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2012. Vol.3, No.4, 392-399
Published Online August 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/ce) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2012.34062
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Group Creativity in Learning Context: Understanding in a
Social-Cultural Framework and Methodology
Chunfang Zhou1, Lingling Luo2
1Department of Development and Planning, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark
2Research Center for Science, Technology and Society, Sch oo l o f Humanities and Law, Northeastern University,
Email: chunfang@pla n .aau.dk, email@example.com
Received June 28th, 2012; revised July 30th, 2012; a c c e pt e d A u g u s t 1 0th, 2012
Recent studies have emphasized group creativity as a social-cultural conception, but they lack a focus on
the relationship between group creativity and knowledge creation. This paper aims to build a framework
for group creativity in a learning context which includes both theoretical understanding and empirical
methodology. Thus, a literature review is led by the following questions: How has creativity theory been
developed from individual to group level? From a social-cultural perspective, how can group creativity,
knowledge creation, and their relationship be understood? And what methods have been employed to
study group creativity? As the review demonstrates, creativity theory has been driven by new insights
from recent sociology studies. Three focuses have been shaped from group creativity studies: 1) group
creativity in context; 2) group-level creative synergy; and 3) strategies for developing group creativity.
Individual knowledge is a potential resource for group creativity, and group creativity could be a driver of
knowledge creation. Empirically, group creativity can be examined through both qualitative and quantita-
tive approaches, which also calls for a creative combination of methodologies in future studies.
Keywords: Group Creativity; Knowledge Creation; Leaning Context; Methodology
Recently, the concept of creativity has gained importance. A
sign of the importance of creativity is the decision of the Euro-
pean Union to make 2009 the European Year of Creativity and
Innovation. The objective of the year is to promote creativity
for all as a driver for innovation and as a key factor for the de-
velopment of personal, occupational, entrepreneurial and social
competences through lifelong learning (European Commission,
2008). The year should raise public awareness and promote
public debate on creativity; it also should stimulate research
into how to develop creativity and innovative attitudes (Villalba,
2008). Accordingly, a vast amount of management literature
has been increasingly focusing on how to enhance creativity in
the workplace, in order to cope with a constantly changing
environment (Borghini, 2005). For education systems, promot-
ing creativity has been suggested as one of the priorities for
meeting the challenges of the twenty-first century (Craft,
Jeffery, & Leibling, 2001).
Generally, creativity is the ability to produce work that is
both novel (i.e., original, unexpected) and appropriate (i.e.,
useful, adaptive when it comes to task constraints) (Sternberg &
Lubart, 1999). However, most creative acts occur in a collabo-
rative context (Sonnenburg, 2004). For example, groups pro-
vide a sufficient pool of knowledge, experiences, and views to
produce an optimal outcome at each stage of the problem-
solving process (Lohman & Finkelstein, 2000). Therefore, the
collaborative or social aspect of creativity is stressed and group
creativity has been focused on in studies (Paulus, 2003). Little-
ton and his colleagues (2008) emphasized that, whilst research
on creativity has frequently stressed the role of the individual as
producer, contemporary work has afforded a characterization of
the creative processes as dynamic, fundamentally social, and
necessarily collective and collaborative. Similarly, contempo-
rary literature on learning theory has suggested a move away
from an individualistic conception of learning, locating it
within a wider social-cultural context. Increasingly, knowledge
is believed to be constructed in settings of joint activity, where
people are dedicated to learn and collaborate around shared
tasks and issues that matter to them (De Laat & Lally, 2004 ).
Thus, the previous work indicates the need for a knowledge-
creation view of group creativity in a learning context. Al-
though there are discussions on learning and creativity in pre-
vious work, for example, the concept of “mini c” (Beghetto &
Kaufman, 2007) emphasizes the creative process involved in
the construction of personal knowledge and understanding, and
Amabile (1996) emphasizes that creativity does not occur
spontaneously or randomly, but happens when the appropriate
combinations of knowledge, skills, and motivation enable an
individual to create new ideas, there is lack of a clear frame-
work for theoretical understanding and empirical studies on
group creativity. These points lead this paper to review pub-
lished studies in order to answer the following questions:
1) How has creativity theory been developed from individual
to group level?
