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Modern society is reliant on innovation, so much so that creativity, the source of innovation, has been described as “the new essential” (Florida (2003) in Crockett, Jukes & Churches, 2011, p.11).  It therefore comes as no surprise that research papers, books, articles and posts about contemporary education in the digital age often highlight the importance of recognising and nurturing the creativity in each and every one of us.

Yong Zhao (2009), who sees 21st century learning as creative, entrepreneurial and global, defines creativity as an ability and passion to make new things and adapt to new situations.  Fautley & Savage (2010, p.6) also recognise creativity as novel, and like Sir Ken Robinson (2011, p.3),  they see creativity as a process “…of developing original ideas that have value”, rather than an ability as Zhao does.  Robinson distinguishes creativity from imagination (“bringing to mind things that are not present to our senses”) and innovation (“putting new ideas into practise”).   Jarvis (2011) and Robinson believe that creativity is innate in all of us, suggesting that anybody can be creative if the conditions are right.

The intention of this digital essay is to consider how implementing aspects of the DML model of connected learning could help to build the “right conditions” for creativity to blossom and thrive; and why this is imperative in education today.

cretivity blossom

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Many writers describe the digital age as a revolution that is “…significantly changing our society and thus the value of knowledge and talents.”  (Zhao, 2009, p.145).  The exponential rate of change, particularly in terms of increasing population, globalisation and digital technologies “…present a fundamental challenge to established notions of what education is and what it is for”. (Selwyn, 2012, p.14)  Educational institutions are largely the products of technology infrastructure and social circumstances of the past. (Davis, Fidler & Gorber, 2011, p. 13), so learning that takes place in them can seem disconnected from the “real” world – a world in which an abundance of resources and relationships are made more accessible via digital technologies and social media; a world where it is possible to access ideas and information anytime and anywhere.  (Johnson, et. al., 2013).   Stephen Heppell describes what learning in schools needs to look like In the digital age (which he refers to as “The Learning Age”):

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Learning in the digital age needs to move beyond the four walls of our classrooms.  “In order for students to get a well-rounded education with real world experience, they must also engage in more informal in-class activities as well as experience learning outside the classroom” (Johnson et. al., 2013).  By connecting with and depending on a broader range of people to facilitate learning, students will have the opportunity to become more aware of diversity and global issues, and begin to see themselves as global citizens and all that implies in terms of equity, social justice and sustainability (Zhao, 2009).   Howard Rheingold echoes this when he says that “…the greatest change of our future will not be the technology, but the power of people as they connect.”  (in Lindsay & Davis, 2013, p.99)


Ironically, within this idea of learning being collaborative and communal, we also need to remember that learning is very individualised and personal.  Robinson (2011, p.251) reminds us that learning must be “…personal, or it is nothing”, while also recognising that individual creativity (an aspect of learning) is “…almost always stimulated by the work, ideas and achievements of other people” (p.197).   In order to create the “right conditions” for creativity to blossom and grow, our education system needs people with a mindset that places students at the centre of learning, working with others in physical and virtual spaces on a curriculum that enables them to pursue their strengths and interests, rather than mandated content and skills.  The DML model of connected learning can be used as a framework to help put this mindset into practise:

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Bilandzic (2013, p.4) describes connected learning as “…a design concept developed for a new generation of learning environments that aim to support interest-driven activities, where learning is driven through social interactions with other like-minded people.”  Mimi Ito (2013, in O’Donnell-Allen, 2014, p.6) writes  “Connected learning is realized when a young person pursues a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career possibilities, or civic engagement.”  While these definitions outline the elements of a connected learning model, they don’t adequately reflect the “messiness” of connected learning.  The graphic better illustrates the busyness and messiness (Downes refers to it as “chaos”) of connected learning, which stands in stark contrast to the orderliness and structure of our K-10 curriculum.

The connected learning model reflects Vygotsky’s constructivist learning theory that learning is constructed socially, with the support of more knowledgeable others (in Mirra, 2014);  and it also aligns with the connectivist view of learning where “learning is a network forming process (and) knowledge is a networked product.”  (Siemens, 2014).  The purpose of learning for a connectivist is to create context rather than content, and the purpose of education through the eyes of a connectivist, is to “…create conditions in which a person can become an accomplished and motivated learner in their own right”. (Downes, 2014).


John Seely Brown (in Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning, 2014), maintains that  “Connected learning…honours the intrinsic desire to have curiosity and imagination.  That’s why creating environments to help kids find their interests is such an important step.”  Sir Ken Robinson (2011, p.250) agrees when he writes that one of the roles of a balanced education is to broaden children’s experiences and interests, while at the same time engaging their innate abilities and interests.   In his book Out of our minds: Learning to be creative, Robinson (2011) outlines some principles of practice within three overarching domains – personal, group and culture – that will help create the nurturing environment required in schools and organisations for creativity to blossom and thrive.  Implementing aspects of the DML model of connected learning in a primary school closely aligns with these principles.

Within the PERSONAL domain, Robinson (2011, pp. 225-231) argues that people need to be put into situations to challenge them to reveal their own creative potential; they need environments where they are free to take risks, play and develop their own innate intelligences and abilities.  The DML model of connected learning supports this through the elements of interest-based, production-centred and academic learning.  Learning through an interest-based approach allows students to draw on their innate creativity and abilities, allowing them to approach their learning through their strengths.

