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Learning Outside the Cubicle 

adult learning behavioral science Aug 17, 2022

by Jonathan Peters, PhD

 

With the launch of our new Box Experience, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be inside or outside the box. With the Box Experience each panel of the Box—both inside and out—represents different aspects of our lives. For instance, on the front of my box, I have an approximation of Paul Stanley of Kiss. The idea is I project, or at least want to project, a rock star.

But in my Big Head role at Sententia, all this talk about being in and out of the box reminds me of a study done at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Psychologist Evan Polman and his team asked test subjects to come up with creative solutions to a specific problem. Half the group did so while sitting inside of a five-foot square box. The other half sat next to the box, literally outside the box. 

The results? The students outside the box produced 20 percent more creative ideas than their boxed peers. 

Where are your learners learning? What are the physical structures around them? Are they in cubicles? A sterile training room with no windows?

This attention to my physical surroundings is something I’ve lost. Before the Pandemic, we routinely left the office to work at a coffee shop when we felt creatively stuck. Where we have since moved, Starbucks is no longer convenient, but perhaps we should re-institute the practice with a different venue. 

While talking about Polman’s work, I wanted to mention another fascinating study they did. If this sounds familiar, I mentioned it in a BigHead’s Big Ideas video recently. And I have another blog coming up about gestures and learning. But I am fascinated with the results of this research.

Like the first study, test subjects were asked to devise creative solutions to a problem. This time, half the students were asked to hold their hands still as they came up with solutions. The other group was instructed to hold up one hand for one solution, then switch with their other hand for another solution. They were literally mimicking the phrase, “On the one hand… On the other hand…” 

This time, the gesturing subjects came up with 50 percent more solutions than their motionless peers, and an independent panel deemed their solutions more creative and varied. 

So what does this mean about your learning programs? 

As designers and instructors, we spend a lot of time and effort focused on the material we are presenting, not on how the learners on learning. If your goal is to stifle creativity and critical thinking, make sure your learners are still and in their cubicles. 

But if we want them to be creative and engaged in the content, perhaps we need to move them out of their cubicles and square rooms, and seek new spaces where learning can occur. This, of course, takes more effort on your part, but give it some thought. 

Seriously, take your laptop and move to another part of the building, maybe outside, or even a bar, and share with me the ideas you come up with at [email protected].  

 

 

 

 

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