2) From a social-cultural perspective, how can group creati-
vity, knowledge creation, and their relationship be understood?
3) What methods have been employed to study group crea-
The above questions help to structure this paper and lead to a
proposed framework for use as a guideline for understanding a
knowledge-creation view of group creativity as well as empiri-
C. F. ZHOU, L. L. LUO
cal methodologies for future study. Thus, this paper contributes
to the development of group creativity in education, both theo-
retically and empirically. In addition, it also has implications
for educators about how to build a learning environment con-
ducive to creativity, and how to make better use of group
learning methods for creativity development.
Creativity Theory: From Individual Level to
The early stages of creativity research focused on the psy-
chological determinants for the individual of genius and gift-
edness (Jeffrey & Craft, 2001). As Kurtzberg and Amabile
(2000-2001) describe, J. P. Guilford’s 1950 address to the
American Psychological Association inspired the thriving new
field of creativity research. Guilford argued that creativity is a
continuous trait in all people, and that those individuals with
recognized creative talent simply have “more of what all of us
have” (Guilford, 1950). As with any founding contribution,
Guilford’s choice of focus on the traits, motivations, and be-
haviors of the creative individual shaped the way that creativity
has been conceptualized in the decades since (Kurtzberg &
Research into creativity in the 1980s and 1990s became
rooted in a social-psychological framework in which it was
recognized that social structures affect individual creativity
(Jeffrey & Craft, 2001). According to Rhyammar and Brolin
(1999), there were major lines of development from the 1950s
focusing on personality, cognition, and how to stimulate crea-
tivity. This was supported by the philosophical debate from the
1970s which saw creativity moving away from product out-
comes and becoming connected with imaginativeness. During
the 1980s, a new line was developed, that of social psychology
and systems theory, where environmental conditions were taken
into account. Within these four lines of development (i.e., per-
sonality, cognition, stimulating creativity, and social theories)
there were the following specific focuses: the person who cre-
ates, the creative process, environmental factors, and the out-
come. During the 1990s, due to the development of the fourth
line—social psychology—research into creativity became more
comprehensive, integrating these specific focuses, and it began
to focus more on the creativity of ordinary people within the
education system (Jeffrey & Craft, 2001). Accordingly, Stern-
berg (1999) points out that the development of scientific think-
ing about creativity has followed a particular trajectory: going
from an early emphasis upon isolated individuals and their
internal traits and capabilities, to developing a focus on the
interaction between individuals and the environment.
It has been asserted that a theoretical model, which is useful
for management studies, should study creativity from a multi-
level perspective and consider at least three levels of analysis: 1)
intrasubjective (individual); 2) intersubjective (group); and 3)
collective (organization). This approach allows us to understand
how in the creative process, individuals (in the context of
groups and organizations) contribute to the outcome of a crea-
tive product through a sensemaking process (Borghini, 2005).
Group creativity is a function of individual creative behavior
“inputs”, the interaction of the individuals involved (e.g., group
composition), group characteristics (e.g., norms, size, degree of
cohesiveness), group processes (e.g., approaches to problem
solving), and contextual influences (e.g., the larger organization,
characteristics of group task). The interaction between individ-
ual, group, and organizational creativity has been emphasized
(Woodman, Sawyer, & Criffin, 1993), and group creativity has
been specifically discussed by researchers such as Paulus and
Nijstad (2003), Sawyer (2007), Robinson and Stern (1997),
Leonard-Barton and Swap (1999), and Miell and Littleton
(2004). The published studies indicate three main focuses:
1) Group creativity in context: this means taking the shaping
roles of specific external social environments into account.
Groups are not a closed system but interact with their environ-
ment. Whether a group will achieve its creative potential main-
ly depends on the (social) context. The context, consisting of
the task the group performs, the group climate, group norms,
the larger organizational climate, and so on, drives group pro-
cesses. For example, an open climate has been emphasized—
groups need to be open and safe and group members should
feel free to offer “crazy” ideas; at the same time, there should
be room for debate and constructive controversy (Nijstad &
Paulus, 2003). Furthermore, the organizational or even national
or cultural environment of a group can affect group creativity.
