsinger, Jorden & Levenson, 1971); Social and Environmental influences (e.g., Stein, 1953; Crutchfield, 1962; Eisner, 1964; Torrance, 1965; Torrance & Myers, 1970); Transactualization (I.A. Taylor, 1970, 1972); Affective/Cognitive Integration (Williams, 1970, 1982); and Behavioral or Stimulus response models (Skinner, 1968; Hull, 1952).
Many approaches to creativity stress human potential for self-realization, personal growth and fulfillment.  They share with the personality theorists a concern for the person and an affirmative or positive conception of creativity.  With the cognitive theorists, they share a concern for openness and flexibility – processes in promoting creative behavior.
            Theories in this general category include Self-Actualization approaches (e.g., Rogers, 1954; Maslow, 1959) and Biological and Ecological Growth models (Sinnot, 1959; Gutman, 1961; Land, 1973).

The psychoanalytic view of creativity stems from the extensive work and influence of Freud.  In Freud’s view, there was very little quantitative difference between the creative process and neurosis, except in the way the creative artist is successful at using unconscious, primary process material and gaining personal gratification.  Freud (1920) saw a temporary “break” in reality as necessary for the creative artist, although the person would not completely or irrevocably lose contact with reality.  For Freud, then, the individual’s creativity originates in conflict arising from the tension of the conscious, reality-bound processes with unsatisfied, unconscious biological drives.
            Subsequently, many psychoanalysts have shifted away from the traditional or “orthodox” Freudian view and have placed the locus of creativity in the preconscious rather than the unconscious.  They are commonly referred to as “neo-Freudian.”  Despite the shift in their emphasis, they still view the creative process in close kinship with neurotic or even psychotic processes.  Explanations of the creative process which depart from the orthodox Freudian view include Schachtel (1959) and Rank (1932).  Kris (1952) emphasized “regression in the service of the ego,” and Kubie (1958) stressed the importance of the preconscious – material which can become conscious very easily and under conditions which frequently arise – in the creative process.
            Another approach to the study of creativity stemming from the Freudian tradition is Jung’s (1928) work on the aesthetic process.  Jung made a significant contribution to the study of creativity in reference to the aesthetic process.  He pointed out that great works of art cannot be seen solely as the result of personal experiences or cognitive mechanisms.  The collective unconscious transcends these individual limitations and provides the psychological medium to release creativity.  Thus, Jung’s collective unconscious is analogous to Freud’s primary process.

For many in contemporary American, the word “psychedelic” suggests a variety of stereotyped images: the “drug culture,” flashing lights and blaring rhythms, perhaps even wild orgies or sinister “happenings.”  In our context, however, the word should not be seen this way.  “Psychedelic” derives from the Greek, meaning “mind-manifesting.”  It is in this more general and more neutral sense that we are using it.
            Psychedelic approaches to creativity emphasize the importance of expanding the awareness or consciousness of the mind, helping the person to be more creative by opening vast new horizons of untapped resources and experiences.  A fundamental assumption underlying these theories is that most people seldom or never tap the most potent, creative dimensions of the mind; they learn from early childhood to restrict their experiences.
            However, extraordinary uses of the mind are potentially very important to the person.  Through such awareness the possibility exists for positive psychological development (Weil, 1972; Houston, 1973).  Nevertheless, there is disagreement about how alterations of consciousness can and should be attained, and about the comparative morality, safety and effectiveness of various methods.  Particularly controversial in American today, of course, is the alteration of consciousness through drugs.  This brief discussion cannot possibly cut through the complex emotional, legal and empirical tangle concerning drug use; it is not the appropriate time or place to make such an attempt.  Yet we must recognize that is is possible to use chemicals – “drugs” – to produce changes in consciousness, and that some argue that drug-inducing alterations provide a direct path to creativity.
            Research on the effects of psychedelic drugs on creativity is complicated by many legal, moral and procedural problems.  Some representative studies include Herman and Fadiman (1970) and Barron (1969).  Non-drug expansion of consciousness approaches have been reported by Payne (1973), Masters and Houston (1972), Tart (1969), Ornstein (1973), Karlins and Andrews (1972) and Lawrence (1972).

Through our examination of many psychological and philosophical approaches to creativity, we have emphasized the multi-faceted nature of the concept.  It is also important to recognize that many educators and trainers have had a longstanding concern for creativity in teaching and learning.  Our concern for nurturing creativity stems from this important relationship.
            Since the turn of the Century, writers and theorists in education and training have identified the need to go beyond fact-giving and simple recognition or recall and move toward more complex and creative outcomes of learning and instruction.  Some major “movements” in education and training providing support for concepts of creative learning include: individualization and learner-centered instruction (e.g., Rugg, 1928; Weisberger, 1972; Dunn & Dunn, 1978); experiential curricula (e.g., Barth, 1972); democratic education (e.g., Dewey, 1933); humanistic and affective education (e.g., Combs, 1962; Ringness, 1975); process education (e.g., Cole, 1972); futures (e.g., Bleedorn, 1981; Eggers, 1981); and gifted education (e.g., Renzulli, 1977; Gallagher, 1975; Maker, 1982).
            Torrance and Myers (1970) in their work on Creative Learning and Teaching, provide an excellent framework for describing the creative learning process:
…(B)ecoming sensitive to or aware of problems, deficiencies, gaps in knowledge, missing elements, disharmonies, and so on; bringing together available information; defining the difficulty or identifying the missing element; searching for solutions, making hypotheses, and modifying and retesting them; perfecting them; and finally communicating the results.
            Treffinger (1980) proposed a practical model for describing three different levels of creative learning, with consideration of both cognitive and affective dimensions at each level.  The three levels are divergent functions, complex thinking and feeling processes, and involvement in real challenges.  The model is illustrated in Figure 1.
            The initial level of the model involves a variety of cognitive and affective factors called “divergent functions.”  The term is intended to suggest the emphasis upon openness and possibilities.
            Level I provides the foundation upon which creative learning develops by including a variety of important techniques basic to creative learning.  In Level II, the basic cognitive and affective factors from Level I are extended.  Higher-level or more complex thinking skills are employed, along with transformations of products and processes, analogies and metaphors, methodological or inquiry skills, dealing with complex feelings and tensions, imagery, and the development of psychological freedom and safety.  Level III, the final level, involves the person in real problems and challenges.
            Effective use of creative learning procedures requires the individual to be familiar with and skilled in drawing from many different theoretical and practical perspectives.  The facilitator should not only be aware of useful methods and techniques (the well-known “bag of tricks”), but should also have knowledge and confidence about the interrelationships among such techniques and their implications for human behavior and interpersonal development.
            Isaksen (1983) has recently provided evidence that many facilitators, program developers, and curriculum planners rely most heavily upon the lowest levels of the creative learning model, and heavily stress cognitive methods and techniques.  At least 60 percent of the methods and techniques indicated by such specialists as most frequently employed here fall into Levels I and II, Cognitive, of the Creative Learning model (Isaksen, 1983).
            These data illustrate the need for a broader, more comprehensive framework for creativity specialists or facilitators to employ in their work.  The goal of this summary has been to provide a brief overview for such a framework and an initial compilation of useful, representative resources for more intensive investigation and study.


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