6 Ways to Encourage Lateral Thinking within E-learning

Posted by

Samantha Martin-Woodgate

on 14 May 2024

Psychologist Edward de Bono proposed that approaching problems from different angles was invaluable, especially for creative businesses and organisations.

Encouraging Lateral Thinking in E-learning

Psychologist Edward de Bono proposed that approaching problems from different angles was invaluable, especially for creative businesses and organisations.

Lateral thinking is a type of thinking that involves looking at problems from different angles and coming up with creative solutions. It is often contrasted with vertical thinking, a more linear and logical approach to problem-solving.

In Edward de Bono's book 'The Use of Lateral Thinking', he defines lateral thinking as "thinking that goes sideways." He argued that lateral thinking is more effective than vertical thinking for solving problems because it allows us to see things from different perspectives and develop innovative solutions.

Thanks to the importance of thinking outside the box, more and more e-learning courses are looking for ways to incorporate Edward de Bono's ideas.

Getting learners' creative juices flowing is challenging since so much creativity is innate. However, there are ways you can modify your e-learning course to help people to think more laterally. Here are some helpful ideas.

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Lateral thinking in e-learning

Several techniques can be used to encourage lateral thinking. Some of these techniques include:

1. Foster a culture of curiosity

Curiosity is the primary driver of innovation at the world's most successful companies, including Amazon and Facebook. These tech giants employ people with a passion for what they do and a curiosity about how they can make the world better.

Curiosity is essential to the learning process. Without curiosity, learners have no incentive to think laterally and approach problems from different angles. Generating the same passion in an e-learning course might sound difficult, but there are ways to make it happen.

One way to do this is to create an active community of supportive learners constantly looking to improve their knowledge. Active communities help people explore a topic's inner workings and understand how everything fits together.

Once this is known, it's much easier for ideas to cross-fertilise and for new ideas to arise. The best e-learning cultures are those which develop reasons for learning and give people tools to share their ideas online.

2. Encourage learners to draw "mind maps"

Mind maps have been used as a brainstorming tool for decades. The basic idea is to start with a word or problem in the middle of the page and then logically link other ideas and words to it based on whatever pops into the learner's head.

Often, mind maps take on a life of their own, allowing the learner to create links between disparate concepts and helping them to see new connections. Mind maps can provide a new perspective on a particular topic and free up a student's creativity.

Mind maps aren't just restricted to writing down words on a page. In more advanced corporate settings, they can take the form of an infographic, pictograph or an online presentation to map out ideas.

3. Spark debate

There's a reason schools and universities all have debating societies: they help young people think more laterally by exposing them to multiple perspectives. E-learning training systems can do the same by sparking conversations online and getting a healthy debate going. Often, there isn't a single solution to a particular problem, and many learners can benefit from insights from their peers.

Online discussions can also help encourage participants to respect the opinions of others and work together to build better solutions than they may have worked out by themselves. This helps promote teamwork and instils in participants the idea that many brains working together can come up with better solutions than one working alone.

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4. Start with the solution & work backwards

Another way to foster lateral thinking in e-learning is to start with the solution and work backwards. Here, instructors tell corporate leaders the outcome that they want.

They then ask them to go away and use the tools and resources available to show how they would have arrived at the solution. Often, there are multiple ways of arriving at the same solution, encouraging participants to think out of the box.

5. Pose thought-provoking questions

One of the best ways to get people to challenge their pre-existing beliefs on a particular topic is to ask them pertinent, thought-provoking questions. These questions should be designed to challenge their assumptions to get them to reconsider what they believe.

Fundamental assumptions can often be a stumbling block for more efficient learning. This is why it is so important that they are regularly challenged.

One of the best ways to get people thinking about their assumptions and beliefs is to ask them for evidence to support their claims. You can also ask them probing questions about why they hold a particular opinion. This will force them to consider their beliefs, which will help foster lateral thinking.

It's worth noting, however, that some topics, such as an individual's personal or cultural beliefs, are unfortunately off-limits. Though it might be beneficial to expose many of these ideas to the light of reason, this can result in offence.

6. Ask learners to find alternative solutions

Another great way to foster lateral thinking in an e-learning course is to develop activities that encourage students to find alternative paths to a particular solution. Start with a solution and then map out how that solution was achieved. Then, give learners a bunch of tools and resources and ask them to solve the same problem using a different method.

The idea behind this is to help people ignore the obvious answer and find a more subtle (and often more elegant) solution. Asking employees to go down the road less travelled is also more interesting and helps increase motivation and engagement in your course.

Lateral thinking is hard to teach, but as these six ideas prove, it's not impossible. Once employees think outside of the box, everybody wins.

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Key workplace learning theories

Lateral thinking is just one of six well-established learning theories we've examined to help improve your outcomes.

  1. Instructional design
  2. The 70-20-10 rule
  3. Storytelling
  4. Microlearning
  5. Kirkpatrick Model

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