Creative Capacity Development: Examining the Impact of Online, Modular and Asynchronous Approaches to Enhancing Creativity in Undergraduate Classrooms.

This study is grounded in the context of a senior capstone marketing course in the Bissett School of Business (MKTG 4850). In this class, students engage with an online, modular and asynchronous creative capacity development training program as part of their course work. This online program forms a critical component of the course, and the completion of the online modules is assessed as part of the final class grade. The online modules include videos, digital resources, individual learning activities and peer-feedback discussions – each focused on the development of critical creative capacities that are essential to student success in this particular course, and in their ongoing work as early career professionals in the creative or cultural industries.   Creative capacity development has been proposed as a means to foster innovation and critical thinking capabilities. However, there has been little research examining the most effective forms, pedagogical approaches or learning experiences that might characterize impactful and meaningful creative capacity development engagements in the higher education context. By using the MKTG 4850 creative capacity development online training program as a site of inquiry, this study will examine whether students can develop enhanced creative capacities by taking part in an online, asynchronous, modular learning experience, whether an online, asynchronous, modular learning experience can provide an effective climate for creativity, and the ways in which students characterize learning about creativity in an online, asynchronous, modular environment.

The importance of developing the “creative capacities” (Brown, 2018) of our students is a global issue: the World Economic Forum has identified creativity and the development of creative capacity as being as important as artificial intelligence in shaping the jobs of the future and as the single most important skill for leaders in the digital economy (World Economic Forum, 2020). However, despite emerging research about the value of creative capacity development in higher education, the phenomenon has not been well characterized in terms of its practical application—especially in interdisciplinary undergraduate contexts. We know we have to find ways to develop the creative capacities of our students as part of our work as instructors across disciplines, but the best way to incorporate creativity relevant processes and creative capacity development into existing pedagogical approaches in our classrooms remains unclear. There is still much to be learned with respect to how creative capacity development is applied in practice in online, modular and asynchronous learning experiences, which creativity relevant processes are extended by students into their work in their home disciplines, and the nature of undergraduate learning that the development of creative capacities enables. By generating a deep, nuanced account of the application of creative capacity development practices in higher education, and a unique case example of how online, modular and asynchronous approaches to creativity focused skill development are experienced in an undergraduate classroom context, this study will provide key insights into the ways in which we might develop the critical creative capacities of our students across disciplinary contexts.

There is an emerging body of research in higher education that has worked towards demonstrating links between creative capacity development and enhanced student learning in a variety of disciplinary areas (for example, Miller & Dumford, 2016; von Thienen et al., 2017). Despite this effort, however, there are few consistent descriptions of how creative capacity development is enacted in practice (Jackson et al., 2006). While there seems to be widespread agreement that integrating creative capacity development into degree programming is important for generating meaningful and sustained student learning, the ideal manner in which those creative capacities might be developed remains something of a mystery. Accordingly, instructors in higher education have no guidance on how to bring creativity relevant processes or creative capacity development into their courses in a way that will optimize student learning in their disciplinary context. By investigating how an online, asynchronous and modular learning experience impacts students’ creative capacity development, I hope to better understand how to better support both students and teachers who are engaging in enhancing creativity across campus.

Creative Capacity Acceleration Using Online Learning Models – Supported by the Mount Royal University Teaching and Learning Enhancement Grant

How might we help learners develop the creative capacities they need for the careers of the future?

Increasingly our students and their potential employers are depending on microlearning opportunities to validate and credentialize the specific skills or employment-based learning outcomes that a student has achieved. Microlearning models take the form of very short, self managed learning moments which mobilize video, audio, augmented reality, virtual reality or online tools to help individuals master a specific (and often sector specific) skill.

These microlearning opportunities present flexible, portable and often stackable forms of capacity development are often recognized using a digital badge (microcredential or microcertificate) that relays valuable meta data including the name of the issuer, the date of issue and the criteria for achievement. Microlearning is a powerful way for students to customize and recognize their learning experiences from both inside, and outside, of the university setting. But credentialized microlearning of any kind (badges, certificates, or verifications) is seldom embedded in existing undergraduate classroom structures. This means that faculty seeking to credentialize key skills or capacity-based learning struggle to connect in-class work with microlearning opportunities.

Embedding microlearning opportunities that relate to specific goals and career paths into existing classroom engagements as part of the undergraduate experience allows students to document their professional development, to select their own learning experiences and set their own personal learning pathway (Brown et al., 2020). The development of online and modular skills-based microlearning or microcredential opportunities has been recognized as an impactful way to meet the demands of both students and employers, while enhancing both learning outcome and competency development (European MOOC Consortium, 2019). 

There is growing trend in Canadian Universities and Colleges towards offering MOOC, microlearning and microcredential programs (Colleges and Institutes Canada, 2021). In fact, in 2021 more than 675,000 Canadians were enrolled in a microlearning opportunity offered through Coursera, FutureLearn more edX. Finding new ways to offer MRU BBA Marketing students recognition for the competencies and skills at a more granular level than what is captured on their transcripts or degrees is becoming increasingly critical. Until we do, our students are forced to rely upon online skill building programs such as Coursera, FutureLearn, Udacity and edX to acquire the microlearning opportunities, credentials and certifications that they need for their future. 

My proposal for the 2021/2022 Teaching and Learning Enhancement Grant Program was to experiment with developing a pilot skills-based microlearning model embedded within an existing MRU Bissett School of Business marketing capstone course. In doing so, I hoped to learn more about how we might best translate threshold concepts from the curriculum into tangible, work ready skills for students, using a model valued by learners, employers and accrediting bodies alike.

