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Lessons in education from Sir Ken Robinson

February 18, 2021

The late Sir Ken Robinson was a teacher, author, lecturer, and a great influence in the world of education. With his three TED Talks amassing over 90 million views, Robinson has strongly impacted the way people think about and approach education across the globe. We can learn a great deal from him for improving VET, and for lifelong learning.

Creativity is inevitable – if it’s nurtured

Creativity is the core point of where Robinson’s ideas expand from, defining creativity as ‘the process of having original ideas that have value’. He stated that creativity is just as important as literacy, and that we should treat it with the same status.

Creativity can flourish in many vocational education and training environments and courses, but sometimes we can focus too much on compliance at the expense of creativity. Nurturing creativity and implementing more focus on personalised learning whilst having a compliance focus can be a challenge, but it is a challenge that needs to be undertaken. Creating the best learning experience possible for learners is the only way to not only retain learners, but also attract new learners, who will be keen to choose your training organisation over the rest due to the climate of possibility that has been created.

sir ken robinson creativity quote education

Collaboration is the stuff of growth

Writer's block, imposter syndrome, not enough time, procrastination – all excuses and limitations we often put upon ourselves when trying to be creative. Robinson believed that creativity should be systematic, and innovation made a habit. Collaboration is a key tactic for creativity and innovation, especially when it comes to synergy, where through synergised collaboration, the outcome is greater than the sum of its parts. Championing collaboration is a highly effective way of combining different ways of thinking, developing better teamwork skills, and pushing the boundaries of creativity to innovate.

Unlearning being afraid of being wrong

As we grow up and move through education systems and learn from our surroundings and the people in it, and with the impacts of the internet, we learn to be afraid of being wrong. In fact, our current education system has developed so that the worst thing a learner can do is be wrong, with learners embarrassed in front of others in class, leading to less willingness to contribute their ideas, with the end result being low grades. This is where we lose our ability and willingness to be creative. When we become unprepared and scared to be wrong, we lose the capacity to come up with anything original. Education should nurture our creativity, instead of scaring learners out of being creative. Removing the judgement and punishment that comes from being wrong will mean better ideas, more innovation, greater creative confidence and an overall improved learning experience for learners.

sir ken robinson education quote unlearning being afraid of being wrong

Rethinking intelligence

Robinson said there are three aspects to intelligence:

Intelligence is diverse

To really understand how diverse intelligence is, we should think about the effects of conformity. When schools value certain subjects over others, it diminishes some learners’ view of their intelligence, and they conform to fit the mould that is expected of them. This is a condition under which many learners can’t flourish, leading to a lack of motivation, passion, interest and energy for learning.

Intelligence is dynamic

The dynamic aspect of intelligence is that creativity comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things. In the words of Robinson, the brain isn’t divided into compartments. We think about the world in all the ways that we experience it–we think visually, in sound, kinaesthetically, in abstract terms, and in movement. Taking into account and embracing all the dynamic facets of intelligence can create high levels of creativity, innovation and value.

Intelligence is distinct

In one of Robinson’s TED Talks, he spoke about a young girl who everyone thought had a learning problem as she couldn’t keep still in class. After being taken to a doctor by her mother, the doctor advised her to go to a dance school, giving the diagnosis of her not being sick, but instead being a dancer. She then became a famous dancer and choreographer—the lesson being everyone has their own unique make-up, talents and character. If she had been taken to another doctor, one who didn’t see the value in the distinctness of her intelligence, she may have instead been advised to take medication and ‘calm down’.

Changing the role of standardised testing

According to Robinson, the standardised test is another killer of creativity and creative confidence. Robinson admits standardised testing does have a place in education, but it shouldn’t be the be-all-end-all for learning and determining learning outcomes. If learners are supported through personalised learning, a balance between standardisation and personalisation can be struck.

A school is only as good as its teachers

Teachers and trainers are responsible for ensuring learners aim for their full potential, stay curious and interested in learning, and are prepared for the future. With this responsibility on their shoulders, it’s surprising that personal development opportunities for teachers aren’t that commonly offered in many places. If a school or training organisation is only as good as its teachers and trainers, investing in their personal development is paramount.

sir ken robinson teachers education revolution quote

VET is doing well – but we can do better

The vocational education and training sector is considered by many to support creativity and allowing learners to follow their vocation, however there is room for improvement.

One key aspect of VET that attracts learners is work based learning (WBL), or work placements. This is one of the best ways we can stimulate creativity and open up a whole new world for learners to enable them to collaborate, and put their learnings and ideas into practice. However, employer satisfaction in VET has fallen by around 8% over the last decade[1]. This shows the VET system needs to change to meet the needs of employers and businesses, as well as effectively preparing learners for work placements. Encouraging creativity in learners will spark passion for learning about the industry, and will lead to more knowledgeable, capable and willing workers. Technology can help to support schools and training organisations to improve their WBL programs.

sir ken robinson famous education quote


  1. VET News

Watch Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talks here.

If your school is interested in improving your work placements learner experience, take a look at our new Work Based Learning feature here.

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