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Primary education is“…a critical stage in children’s development – it shapes them for life…primary education is about children experiencing the joy of discovery, solving problems, being creative… (and) developing their self-confidence as learners…”  (DCSF (Department for Children, Schools & families, UK), 2003, in Shaheen, 2010, p. 167).  It is worth noting that the NSW syllabuses for the Australian curriculum have included creativity as part of its aim: in English (2012, p.12) – “…to make meaning in ways that are imaginative, creative, interpretive, critical and powerful”; and in Maths (2012, p.12) – “…to be confident, creative users and communicators of mathematics.”  The curriculum also names “critical and creative thinking” as one of its seven general capabilities.  The commonality between these ideas is that creativity is a PROCESS, so we need to approach the design of learning experiences with a focus on process, rather than the heavy emphasis on content that has traditionally been our focus in education.  Learning then becomes production-centred, as children focus on  “actively producing, creating, experimenting and designing” (DML graphic); which in turn helps to nurture their imagination, creativity and innovation.  Recent creativity research emphasises the creative process (Craft, 2003, p.117), which must be given equal value alongside learning product, as not all learning may result in a completed product.

In terms of the GROUP domain, Robinson (2011,  pp. 233-236) believes that creativity needs a diversity and collaboration to thrive.  Effective collaboration in a diverse learning community will help to enhance individual contributions to that community and demonstrate the adage that a group’s capabilities and knowledge are “…bigger than the sum of its individuals” (Blandzic, 2013, p.12).  Three elements of the DML connected learning model support the development of creativity within this domain – peer culture, openly networked, and shared purpose.  Technology (especially mobile technology) plays a vital role in the development of this domain, as it enables students to ubiquitously connect and collaborate with a diverse range of people from various cultures, of various ages, with various world views and levels of expertise, enriching and informing their own and others’ learning through the contributions they make.  The primary school librarian is well placed to share expertise around digital literacy practices, and digital resources to help ensure that collaborative learning and critical thinking with and through digital technologies takes place in a supported space that is safe for students and staff.  Connecting students requires the teacher to have digital literacy themselves, and an understanding of how social media tools (eg. Edmodo , Kidblog, Padlet – which can be made public or private spaces) can help support collaborative learning.   As Lindsay and Davis (2013, p. 108) write:  “You don’t have to know a lot, just be willing to learn.  By being a person who learns and shares, you encourage that in your students.”

Finally, the CULTURE domain is about promoting a culture of innovation by developing supple, inquiring and creative learning spaces, in both physical and virtual spaces (Robinson, 2011, pp. 237-243).  Innovative schools are starting to incorporate the design elements of public spaces like galleries, hotel lobbies and coffee shops and living spaces in homes in the design of learning spaces in schools to “…better facilitate open sharing, collaboration and human interaction in general…”  (Bilandzic, 2013, p.4).  While creating welcoming physical spaces is not enough on its own to foster creativity, it demonstrates on both a conscious and sub-conscious level a school’s beliefs about learning – is your environment structured to facilitate discussion and interaction and experimentation in a learning community of students and teachers and students-as-teachers and teachers-as-students; or is it structured to facilitate a one-way model of learning from teacher to student?  Makerspaces (eg. Imagination Foundation’s Global Cardboard Challenge; Student run artist studios like Studio 13) and Hackerspaces (eg; Robodino in Sydney) are examples of inquiring and creative physical learning spaces (supported in an online environment also), that illustrate the production–centred, shared purpose, interest-based and openly networked elements from the DML connected learning model.   It is possible to facilitate activities such as these in a primary school library within formal and informal learning settings.   Pinterest is a great source of inspiration for cheap and effective display ideas to help create inviting and creative displays and learning spaces in schools.





There are also many innovative and exemplary online learning spaces that foster and/or illustrate creativity through connected learning practises, such as collaborative projects (eg. A Calendar of Tales,  Eric Whitacre’s global choir performing “Sleep”) online gaming communities (eg. Massively Minecraft Worlds), global classrooms (eg. Skype’s Mystery Classrooms) interest based groups working together to implement social change (eg. Harry Potter Alliance), and open online “teacherless” courses (eg. Digital Storytelling 106) to name just a few.


As both Craft (2003) and Zhao (2013) point out, fostering creativity challenges the status quo.   “(A)re we ready to accept and deal with this as a system?” (Craft, 2003, p. 123).  Our answer must be yes.  We HAVE to accept and deal with this, as creativity and innovation are integral to lifelong learning – a must for living in the information age.  Implementing aspects of the DML model of connected learning in a primary school library program can help by modelling how to start creating the “right conditions” to foster creativity in all stakeholders in that educational setting (students, staff and school community), at a personal, group and whole culture level.   We may not be ready to do this as an educational system just yet, because educational change won’t start at a system level.  These changes start with individuals who are passionate about making a difference to the children they teach, and these individuals are using their professional and personal networks to try to make these changes more global.  In the words of John Seely Brown (Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning blog):

“With connected learning, you see powerful things starting to happen on the edges…  You don’t bring about major system change by attacking the core. You build up the edges and show what the edge can do. Connected learning to me is a technique to empower the edge and have it become so attractive that the core starts to think more like it. It’s as simple as that. And that’s a pretty damn powerful strategy.”



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One thought on “INF530 DIGITAL ESSAY

  1. Loved the “digital essay” Jo…thanks! As a colleague of yours – you practise everything you preach – and the lovely photos of student led learning in your environment are testimony to this. Stephen Heppell’s truths that we are in the learning age are unchallengeable…yet I still see so much evidence that this isn’t understood in schools…much more of our past than their future (and present).

    I was provoked by the last words in your essay: (John Seely Brown). I see such evidence of you working “on the edges” to bring about change…it is a source of great frustration when systemic leaders- and others close their eyes to this…they are doing a lot of damage!
    Well done

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