Piloting the 2021-2022 Creative Capacity Acceleration Using Online Microlearning Models Project.

To pilot this initiative, I worked in partnership with students in my MKTG 4850 class (Professional Brand Strategy) to develop, embed, and evaluate a self-paced online microlearning model that, upon completion, would grant participating students a validation of their creative strategy development skills. The pilot microlearning opportunity was designed to supplement the in-class work that my students already did as part of their experiential and team-based learning, while transforming the way that they developed, accelerated and recognized key work-ready skills that were directly related to their learning objectives. 

This pilot was designed to be the first of four Creative Capacity Accelerator MasterClasses. My intent was to provide students (upon completion of the embedded microlearning opportunity as a part of their MKTG 4850 class work), with a badge or digital credential in creative strategy development, which they could then use on professional networking platforms (LinkedIn, UpWork, Communo) and in their personal portfolios. 

Experimenting With Hybrid Pedagogical Approaches to Creative Capacity Development

This experiment in new forms of online learning modalities and new hybrid pedagogical approaches took the form of developing and piloting the first Creative Capacity Accelerator MasterClass – Creative Strategy Development – and embedding it within the larger capstone learning experience. In this pilot version, the microlearning opportunity was designed to be:

  • Immersive, experiential and online. The microlearning opportunities embedded in MKTG 4850 were online learning experiences enriched with multimedia elements and guided skill building assignments to enable the learner to dig into their skill development and to apply their new skills immediately to the sponsoring class or to their workplace.
  • A non-credit opportunity to provide skill-based learning opportunities for students who wanted to upgrade their individual learning experience throughout the course of their degree.
  • Modular, self-paced and individual. The microlearning opportunity could have been completed by an individual student in three weeks (with approximately 8 – 10 hours of dedicated engagement required) and could effectively supplement the course plan at any point in the semester.
  • An integral part of the course in which it is embedded. The microlearning modules connected students with key learning objectives of the course while translating those learning objectives to credentialed skills and capacities.

The aim of this pilot version of the microlearning model (Creative Strategy Development CCA MasterClass) was to deliver a flexible, portable and easily available learning opportunity that was credible, effective and focused. The pilot materials included:

  • A Google site dedicated to hosting microlearning/MasterClass content
  • Creative Strategy Development CCA MasterClass Exit Check Quiz (Google Forms)
  • Peer Review Triad Slide Deck Templates (Google Slides)
  • Creative Strategy Development CCA MasterClass Workbook (PDF)
  • Creative Strategy Development CCA MasterClass Toolkit (PDF)

A total of 53 students in two sections of MKTG 4850 participated in the microlearning pilot by completing six Creative Strategy Development CCA MasterClass modules during the fall and winter terms of the 2021-2022 academic year. 

Participating in the pilot entailed:

  • Selecting a sample brand to use as a case study throughout the microlearning work
  • Reviewing the mini-lectures (videos), concept clips (videos), sample case studies (websites and articles) and journal articles (PDF files) provided in the six Creative Strategy Development CCA MasterClass modules, at a suggested schedule of one module per week. 
  • Developing the module-specific skill using the exercises provided in the Creative Strategy Development CCA MasterClass Toolkit (individual work)
  • Responding to the weekly creative challenge outlined in the Creative Strategy Development CCA MasterClass Workbook (individual work)
  • Posting their creative challenge response to a Peer Review Triad slide deck (once per week) to share with a triad of peer reviewers
  • Providing a detailed and thoughtful (200 word minimum) peer review response to the submissions made by partnering triad members on a weekly basis.

Teaching and Learning Enhancement Grant Project Report – May 2022

Better by design: Design thinking, experiential learning and the development of a growth mindset in undergraduate classrooms.

This study examined how design thinking practices might effect the development and resilience of a growth mindset and of failure tolerance within an undergraduate learning community. This research was generously supported by a Mount Royal University Essential SoTL Grant (2019 – 2020).

The overarching purpose of our project was to better understand the phenomenon of design thinking, and the way that design thinking oriented learning strategies might contribute to the development of a growth mindset in undergraduate students. Could the use of design thinking oriented learning strategies in an undergraduate marketing class contribute to the development of a growth mindset in the learning community? Specifically, we aimed to answer the following questions:

1. How do students in a design-thinking focused section of MKTG 2150 describe their orientation toward a growth mindset before and a design thinking-based learning experience? How does their orientation differ from that described by learners in a standard section of MKTG 2150?

2. How do students in a design-thinking focused section of MKTG 2150 characterize the role of failure in creative problem-solving work before and a design thinking-based learning experience? How does that differ from the role of failure characterized by learners in a standard section of MKTG 2150?

How might design thinking — the interactive, human-centered pedagogical approach that has recently been recognized as a valuable strategy in the development of a creative practice— complement existing approaches to experiential learning in higher education classrooms? This video presentation shares findings from a comparative study of 400 undergraduate business school students enrolled in a common first year marketing class, and reveals the ways that design thinking protocols can be mobilized to strengthen experiential learning in the post-secondary learning environment. The survey data collected from students participating in both the design thinking and the non-design thinking samples of this research study shed light on whether this pedagogical approach can indeed effectively foster the development of a growth mindset, and on the relationship between the use of design thinking approaches, the resonance of reflective practices and the alignment of experiential learning goals in our classroom partnerships.

In this presentation, shared at STLHE 2021 and with our MRU Community in conferences and workshops, I discuss specific outcomes of the research study related to the phenomenon of design-thinking, and the way that design-thinking oriented learning strategies might contribute to the development of a growth mindset and of failure tolerance in undergraduate students within an experiential learning environment.