By Norman Jackson
Norman is Emeritus Professor of Higher Education at the University of Surrey, Founder of Lifewide Education and Creative Academic. He has long standing interests in creativity, learning through life and the ecology of learning and is a member of the imagined community.
This is the third part of a three part narrative. In the1 I describe the context for this post and several examples of how I ‘used’ my imagination on the 28th of May 2020. In and three I try to make sense of my experience using several conceptual tools and draw out what my imagination means to me in my everyday life as a way of highlighting why our education systems need to pay more much more attention to the development of human imagination.
Connecting my imagination and creativity
Earlier in of my imagination series, I made the point that imagination and creativity are entangled but they are not the same. Imagination creates the impulse to act by enabling us to see something differently (to search for and discover novelty) and, through the revelations it brings, we are engaged emotionally. When pragmatically connected to perceptions and reasoning it helps us plan how to act and it enables us to understand whether what we might do is within our capabilities (self-efficacy). My narrative explains how the thoughts that emerged on an ordinary day, through the work of my pragmatic imagination, led to action which transformed existing things (e.g. the neglected patch of my garden) and produced new things (this story and its explanation for example).
Without the capability to use my imagination in the contexts I inhabit, I could not be me.
That is being me in the contexts of my role as a husband, father, grandfather and friend, or being me in my work as an educator and scholar trying to contribute to my field of practice and domain of knowledge. I might speculate that my use of imagination when connected to actions that are directed to enacting my imagination in these different contexts of my life is analogous to the little-c (everyday acts of creativity) and Pro-c (creativity in domains of expertise) in the widely accepted 4C model of creativity2.
James Kaufman and Ron Beghetto, the originators of the 4C model of creativity, refer to mini-c as the cognitive and emotional process of constructing personal knowledge within a particular sociocultural context in order to develop/change understanding:
“It is a mental process found in all stages of human development and activity, from the imaginings of a child that transforms his everyday world into a magical and mysterious world of giants and monsters, to the most sophisticated conceptual thinking necessary for breakthrough science, mini-c creativity is not just for kids. Rather, it represents the initial, creative interpretations that all creators have and which later may manifest into recognizable (and in some instances, historically celebrated) creations.” 2 p4
It has taken me a long time to realise that my imagination working pragmatically with perception and reasoning is the mini-c referred to in their 4C model and I can now make an incremental change to the norms and contexts conceptual framework I developed3 (Figure 1) to reflect this change in my own understanding. This is another example of “seeing an object and imagining how it might be changed through connection.”4
Figure 1 Contexts and norms framework for creativity developed by Jackson and Lassig3 from the 4C model of creativity2
Imagination and Practice
It is clear from my narrative that I think imagination is central to our ability to practice in any contexts where practice does not simply replicate what has been done before (i.e. when people have to assess non-routine situations and have to respond to them in an appropriate and effective way). I can demonstrate this by reference to what Michael Eraut calls the epistemology of practices5 or Barry Zimmerman calls self-regulation6 : the essential processes we enact whenever we want to do something significant. Figure 2 attempts to illustrate these theoretical models and show that imagination, connected to perception and reasoning is important in all aspects of these models.
Figure 2 How imagination is used in two holistic models of practice. Michael Eraut’s epistemology of practice5 and Barry Zimmerman’s model of self-regulation6
This diagram (another conceptual tool) shows that our imagination facilitates exploration of possibilities (affordances) in future-oriented thinking by encouraging us to think through questions like, ‘what if?’ and ‘what is or might be possible?’ Once we engage in action our imagination is stimulated by the feedback we receive from the environment and our effects on it and it helps us anticipate ‘the next move.’
It also participates in the sense making and the invention of new syntheses and meanings in reflective and reflexive thinking that revisits information, knowledge and emotion gained from action and experience and prompts us to engage not only with ‘what happened and why?’ but alternative possibilities e.g. ‘what if I had done this?’ John Dewey once said, “we don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.”7 p.78 It is this process that transforms our understanding (the mini-c of Kaufman and Beghetto) and I now see this as a process involving pragmatic imagination8 (seein this series of posts). This thought actually came as an ‘aha’ insight.