As Paulus and Nijstad (2003) suggested, in organizations in
which creativity and innovation are not valued, group creativity
will be severely constrained. Further, a restrictive cultural cli-
mate, such as a conservative religious government, may have
similar effects to those of a restrictive group climate.
2) Group-level creative synergy: this means taking the col-
laborative relationships in groups into account. As Moran and
John-Steiner (2004) suggested, collaboration has been of con-
siderable interest to research because it extends our under-
standing of creativity beyond the individual. Interest in col-
laboration rests, implicitly or explicitly, on the assumption that
human cognition is an interpersonal as well as an intrapersonal
process (Levine & Moreland, 2004). It involves an intricate
blending of skills, temperaments, effort and sometimes person-
alities to realize a shared vision of something new and useful
(Moran & John-Steiner, 2004). So one could therefore argue
that groups have creative potential; since individual knowledge,
skills, and abilities are combined, the group has the potential to
be more creative together than its members have separately.
However, for groups to be creative, the group process must be
structured in a way that prevents process loss (Nijstad & Paulus,
2003), so factors such as individual motivation (Cooper &
Jayatilaka, 2006), group diversity, and conflict have been em-
phasized in group creativity development (Kurtzberg & Ama-
3) Strategies for developing group creativity: this means
taking strategies of enhancing creative group work (for example,
building an creative organizational or educational environment
or using creativity techniques) into account. As Paulus (2000)
suggested, innovation will be high when organizations provide
rewards, some discretion in job activities, and supportive lead-
ership, and when groups have a clear vision or goal, norms that
support innovation, an atmosphere in which it is safe to express
novel ideas, and a commitment to task excellence. So Thomp-
son and Brajkovich (2003) discuss four threats to group creativ-
ity: social loafing, conformity, production blocking, and
downward norm setting. Ten strategies are suggested for en-
hancing creativity and for making it part of the creative team’s
culture: a) diversifying the team; b) analogical reasoning; c)
brainwriting; d) nominal group techniques; e) creating organ-
izational memory; f) trained facilitators; g) high benchmarks; h)
membership change; i) electronic brainstorming; and j) creating
a playground. Creativity techniques have also emphasized, for
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 393
C. F. ZHOU, L. L. LUO
example, group brainstorming (Paulus, 2003) and creative prob-
lem-solving approaches (Woodman, Sawyer, & Griffin, 1993).
In addition, Nijstad and Paulus (2003) have summarized four
common themes in recent studies of group creativity: 1) group
diversity and creative potential; 2) obstacles to the realization
of creative potential; 3) group climate; and 4) group environ-
ment. The four themes, as well as many other issues that have
received attention, contribute to building a framework that has
some potential to facilitate further studies. Nijstad and Paulus
(2003) also come up with questions about future directions:
What are the relevant inputs group members bring to their task?
Under what conditions are individual inputs contributed in an
optimal way? How are individual contributions combined to
yield a creative group response? Under what conditions does
group creativity affect the environment of the group? Further-
more, “knowledge-creating” has been recently defined as the
main characteristic of a company (Nonaka, 1991). Organiza-
tions are viewed as innovative knowledge communities (Paa-
vola, Lipponen, & Hakkarainen, 2004) because creativity and
innovation concern the process of creating and applying new
knowledge (Livingstone & Lynch, 2000). This calls for a link
to be made between group creativity and learning by consider-
ing knowledge creation from a social-cultural perspective.
A Social-Cultural Perspective of Learning,
Group Creativity, and Knowledge Creation
What a Social-Cultural Perspective Implies for
According to Aschenbrenner and Hellwig (2009), as the
name implies, two words are central to the social-cultural ap-
proach to educational issues: “social” and “cultural”. When
something is social, it is automatically interconnected and has
reference to other people. Weber (1922) defined “social acting”
in a way that the sense of the action is related to others’ beha-
vior. An example can be shown here:
If I found a wallet lying on the street, I would bring it to the
lost property office in anticipation of someone who’s searching
for it. If I weren’t expecting that, it wouldn’t be a kind of social
behavior. So the relation to others’ behavior gives sense to my
acting and initiates it, consequently it is social acting. Moreover,
the sequence of a social action is oriented to others. The social
commitment, how to drink beer in a community, hence you
clink glasses and have a sip of your drink, structures the proce-
dure and gives sense to it. You see, social acting is an essential
part of our everyday life and also occurs at the workplace
(Aschenbrenner & Hellwig, 2009).
