Mindfulness & Wellbeing

This Is Why Learning With Imagination Matters in Education

We use imagination to reflect on the meaning of action.

Why is learning with imagination just as important as having knowledge? Why must both teachers and learners use imagination in learning? Our goal here is to examine how imagination and knowledge support each other in the quest for authentic learning.

Imagination is considered the faculty or action of forming new ideas or concepts of external objects not present to the senses. 

On the other hand, 

knowledge is about facts and information. It encompasses the skills we acquire through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.

But how do they compliment each other in learning?
Our imagination changes; it is organic, and it grows as our knowledge grows. Knowledge feeds the imagination which spurs us on to new knowledge. Ultimately, this is the cycle of discovery and of learning we strive for in education. An imaginative student, for example, would be free to take risks and be a leader, and to state opinions rather than just correct answers. In the same way, an imaginative teacher can also take risks, be a leader, and be adaptable to the changing needs of their students.

Learning With Imagination and Knowledge

Considering this, would you say that imagination is more important than knowledge? Actually, it's more about how knowledge and imagination support each other in learning as suggested earlier. In a TED conversation about this very subject, readers chimed in with the following insights:

"I think imagination DRIVES knowledge acquisition. If you are really passionate about a possibility you imagine (whether it's a better education system or a revolutionary scientific theory), you will seek out the knowledge needed to test it or to turn your vision to reality." (Ayesha Ratnayake)
"Creativity is the product of imagination. So, both of them need knowledge to work and grow up together. Knowledge is static and creativity is changing, change is needed for new things to happen but to have change, there must first be something to change; knowledge." (Thomas Z.)
"Both are necessary. Imagination drives inquiry and inquiry eventually leads to knowledge. With additional knowledge new levels of imagination become possible." (Harald Jezek)

An Imaginary Field Trip

Here's an example of how learning with imagination supports knowledge. Suppose that you are about to go on a camping trip. As you ponder the adventure ahead, you envision the road trip and its potential adventures. You picture yourself relaxing in your tent with your family or friends. The fishing and cooking of food in the great outdoors are experiences you can sense as though they were actually happening. You see yourself gazing at the stars and singing around the campfire together with your loved ones.
First, you need to pack. This involves gathering things you have, identifying things you don’t, and then acquiring and organizing it all. This "packing" stage is the knowledge stage of the experience. However, we would not have come to the packing stage without first experiencing our imagination stage. Finally, there’s the actual journey and process of bringing your idea to life. Imagination then takes those experiences acquired from the "doing" stage and gives them meaning.
It can be explained using the acronym ARM—we Act, Reflect, and finally Move

We use imagination to reflect on the meaning of action.

As a result, we are changed by the experience and our paradigms are shifted. There's no going back to the state of not knowing, or not experiencing. We have done both and so we are changed, and thus we are spurred to another action.
Imagination binds all learning together, so learning with imagination takes you anywhere—just ask Albert Einstein.

How Do You Teach Imagination?

If learning with imagination matters as much as it does, then how can imagination be taught to learners? That’s the thing—you can’t really teach it, but you can certainly model it.
In this case, you can use guiding questions to spur imagination. However, it is the individual that controls it and harnesses it. We can teach others to take their imagination to fruition, but we cannot imagine for them. It is the one thing that individuals own. Also, keep in mind that 

fear is the enemy of imagination.

Considering this, a place to start would be creating a safe space for dissenting ideas to be spoken and discussed.
Mind maps can help organize a flurry of imagined ideas and give visual imagery to them. In addition, collaborative task organizers can combine imagined ideas from many people and sources.

Pro-tip: See our Solution Fluency Activity Planner as another example.

A Perfect Union for Learning

All in all, imagination and knowledge go hand in hand. An illustration of this complementary role in society comes from Joseph Campbell. In his mind, mythology was the essence of imagination. While science (knowledge) can explain things at their deepest physical level, mythology gives the story to that knowledge and meaning to the elemental.
Learning with imagination is an endless cycle—not only individually, but throughout society and human endeavours. The great thinkers and inventors of the past have shown it already. Sir Isaac Newton said it best: If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.
Use your imagination and ask your students to use theirs, and ponder this question together: Where should we go next?

Additional Reading