Divergent Thinking In eLearning: What eLearning Professionals Should Know

Divergent Thinking In eLearning: What eLearning Professionals Should Know
Summary: The word “divergent” is usually associated with rebels, free-thinkers, and anyone else who deviates from societal norms. It may even be a “dirty” word in some circles, particularly those that crave conformity. However, in the hands of an eLearning professional who knows how to use it, divergent thinking can be a powerful tool. In this article, I’ll share 4 best practices and 5 tips for using divergent thinking in your eLearning course design.

What is Divergent Thinking?

Divergent thinking is a problem solving approach wherein learners are encouraged to consider a variety of different solutions, rather than just providing them with a limited number of conclusions. By doing this, learners have the opportunity to analyze a myriad of solutions and strategies to find out which one will work best for the particular problem or challenge.

At its core, divergent thinking is all about using creative, analytical, and lateral thinking skills to arrive at a viable answer. According to Hudson (1967), divergent thinking learners are able to elaborate upon ideas and concepts when a stimulus is provided, which allows them to open their minds up to a number of different possibilities and outcomes. Applied to eLearning, this not only helps them to more effectively solve problem autonomously in the virtual classroom, but also in the real world. In this article, I’ll share 4 best practices and 5 tips for integrating divergent thinking into your next eLearning course.

4 Best Practices For Applying Divergent Thinking In eLearning

To create an eLearning environment that encourages creative problem solving, keep the following divergent thinking best practices in mind:

  1. Observation comes before feedback.
    Constructive criticism, praise, and all other forms of feedback should only come after observing the learner and their thinking processes.
  2. Every idea counts.
    No matter whether the idea seems completely random or off-topic, it still holds value in a divergent thinking learning environment. Encourage learners to gather as many ideas as possible throughout the problem-solving process.
  3. Encourage differing opinions.
    Every learner is going to have their own opinion, and that’s the beauty of divergent thinking. Encourage all members of your audience to share their experience, insights, and opinions in order to view the problem from multiple perspectives.
  4. Combine unique ideas.
    In some cases there may be multiple different solutions to a single problem. Divergent thinking is all about collaborating, sharing, and combining unique ideas to arrive at a creative solution that works. One idea might even lead to another, which leads to another, and so on, until the problem is resolved.

5 Tips To Use Divergent Thinking In eLearning

  1. Turn the tables on your learners.
    Rather than presenting your learners with a question, why not take their creativity a step further by encouraging them to come up with their own problems to solve. This gives them the opportunity to solve real world issues and challenges they may encounter on a daily basis, while sharpening their lateral thinking skills.
  2. Foster a divergent thinking online community.
    If you want your learners to broaden their thinking horizons and share every idea that comes to mind, they must feel supported. They simply won’t be willing to provide input if they feel as though they will be judged or criticized for their opinions. For this very reason, it’s important to cultivate a divergent thinking environment where learners feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and experience with their peers. Let them know that they divergent thinking is not only welcomed, but a necessary part of the learning process.
  3. Hold frequent brainstorming sessions.
    Throughout the duration of the eLearning course hold brainstorming sessions that center on the subject matter. Incorporate a brainstorming session into a group collaboration exercise, or ask your learners to brainstorm before they begin a self-guided assignment. Firstly, however, you will want to set up the ground rules of the brainstorming session. Ask your learners to begin by analyzing the problem at-hand for a few moments and clearly stating what needs to be resolved. Also, encourage them to respect the ideas and thoughts of others by giving everyone the opportunity to speak.
  4. Challenge the status quo.
    This tip is actually two-fold. Not only should you challenge commonly accepted ideas, but you should also encourage your learners to challenge the ideas of their peers in a respectful manner. Prompt your learners to question the status quo by asking them to examine why a task or problem is approached in a particular way, and why this approach is often the most popular. If learners have ideas that conflict, encourage them to explain further why their idea is better and how they believe it will solve the problem. You can also spark the discussion yourself, by adding a shocking or contradictory statement that prompts your learners to question “the norm”.
  5. Make the most of mistakes.
    Mistakes can be powerful instruments of learning, if we know how to use them effectively. Encourage your learners to reflect upon mistakes they make during the learning process, as well as solutions that led to undesirable or unexpected outcomes. Let them know that it’s perfectly acceptable to take risks, as long as they know how to make the most out of the mistakes that may result from those risks.

Use divergent thinking to your advantage by using these best practices and tips when creating your eLearning course. By encouraging your learners to think outside the box and consider multiple different solutions to the problem, you are equipping them with the skills they need to tackle any task in and out of the virtual learning environment.

Divergent thinking goes hand-in-hand with creative thinking. If you’d like to learn how to use creativity to your advantage when designing your next eLearning course, the article 7 Tips To Use Learners' Creativity In eLearning features 7 tips that will help you develop a compelling creativity-driven eLearning experience.


  • Hudson, L. (1967), Contrary Imaginations; a psychological study of the English Schoolboy Harmondsworth: Penguin