The meaning of the second word “culture” is a classical an-
thropological issue (Aschenbrenner & Hellwig, 2009). As Saw-
yer (2006) points out, anthropologists use the word “culture” in
a way that is related to common contemporary phrases like
“popular culture”, “mass culture”, and “subculture.” But it is a
little more complex than that, and one of the first definitions in
the late nineteenth century was that of Edward Tylor (1889),
who thought culture is the complex whole which includes
knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs, and any other
capabilities and habits acquired by a person as a member of
society. Goodenough (cited in Cole, 2005) described culture as
something, which “one needs to know to participate acceptabtly
as a member in a society’s affairs” (p. 265); whilst Aschen-
brenner and Hellwig (2009) pointed out that culture is the in-
terconnection between individuals and objects in the environ-
ment through their usage in a specific and socially legitimate
way. Moreover, culture is necessary to participate in the social
environment. Because of that, culture is both a contextual and a
cognitive phenomenon: the context influences and creates hu-
man cognitive structures and vice versa.
The social-cultural perspective on learning was first systema-
tized and applied by Vygotsky and his collaborators in Russia
in the nineteen-twenties and thirties (Corsi et al., 2006). Ac-
cording to this perspective, intellectual development is achieved
through dialogue and education is enacted through the interac-
tion between students and teachers, reflecting the historical
development, cultural values, and social practices of societies
and communities in which educational institutions exist (Rojas-
Drummond, 2008). So knowledge is constructed in settings of
joint activity, where people are dedicated to learn and collabo-
rate around shared tasks and issues that matter them (De Laat &
Lally, 2004), and knowledge creation is fundamentally a social
process which means that social interaction provides essential
cognitive resources for human cognitive accomplishment (No-
naka & Toyama, 2003). This indicates the difficulty of separat-
ing group and individual learning experiences. In practice, it
has driven a growing interest in the use of team- or group-based
learning in education as illustrated by, for example, the prob-
lem-based learning approach (Newman, 2005).
Knowled ge Creation as a Social Pro ce ss
From a social-cultural perspective, understanding is seen as
iterative in nature; that is, it emerges through a series of at-
tempts to explain and understand the processes and mechanisms
being investigated. Accordingly, new ideas and innovations
emerge between rather than within people. The interaction
among different forms of knowledge or between knowledge
and other activities is emphasized as a requirement for innova-
tiveness in learning and knowledge creation (Paavola, Lipponen,
& Hakkarainen, 2004). So the explicit and tacit knowledge and
their interaction in workplace have been focused on (Smith,
2001) and illustrated by models which are based on concept of
“knowledge-creating companies” (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995;
Baumard, 1999). Thus, the following sections are organized as
1) explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge; and 2) models of
1) Explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. Recently, the
concepts of intuitive expertise and tacit knowledge have be-
come increasingly important factors in discussions concerning
knowledge and learning in practice. According to Nielsen
(2002), there are three main ways of understanding tacit know-
ledge based on studies such as those of Polanyi (1994), Dreyfus
and Dreyfus (1986), and Wagner and Sternberg (1986). Tacit
knowledge can be presented as a) embedded in tradition; b) an
inexpressible dimension of practice; and c) an aspect of practi-
cal intelligence. Accordingly, most literature regards tacit knowl-
edge as more highly personal and harder to communicate or to
share with others. It is deeply rooted in an individual’s experi-
ence, and it consists of schemata, beliefs, and perceptions
stored so deep in the worldview of an individual that they are
taken for granted (2003). For example, in relation to the context
of technology companies, Rosenberg (1982) explains tacit
knowledge as: “the knowledge of techniques, methods and
designs that work in certain ways and with certain cones-
quences, even when one cannot explain exactly why” (p. 143).
Copyright © 2012 SciR es .
C. F. ZHOU, L. L. LUO
Thus, tacit knowledge equates to practical know-how (Koski-
nen, Pihlanto, & Vanharanta, 2003).