Imagining Ecologies for Learning and Practice
The contemporary hyperconnected, contingent world in rapid formation demands an ecological mindset: a mindset through which we might better see (perceive and imagine) and understand the connectivity and relatedness of ourselves and the world that has meaning to us.
I have argued 9,10,11 that we need new frameworks to help us ‘see’ (perceive, feel, reason and imagine), relate to and interact with the world in order to learn and practice. Figure 3 provides such an ecological framework.11 It tries to relate a whole thinking, feeling, acting, caring person to their contexts, their needs, desires and purposes, and what they are trying to achieve in the particular situations and environment in which they are acting and learning.12
Figure 3 An ecology for learning and practice ecology 12 p86 : a framework for visualising the components, relationships and exchanges between a person and their environment in order to learn and practise. Labels (1-7) explain the key dimensions of the ecology.
When someone encounters a new challenge or opportunity, they attempt to comprehend the situation (see and feel with their senses and their imagination) and act in appropriate, effective and perhaps novel ways. Effectively, they create an ecology that enables them to perceive and interact with their environment in order to accomplish the things that matter to them and learning and achievement emerge from this dynamic.
In this way, the person, their environment and their activities are not only connected and related – they are unified.
‘Every organism has an environment: the organism shapes its environment and environment shapes the organism. So it helps to think of an indivisible totality of “organism plus environment” – best seen as an ongoing process of growth and development.’ 13 p. 20 This way of thinking is entirely consistent with John Dewey’s perspective on our relationship with our environment. “When we experience something, we act upon it, we do something with it; then we suffer or undergo the consequences. We do something to the thing and then it does something to us in return” 14 p46
A learning ecology is an ecology of practice in which the primary purpose is learning. The same framework can be used to characterise any complex practice where learning is intended to achieve something significant. An ecology for learning and practice enables the creator to put their pragmatic imagination to work in the world that has meaning to engage with situations, problems and opportunities as they emerge in their unique circumstances. Such an ecology enables the maker to ‘see’ (through their pragmatic imaginations9) the affordances in their world and to act upon these affordances within their capabilities, and to extend their capabilities through their actions. Such an ecology enables the maker to connect and integrate different spaces, resources, tools, situations, relationships, activities and themselves in ways that they find meaningful, and effect various transformations (personal, material and virtual).
Such an ecology enables the maker to connect and integrate their past, present and future, and connect thoughts and actions experienced in a moment and organise them into more significant meaningful experiences of thinking and action. They are the means by which the maker weaves their moments into the fabric of a meaningful life, a life they feel is worth living and a life through which they can grow and develop as a person. The components of an ecology for learning, (summarised in Figure 3) are woven together by the maker in a part deliberate, part opportunistic, act of trying to achieve something and learn in the process. Imagination is key to how and why we weave the different components of an ecology together. And when their work is done their imagination enables the maker to reflect on what has been experienced and achieved to make better sense of it and learn from the experience.
This series of posts is the material and creative expression from such an ecology for learning and practice. It began with an imagined thought in the wake of an experience (my zoom meeting with the imaginED network). It was given meaning and expression as I enacted this thought on May 28th, seeing and acting upon the affordances in my life and responding to what emerged. It continued as I engaged my [pragmatic] imagination during and after living and experiencing that day in order to make deeper sense of my experience. The meaning making that is shared through these posts has been co-created with all the people whose ideas and imaginations I have woven into this synthesis (my list of citations and more).
Why should imagination and creativity be a central concern for education?
Sometimes the most ordinary situations and experiences in life can reveal important truths. Through my simple story recording some of the ways in which my imagination emerged and influenced my actions on May 28th I have tried to show how important our imagination is to who we are – our being and our becoming.
Our cultures and everything we have made in them are the product of imagination connected to perception and reasoning, enacted in ways that give meaning and substance to imagined thoughts.
