There are two cognitive operations that are relevant here; convergent and divergent thinking (2). Convergent thinking describes the ability to find a solution from existing information, such as multiple choice tests, whereas divergent thinking describes the ability to solve problems by generating a variety of solutions where there were none. This implies that multiple choice tests do not involve creative thinking, because the only exercise of the mind is relying on existing knowledge. This suggests that testing a learner in such a way can only ever be a guide to knowledge absorbed, and never a gauge by which to determine learners' creativity.
It is arguable whether creativity can ever be accurately measured, but it should be able to be detected by allowing learners to develop their own solutions to problems; researching existing material and presenting the researched material in their own way.
The above is supported by Piaget (3), who believed that L&D practitioners should facilitate an environment where learners can explore subjects and produce work based on their own materials, ideas and themes.
Learners are more creative than we may give them credit for. They will produce new materials, which is innovative, but it is their adaptation of existing material, and the introduction of alternative approaches and solutions to supplement it, that shows their creativity.
If learners are not to be treated as passive individuals, any learning event must provide learners with the opportunity to explore and develop existing material for themselves. As just one example, constraints on syndicate work, such as restricting learners to flip-charts, will only serve to suppress their creativity.
What do you think? Is this just semantics, or can you see the benefits for learners?
(1) Fontana, D. Psychology for Teachers, 1988
(2) Guilford, J.P. Handbook of Measurement and Assessment in the Behavioural Sciences, Reading 1968
(3) Piaget, J. 1950; 1952