In contrast, explicit knowledge is the type of knowledge that
an individual has acquired mainly at school and university.
Explicit knowledge implies factual statements about such mat-
ters as material properties, technical information, and tool
characteristics. Thus, explicit knowledge can be expressed in
words and numbers, and is therefore easily communicated and
shared (Koskinen, Pihlanto, & Vanharanta, 2003). However,
knowledge exists on a spectrum. At one extreme it is almost
completely tacit, that is, semiconscious and unconscious know-
ledge held in people’s heads and bodies. At the other end of
spectrum, knowledge is almost completely explicit, or codified,
structured, and accessible to people other than just the indi-
viduals originating it. Most knowledge, of course, exists be-
tween these extremes. Explicit elements are objective, rational,
and created in the “then and there,” while the tacit elements are
subjective, experiential, and created in the “here and now”
(Leonard & Sensiper, 1998).
Based on this distinction between tacit knowledge and ex-
plicit knowledge, studies began to focus on the transformation
between the two kinds of knowledge, since the transformation
involves learning activities through the engagement of learners.
The concept of the “knowledge creating company” (Nonaka,
1991) has been discussed, and related models of knowledge
creation have been built, such as Nonaka and Takeuchi’s model
(1995) and Baumard’s model (1999).
2) Models of knowledge creation. As mentioned, most dis-
cussions on the transformation between tacit knowledge and
explicit knowledge are related to the organizational context
(Smith, 2001). Although the distinctions of organizational con-
text and educational context exist, the models of knowledge
creation have demonstrated that learning is a dynamic process
of dialogue and practice. So they provide a powerful insight
into a peer collaborative learning context, and their implications
can help educators obtain a better understanding of teaching
One of the early models was constructed by Nonaka and Ta-
keuchi (1995). This model shows how the two categories of
knowledge that form the “knowledge spiral” interact (Figure 1)
(Corsi et al., 2006). A knowledge spiral is grounded in four
complementary types of knowledge conversation: a) from tacit
to tacit knowledge, labeled socialization; b) from tacit to ex-
plicit knowledge, called externalization; c) from explicit to
explicit knowledge, or combination; and d) from explicit to
tacit knowledge, or internalization.
As explained by Paavola et al. (2 004), the knowledge creation
spiral starts from socialization and sharing tacit knowledge and
experiences at the group level. In this phase, close interaction
Nonaka and Takeuchi’s model.
and collaboration within a group is needed. The aim of the so-
cialization process is to create a common understanding and
trust within group. The next phase, externalization, is the cen-
tral one in knowledge creation. In this phase, tacit knowledge is
explicated and conceptualized by means of metaphors, analo-
gies, and concepts. In Nonaka and Takeuchi’s model, the basic
source of innovation is tacit knowledge, which needs to be
explicated in order to be transformed into knowledge that is
useful at the levels of the group and the whole organization. At
the combination stage, units of already-existing explicit know-
ledge are combined and exchanged. Finally, to have real effects
in an organization, the explicit knowledge of the group or or-
ganization must be internalized by individuals and transformed
into tacit knowledge and into action through “learning by do-
ing.” After internalization, a new round of the knowledge spiral
Nonaka and Takeuchi’s work has been broadly accepted, es-
pecially in the area of organizational management (Corsi et al.,
2006). Collaboration can be viewed as a personal philosophy
required for group interaction, and cooperation as a (set of)
structure(s) facilitating group performance (Strijbos & Martens,
2001). As pointed out by Paavola et al. (2004), a knowledge-
creation approach to learning conceptualizes learning and
knowledge advancement as collaborative processes for deve-
loping shared objects of activity. Learning is not about concep-
tualized processes occurring in individuals’ minds, or about
processes for participation in social practices; instead, learning
is understood as a collaborative effort directed toward develop-
ing some mediated artifacts, broadly defined as including
knowledge ideas, practices, and material or conceptual artifacts.
As Corsi et al. (2006) said, we know only at the moment in
which we need to know: knowledge is quintessentially contex-
tual and is triggered by circumstances. Therefore, Nonaka and
Takeuchi’s work has been developed based on the above con-
siderations, and the interaction between individual knowledge
and group knowledge has been emphasized by, for example,
Baumard’s model (Baumard, 1999) (Figure 2).