So when asked a question like, why should education be concerned with nurturing and developing the imaginations of learners – the simple answer is that without their imaginations they cannot function as creative, empathic, caring and productive human beings and neither can our human civilisations. If imagination and creativity are so important to human flourishing from the level of individuals to whole societies then our educational systems need to be reconfigured to reflect this profound truth. In parts 2 and 3 of my post I have tried to show, in a variety of ways, that imagination acting in concert with perception, reasoning and the psychological spectrum of emotions (an expanded pragmatic imagination8 ) is crucial to effective practice in a hyperconnected, contingent, world in continuous formation. And that we can locate imagination and the work is does in a number of credible epistemological, ontological and ecological conceptual frameworks.
Our systems of education have a moral and practical obligation to help learners develop their imaginations so that they can fully participate in this fast forming and emergent world. Furthermore, if we want learners to make a positive difference to their world, to create new value and transform it in yet to be imagined ways, we need them to use and develop their imaginations not only in the context of their academic programmes but in the multitude of contexts from which their life is formed. This supposes that our education systems will be founded up on a lifewide concept of learning, developing and achieving 15,16 and we will universally recognise the importance of the educational domain in encouraging the development and use of imagination and creativity3 (Figure 4).
Figure 4 A model of imagination and creativity that recognises and values the educational domain3 In this version of the model I have substituted the concept of pragmatic imagination8 for what Kaufman and Beghetto call mini-c2 which I believe rightly emphasises the role of imagination and other cognitive process in acts of creativity.
- Jackson, N. J. A day in the life of my imagination (Part1) imagined blog post
- Kaufman, J and Behgetto R (2009) Beyond Big and Little: The Four C Model of Creativity Review of General Psychology Vol. 13, No. 1, 1–12 Available at:
- Jackson N.J. & Lassig, C. (2020) Exploring and Extending the 4C Model of Creativity: Recognising the value of an ed-c contextual- cultural domain Creative Academic Magazine #15 Available at:
- An idea shared by Ann Pendleton-Jullian in her zoom talk on May 28th The ideas is from Joshua Cooper Ramos’ book The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks Little Brown and Company Boston (2016). “The seventh sense, in short, is the ability to look at any object and see the way in which it is changed by connection.”
- Eraut, M. & Hirsh, W.(2008) Significance of Workplace Learning for Individuals, Groups & Organisations
- Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). “Attaining self-regulation: a social cognitive perspective,” in Handbook of Self-Regulation, eds M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich, and M. Zeidner (San Diego, CA: Academic Press), 13–40
- Dewey, J. (1933) How We Think, New York: D. C. Heath
- Pendleton-Jullian, A. and Brown, J. S.(2016) Pragmatic Imagination available at: http://www.pragmaticimagination.com/
- Jackson, N.J. (2016) Exploring Learning Ecologies, Chalk Mountain LULU
- Barnett, R. and Jackson, N.J. (eds) Ecologies of Learning and Practice: Emerging Ideas, Sightings and Possibilities Routledge
- Jackson, N.J. (2020) Higher Education Ecosystems and the Ecologies for Learning and Practice they Encourage and Support. In R. Barnett and N.J. Jackson (eds) Ecologies of Learning and Practice: Emerging Ideas, Sightings and Possibilities Routledge
- Jackson, N.J. (2020) From Ecologies of Learning to Ecologies of Creative Practice In R. Barnett and N J Jackson (eds) Ecologies of Learning and Practice: Emerging Ideas, Sightings and Possibilities Routledge
- Ingold, T. (2000) Hunting and gathering as ways of perceiving the environment. The Perception of the Environment. Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. New York and London: Routledge, 2000.
- Dewey, J. (1934). Art as Experience. New York: Penguin.
- Jackson N.J, et al (Eds) Learning for a Complex World: A Lifewide Concept of Learning, Education and Development. Authorhouse
Interested in Reading More?
You can read Part 1, “A day in the life of my imagination,”and Part 2, “Making Sense of a Day in The Life of My Imagination,” .
Interesting essay samples and examples on: