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Encouraging Creativity with Process or Product Learning

When creating, for some the 'process' is the best part, but for others, achieving the 'product' gives them the greatest satisfaction. So what should Educators focus on?

Written by: Early Educational Advisor - Jo Harris  

In its simplest form, creativity uses imagination or original ideas to create something. It’s inventiveness - the ability to ‘create’ and not all of us experience creativity in the same way. For some, the creation process is the best part, working through steps and stages with little focus on the specific outcome. Others can see the result from the beginning, and achieving the product gives them the greatest satisfaction. 

Early childhood educators' views on process versus product learning also vary greatly. Whichever the take is, it is essential to understand how and why they differ and the potential impact they can have on learning. These views are linked to the overall pedagogical philosophy that underpins most of how educators plan, document and view children’s learning and development. It is not dissimilar to the approach that is required with the planning and teaching of a quality early childhood program.

The expectation of the educator to balance intentional teaching with spontaneous experience is integral in meeting the practices of the Early Years Learning Framework. Supported by scaffolding early learning through collaboration and conversation, children are encouraged to deepen their experience with guidance and freedom.

The differences between process and product learning 

Process learning is as it says it is - it is the experience of creating, but for most young children, there may not be an intended outcome. Process learning involves becoming immersed in the practical aspect of an activity. There may be questions or comments relating to the colour, texture or feelings that are evoked. As with most new learning, the excitement can be contained to the moment and the ideas and meanings that are explored. 

Product learning does have an outcome and often involves following particular steps or stages to be completed to achieve the desired effect.  Learners may need to listen to instructions or refer to a completed example to guide them. The experience can be more directed towards trialling new skills but perhaps less emphasis on the discovery element of it. 

The importance of process-based learning

Creativity and creative thinking are skills that are determined by many factors, which might include a child’s temperament, curiosity and learning style. When applied to any situation, it is easy to see why it is essential - each time something new is learnt, there needs to be room to experiment, either with or without an intended outcome.

During play, if children feel inhibited by an expectation it can be distracting to simply enjoy the experience and they may be put off from an activity. Given the time and freedom to conduct their research, there may be a more significant opportunity for deep connections to occur between children and the object or resource.

From a developmental perspective, measuring the value of process-based play is the emphasis on the permission it gives children to be seen as unique individuals with their own specific needs to meet. 

This builds essential skills and dispositions, including self-confidence through respectful relationships, self-expression and metacognition. In other words, the opportunity to develop an awareness of what they think and how they think and see the world around them.

Understanding the value of process-based learning invites educators to help children shape and actively participate in their collaborative learning, creating a ripple and lifelong effect.

The significance of product-based learning

For there to be merit placed on the learning process, there is a need to focus on the intended outcomes or the product that is linked to it. If there was only an emphasis on the process then it can interrupt the potential to continue the desire to learn.

If there were no end products available, the learning environment could become a frustrating place to be. Our brains like to categorise things to support clarity of thinking and to understand the world around us, thus providing a developmental need for a structure that can create security and safety.

To maximise the benefits and to suit all types of learners, educators need to be open to product-based learning as part of a truly holistic program. Although not intending to stifle creativity or individuality, providing resources that have a fixed outcome, such as puzzles, can be profoundly satisfying to complete. 

The perfect cake needs ingredients and instructions

Using the analogy of cooking a cake, if the emphasis were on the process alone, the joy would be focused on combining the ingredients and tasting the batter, but there may never be the satisfaction that comes from sharing it. There is no doubt that the fun of weighing and mixing ingredients is delicious and filled with learning opportunities, but the overall creation is enhanced by the delight of sharing the result, not just in admiring the cake when it is completed.

Conversely, eating the same cake prepared by following the standard recipe instructions without taking time to notice the changes that occur along the way is a missed opportunity to form connections and memories, which are associated with deep learning.

To make the most significant impact on young learners, creating a program that has both process and product activities in equal proportion allows them to develop skills in both independent and structured ways of thinking and understanding. Instead of emphasising only one approach in favour of the other, the reward will become a learning environment that supports each type of learner, which prepares them for the future of schooling they are prepared for and will thrive in. 

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