Recent studies support the claim that a group should be
viewed as a learning environment, because apparently specific
characteristics of groups affect individual group members,
group interaction processes, and group performance (Strijbos &
Martens, 2001). Baumard’s model can be used to explain group
learning. In Figure 2, the roles of collective knowledge have
been emphasized. In diverse groups, the basic resources of
groups reside in their members. Members bring knowledge,
skills, and abilities to the group, without which the group task
cannot be accomplished (Nijstad & Paulus, 2003). In addition,
it is important to note that the four types of knowledge conver-
sation form a spiral, not a circle. In the spiral of knowledge
creation, the interaction between tacit knowledge and explicit
knowledge and between individual knowledge and group
knowledge is dynamic and iterative. The spiral becomes larger
in scale when the interactions happen, because the new know-
ledge is created during the interactions.
A social-cultural perspective, coming from discussion of the
two models above, therefore emphasizes ideas developed
through collective as well as individual efforts. It is through
joint engagement that ideas are argued over, contested, bor-
rowed, and shared as our understanding is advanced. Such un-
derstanding is a dialogical phenomenon, and its achievement a
fundamentally social and collaborative process. Within this
perspective, knowledge and meaning are co-constructed as joint
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 395
C. F. ZHOU, L. L. LUO
Baumard’s model with four types of knowledge. Notes on Baumard’s
model: Firstly, knowledge which is explicit and individual provides
techniques that allow us to counter nets and traps. Secondly, through
collective and explicit knowledge we achieve profound knowledge of a
terrain, the environment, rules, and laws. Thirdly, knowledge which is
tacit and collective is of the unspoken, invisible structure of a practice.
Lastly, knowledge can be tacit and individual; where tacit expertise is
complemented by “hard” technical knowledge—a sort of inimitable
technical skills. These four forms of knowledge are indissociable.
interactional accomplishments. Learning is thus characterized
as a process of participation and engagement in shared activi-
ties. This perspective also directs us to relate the interactional
processes observed to particular institutional and cultural con-
texts in which the collaboration occurs. The implications are
that educational success, and failure, may be explained partly
by the quality of educational dialogues rather than just being
the result of the intrinsic capability of individual students or the
didactic presentational skills of individual teachers and/or the
quality of the educational methods and materials being used
(Rojas-Drummond et al., 2008).
Relationship between Group Creativity and
Creativity and knowledge are not opposed to each other,
even though an overemphasis on current knowledge can some-
times smother creativity. On the contrary, creative thinking
cannot happen unless the thinker already possesses knowledge
of a certain reach and/or of a well-structured kind. However,
the earlier studies on relationships between creativity and
knowledge were discussed from cognitive or psychological
perspectives (Weisberg, 1999). For example, Amabile (1989)
summarizes her views on creativity in the context of a discus-
sion of how to increase the chance of raising children who can
think creatively. She presents the following as some the think-
ing styles that are often observed in creative adults and children:
1) breaking set, that is breaking out of your old patterns of
thinking about something; 2) breaking out of scripts, which is
much the same thing; and 3) perceiving freshly, that is, chang-
ing one’s old ways.
Recent studies on group creativity have focused more on re-
garding individuals as a potential resource for group products
than on considering individual cognitive processes. As Nijstad
and Paulus (2003) emphasized, the knowledge of a collection of
individuals is, in principle, larger than the knowledge of one
individual, and the set of skills and abilities possessed by the
group is larger than the set of skills and abilities possessed by
an individual group member. One could therefore argue that
groups have creative potential—because individual knowledge,
skills, and abilities are combined, the group has the potential to
be more creative than its separate members. However, a group’s
creative potential also depends on the level of diversity. As
Moran and John-Steiner (2004) suggested, collaborators are not
homogeneous people, but rather individuals with different per-
spectives, expertise, conceptualizations, working methods, tem-
peraments, resources, needs, and talents. The interaction of
these differences forms the foundation which enables the dy-
namic of collaboration to unfold. In addition, tacit knowledge
in group innovation has been emphasized. Leonard and Sen-
siper (1998) pointed out that one form of collective tacit know-
ledge encompasses the entire production system, allowing indi-
viduals to contribute to innovation without explicit communi-
cation because they understand at a systemic level how all the
individual operations in an organization fit together.
