The first time I heard the word “creative” was back in kindergarten when my twelve-legged horse sparked a smile from my educator and a comment that left me wondering: “Well, at least it’s creative!” Back then, I took it as a compliment, although the word in itself meant nothing to me.

Growing up, everybody around me (and myself) usually associated creativity with painters, poets or artists involved into mastering their craft on a daily basis. However, that’s not exactly what creativity is or should be. We all need it or make use of it regularly, and labeling something as being “creative” is not only a complicated process, but it also involves a certain degree of subjectivity.

There’s no simple approach to take or a set recipe to follow when we speak about creativity in online learning, but there are a few methods to assess whether a training program has the touch of originality that could sparks the learner’s interest. Keeping in mind that creativity alone is not enough to make sure your learning objectives are met; here are a few ways to look at it.

“Creativity is not animals with long eyelashes!” (Lilian Katz)

But first, what is creativity? Being different doesn’t make you creative, but add to the touch of originality a high quality, and you’ll get closer to its meaning. Many researchers in the field of creativity would roughly define it as the process of producing something that is both original and worthwhile (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999, 2000; Kozbelt, Beghetto, & Runco, 2010; Lubart & Mouchiroud, 2003; Sternberg & Lubart, 1996). This “something” can encompass many facets, and span across different turfs from poems to building a house or from a chemical process to a business procedure. There’s no particular field where creativity should or is more prevalent.

There is, however, a huge array of definitions, and this has only sparked a multitude of measurement approaches. While I’m not trying to lay down an exhaustive presentation of creativity assessment criteria, this article aims to provide a few angles of analysis that can frame the application of a “creative” label to online courses, as a final product only. On top of this, creativity can be evaluated from multiple perspectives, some related to the environment in which it occurs, to the personal characteristics required to induce it or related to the process behind it (as a sum of the implicated thinking patterns).

Focus on relevant attributes

The Creative Product Analysis Matrix theory (CPAM) (Besemer & Trefiger, 1981) was established to help the analysis of final products and to focus critics’ attention on the relevant attributes. The CPAM encompasses three dimensions, which assumes Novelty, Resolution, and Elaboration and Synthesis as the three factors. “Novelty considers newness in materials, processes, concepts, and methods of making the product. Resolution considers aspects of how well the product works or functions. Elaboration and Synthesis describe the stylistic components of the product.”

Each of these factors is made up of several aspects (nine in total). These are: originality and surprise (for Novelty); logical, useful, valuable, and understandable (for Resolution); and organic, well-crafted, and elegant (for Elaboration and Synthesis).

The theory was followed by the development of an instrument, the Creative Product Semantic Scale (CPSS), which is usually deployed in a group setting.

“The CPSS is scored on 7-point Likert-type scales, ranging from 1 to 7 between bipolar adjectives such as old-new. Each of the nine subscales is created of four or five items. Subscale scores are constructed by taking the mean of the items that make up the subscale. For example, the subscale Elegant has five items (pairs of adjectives): graceful-awkward, refined-busy, coarse-elegant, repelling-charming, and attractive-unattractive. A participant’s score for Elegant is computed by taking the mean of the scores for these items. Some items are presented in reverse order, requiring recoding so that higher scores consistently represent higher ratings.”

One of the advantages of this assessment model is the fact that it allows untrained judges to be a part of the scoring process, therefore allowing a more diversified approach to labeling a product as being creative. However, when comparing different products, it doesn’t answer why a certain product is rated more useful than the other or what features make a product stand out. Focus groups or other complementary techniques could be used to fully understand the complexity of a product’s creativity.

Let the experts talk

First outlined by Teresa Amabile, in 1982, the Consensual Assessment technique is emphasizing on expertise. The judging of the final product is done usually in isolation and individually by experts, their views being afterward collected and compared so that a global rating can be established.

Choosing the right judge can be a tedious endeavor, as the whole judging process is heavily subjective, and finding suitable candidates that can have the wisdom to understand each product could be challenging. However, usually, the results of this technique are more nuanced and rely on expertise rather than “gut feelings.”

The judges evaluate the final product by rating the creativity on a specific scale (e.g., 1-10 – the range can vary, but it needs to have at least three levels, to ensure diversity). The given score is not defended in any way.

While the technique is often considered as the “gold standard” of creativity assessments, there are always limitations related to the difficulty in selecting the judges, the lack of standardized criteria and the fact that it can be time-consuming.

Foolproof approach?

Discussions about the validity of one approach vs. another could last forever. The truth is that as long as the standards of evaluation are not absolute, the creativity and the way we perceive it are constantly shifting. Culture, subjectivity, a certain convergence towards “conventional” products on behalf of the judges, and even a certain level of bias can tip the scale of creativity from amazing to boring in a heartbeat.

So is there a foolproof way to label a product as being creative beyond a reasonable doubt? Most likely not. The easiest approach would be to try to put yourself in the shoes of your target audience (using a persona exercise could prove useful) but keeping in the same time in mind the fact that de gustibus non est disputandum (there is no disputing about tastes).

We all are creative

“It is probably only a layman’s idea that the creative person is peculiarly gifted with a certain quality that ordinary people do not have. This conception can be dismissed by psychologists, very likely by common consent. The general psychological conviction seems to be that all individuals possess in some degree all abilities, except for the occurrence of pathologies. Creative acts can, therefore, be expected, no matter how feeble or infrequent, of almost all individuals” (Guilford, 1950 p. 446).

Creativity Definitions

  • Creativity is a product or response that is both novel and appropriate, useful, correct or valuable response to the task at hand. Amabile, 1996
  • Creativity may be viewed as the ability to form remote ideational associations to generate original and useful solutions to a given problem. Atchley, Keeny, & Burgess, 1999
  • Creativity is the generation of ideas and alternatives. Carr & Johansson, 1995
  • Creativity changes an existing domain or transforms an existing domain into a new one. Csikszentmihalyi, 1997
  • Creativity is the production of novel and useful ideas or products. Dewett, 2003
  • Creativity involves the generation of novel behavior that meets a standard of quality or utility. Eisenberg, Haskins, & Gambleton, 1999
  • Creativity is an interaction among aptitude, process, and environment that has novel and useful characteristics, which are defined within a social context. J. Plucker, Beghetto, & Dow, 2004
  • Creativity involves the production of novel and useful products. Mumford, 2003
  • Creativity is based on work, products or ideas that are novel and useful. Sternberg & Lubart, 1999
  • Creativity is the interpersonal and intrapersonal process by means of which original, high quality, and genuinely significant products are developed. Van Hook & Tegano, 2002
Doru Lupeanu

Doru Lupeanu

Marketing Manager @KnowledgeOne. Strategist. Movie script writer. Transylvanian. Fanatic anime consumer.