November 13, 2015

Promoting Diversity, Curiosity, and Creativity in Education

by Stephanie Walters, PharmD, PGY2 Geriatric Pharmacy Pracitce Resident, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy

Standardization seems to be defining our educational system, from the Common Core in grade schools to standardized curriculum in graduate schools. While it is valid and important to have quality standards, standardization risks minimizing individuality, curiosity, and creativity. Sir Ken Robinson, leading creativity expert in education, addresses these three principles for improving our education system in his TED Talk, “How to escape education’s death valley.”1  Sir Robinson has been the featured speaker in several TED Talks, always highlighting the importance of creativity and how to foster it. While Sir Robinson focuses on childhood education; however, I believe we can relate these same concepts to the adult learner.


Principle 1: Diversity and Individuality

It may seem obvious, but every person is different. While standards in education may be needed to ensure quality between different settings, at the same time it can discount diversity and lessens the emphasis on individuality. I loved the example Sir Robinson explains regarding the educational system in Finland: when Americans asked how the Finnish educational system addressed dropouts they responded, "Well, we don't have one. Why would you drop out? If people are in trouble, we get to them quite quickly and we help and support them."

Per a report from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, the average attrition rate at US Colleges/Schools of Pharmacy is ~10.5%.2 This same sentiment used in Finnish grade schools could definitely be utilized for the pharmacy student as well. Pharmacy students come from a variety of backgrounds. Whether it’s a second career choice or coming straight from high school, there is wide diversity within this cohort. Understanding and embracing these differences should create a thriving learning environment. One strategy utilized in the Finnish educational system, is the idea of not focusing on standardization. Instead, they take a broader approach to education (including arts, science, humanities) and there is no standardized tests. This strategy individualizes the learning environment and assigns responsibilities to the school level, as opposed to mandates from the state or federal governments. Thus, providing enough resources to address these diversities at a school level, as the Finns do, is imperative to support the adult learners and provide a quality learning environment.

Principle 2: Curiosity and Learning

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat. Instead, curiosity drives the act of learning. In a study of college students in Hong Kong, China, students with high levels of curiosity were shown to have more intrinsic motivation.  External regulations (i.e. rules and university policy) had no effect on improving students’ motivation.3 These findings are quite striking when we look at the standardized structures and regulations within graduate programs like pharmacy schools. Finding a balance between meeting these standards and cultivating curiosity is a necessity.

Active learning strategies used in a variety of educational settings might promote curiosity among learners. Curiosity is defined as a desire to know or learn. In the large classroom setting, providing interesting, interactive cases or group discussion on hot topics can foster this desire to learn. Within an active, hands-on learning setting, such clinical practice sites, the teacher can foster further curiosity by understanding the student’s interests and providing opportunities for new experiences that align with those interests. This approach empowers students through their own individual interests, and thus fuels their curiosity.

Principle 3: Innate Creativity

Sir Robinson is most widely known for his advocacy of promoting creativity in education. He believes we are all inherently creative, and this creativity fosters diversity as well as inspires curiosity. It’s a cycle that creates flourishing learning environments. For adult learners, a teacher can promote creativity by using a creative problem solving model, like the Osborne-Parnes model.4 This model uses a creative thinking process (from mess-finding to acceptance-finding) that can be used in a variety of adult learning experiences and to promote problem solving.

Instruction should be designed to engage the learner using these three important principles. The needs of teachers should not be overlooked! Teachers need continuous professional development and support. Offering courses on educational theory, workshops of active learning techniques, and encouraging the use of technology with adult learners are just a few ways to help translate these principles into practice.  For example, educating teachers about the different approaches and theories of learning provides a variety of avenues (i.e. constructivism, mindset, or andragogy) that can foster diversity, curiosity, and creativity.5-7

As Albert Einstein once said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”

  1. Robinson K. How to escape education’s death valley [Internet Video]. TED Talks Education. 2013 April [cited 2015 Sept 29].
  2. Academic Pharmacy’s Vital Statistics [Internet]. American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. 2015 Oct [updated 2015 Oct 5; cited 2015 Oct 25].
  3. Hon-keung Y, Man-shan K, Lai-fong C. The Impact of Curiosity and External Regulation on Intrinsic Motivation: An Empirical Study in Hong Kong Education. Psychology Research. 2012 May;2(5):295-307.
  4. Osborne-Parnes Creative Problem Solving (CPS) Model [Internet]. Teaching Creativity. 2009 Jun [updated 25 Jun 2009; cited 2015 Nov 6].
  5. Constructivism (philosophy of education) [Internet]. Wikipedia. 2015 Nov [updated 2015 Nov 6; cited 2015 Nov 6].
  6. Dweck C. Mindset [Internet]. Mindset Online. 2010 [updated 2010; cited 2015 Nov 6].
  7. Pappas C. The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy [Internet]. eLearning Industry. 2013 May 9 [updated ; cited 6 Nov 2015].

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