However, any new idea can be a potential start for learning
new knowledge. Thus, creativity is an inspirational force that
generates new ideas or produces novel combinations of existing
ideas, leading to further solutions or a deeper understanding
(Pahl et al., 2007). As Craft (2005) emphasizes, we can see
creativity as, effectively, offering students opportunities to
shape new knowledge. In this sense, group creativity could be
viewed as a driver of the spiral of knowledge creation models.
In other words, knowledge creation does not start from scratch
but is a process of transforming and developing—sometimes in
a radical way—existing ideas and practices (Paavola, Lipponen,
& Hakkarainen, 2004). Creative ideas motivate and direct the
transforming process, since any learning activities seek the
pursuit of newness. As Bereiter and Scardamalia (1993) sug-
gested, creative expertise is the continuous effort of going be-
yond the current level of accomplishment and working at the
edge of one’s competence to adapt to the progressively chang-
ing requirements of the environment. So in groups, creativity
and learning are closely related. It is impossible to distinguish
between the processes of participation, interaction and response,
and creative activity and learning (O’Hear & Sefton-Green,
Empirical Methods for Studying Group
According to Grossen (2008), about 30 years ago when pio-
neering scholars began to study the role of peer collaboration in
development and learning, they were quite confident that they
would be able to identify the conditions which promote effi-
cient collaboration and that, once these conditions had been
identified, collaborative work could be transferred into the
classroom. Unfortunately, it soon appeared that the conditions
which enable collaboration to be effective were much more
complex than expected, and were related to a number of dimen-
sions such as interpersonal relationships, the characteristics of
the task, the quality of talk, social and institutional contexts, the
students’ definition of the situation and task, and so on. Hence,
researchers found that their empirical methods needed to be
diversified in order to achieve a comprehensive view of peer
collaboration in context. Both quantitative and qualitative views
coexist in group creativity studies, and these are described in
Quantitative Approaches to Group Creativity
The quantitative view is that creativity can be said to consist
of one or more factors which people may possess in varying
amounts. The quantitative view is a basic tenet of the research
Copyright © 2012 SciR es .
C. F. ZHOU, L. L. LUO
that uses psychometric tests of creativity (Goncalo & Staw,
2006). As Punch (2009) said, the early social scientists, espe-
cially those in psychology and sociology, were impressed by
the progress of the natural sciences, especially the method of
building knowledge. They saw the core of the scientific method
as two things—the experiment and measurement. Thus, in the
most general terms, quantitative research does three main
things: 1) it conceptualizes reality in terms of variables; 2) it
measures these variables; and 3) it studies relationships be-
tween these variables. Thus variables are central concepts in
quantitative research. Two main strands have been developed
within the fields of quantitative design and data analysis (Punch,
The comparison-between-groups strand, based on the ex-
periment, and with the t-test and analysis of variance as its
main statistical feature.
The relationships-between-variables strand (correlational
survey), based on non-experimental reasoning, with corre-
lation and regression as its main features.
The two strands have been used in group creativity research.
For example, efforts to use the first strand have been made by
researchers such as Goncalo and Staw (2006), Kurtzberg (2005),
Choi and Thompson (2005), and Jung (2001). According to
Mayer (1999), three important characteristics of the experi-
mental approach are 1) controlled environments, in which re-
searchers present creativity problems to people in artificial
contexts; 2) quantitative measurement, in which researchers
make quantitative measurements; and 3) cognitive task analysis,
in which researchers analyze the component processes involved
in creative-thinking tasks. Although the experime ntal approaches
reduce the complexity surrounding creativity and thereby allow
sound inferences to be made about causality, they may lack
results that can be generalized to explain real creative thinking.
This is because creativity may depend on spontaneity, which is
contrary to control.
In contrast, the second strand focuses on large-scale studies
in a given organizational, social, or cultural environment. Stud-
ies based on this strand have been carried out such as those of
Bain et al. (2001), Pirola-Merlo and Mann (1962), and Fiedler
(2004). A series of models or tools for measuring creativity
have been developed, for example, specific instruments for
assessing climate or impact of environment on creativity, such
as the Working Environment Inventory (WEI) (Amabile &
Gryskiewicz, 1989) and Creative Climate Questionnaire (CCQ)
(Ekvall, 1987). Studies of this strand have deepened the under-
standing of group creativity as a complex phenomenon because
of the many influencing factors on group creativity and their
relationships. However, both strands emphasize the precise
measurement of creativity for research purposes in artificially
contrived settings, which demonstrates the limitation of quanti-
Qualitative Approaches to Group Creativity
In contrast, the qualitative view focuses on the life stories of
creative people and, unlike quantitative research, most research
can be naturalistic in terms of studying people in their natural
settings. As Craft (2005) pointed out, since the 1990s, the meth-
odology for investigating creativity has shifted from large-scale
studies which aim to measure creativity, toward ethnographic
and qualitative approaches to research which focus on the ac-
tual sites of operation and practice, situating creativity in the
specifics of the underlying disciplines, and in the social and
cultural values and practices of the particular setting.
The main alternative paradigms within qualitative research
include positivism, post-positivism, critical theory, and con-
structivism, but there are finer distinctions than these and more
detailed subdivisions. From a qualitative view, research, like
other things people do, is a human construction, framed and
presented within a particular set of discourses (and sometimes
ideologies), and conducted in a social context within certain
sorts of social arrangements, which especially involve funding,
cognitive authority, and power (Punch, 2009). Thus, peer col-
laboration is the core of studying group creativity. However,
qualitative research is a complex, changing, and contested
field—a site of multiple methodologies and research practices
(Punch, 2009). Therefore, it is not a single entity, but an um-
brella term that encompasses enormous variety. As Grossen
(2008) suggested, researchers working on group creativity have
employed various methods from different disciplines: naturalis-
tic observations, field notes, ethnographic approaches, dis-
course analysis, questionnaires, interviews, and so on. Case
studies help bring the hidden mental processes of well-known
creative collaboration into the public realm through actions,
dialogues, the use of tools, and studies of work in progress
(Moran & John-Steiner, 2004). The expanded set of methods is
grounded in the researcher’s ambition to capture group creati-
vity as a comprehensive phenomenon (Grossen, 2008).
However, no single approach may be able to provide a com-
plete theory of creativity. To some extent, the qualitative view
of group creativity is too soft because it emphasizes qualitative
descriptions of a few highly selected cases in authentic settings.
Therefore, creativity research needs to be based on the creative
use of research methodologies. As suggested by Mayer (1999),
an important challenge for the next 50 years of creativity re-
search is to develop a clearer definition of creativity and to use
a combination of research methodologies that will move the
field from speculation to specification. Although some efforts
have been made to mix quantitative and qualitative methods,
the newer combined approach has not yet had a major impact
on the field, but it may provide a more comprehensive under-
standing of creative collaboration. Thus, group creativity re-
search needs further exploration by combining diverse disci-
plines and methods.
In order to provide a framework for both the theoretical un-
derstanding and empirical studies of group creativity in a
learning context, this paper has reviewed literature focusing on
1) creativity theory development from individual to group level;
2) understanding group creativity and knowledge creation, and
their relationship within a social-cultural framework; and 3) the
methodology of group creativity study. The new insights pro-
vided by sociology research are driving creativity theory to
broaden the scope and levels of its research. The current group
creativity research focuses mainly on three aspects: group crea-
tivity in context, group-level creative synergy, and strategies for
developing group creativity. Knowledge creation is a social
process that involves knowledge conversations between tacit
knowledge and explicit knowledge, and between individual
knowledge and group knowledge. Group creativity can viewed
as the driver of knowledge creation; however, individual
knowledge is the potential resource to develop group creativity.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 397
C. F. ZHOU, L. L. LUO
These points lead to a series of questions that it would be valu-
able to explore further such as the following: What factors in-
fluence individual creative contributions at the group level in a
specific learning environment? What environmental factors
influence group-level creative synergy? From a knowledge-
creation view of group creativity, what elements are necessary
for building a learning environment conducive to creativity? As
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proaches that include a diversity of methods can be employed
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