Question: How important is imagination for learning? Drama as a way of learning (developing from dramatic play) is much reduced in schools today. Is there evidence about learning through imagined experience that would be helpful to know for advocacy and teaching purposes?

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  1. Pretty much every skill that we learn is improved by practice. Psychologists and neuroscientists have a very detailed understanding of how practice improves performance of everyday tasks (often based on very tedious experiments involving pushing buttons repeatedly). Merely imagining pushing buttons produces some benefits, but not as much benefit as pushing buttons for real.

    But, not every thing that we want to learn can be easily practiced. For instance, if you are learning how to give a talk or sing in front of a large audience. Practicing your talk or song is obviously important, but this can’t prepare you for the stage fright that comes when you do it for real. In this situation, using your imagination to picture yourself in front of an audience, feeling the fear and controlling your feelings in order to talk or sing can be a very effective strategy for ensuring that you put in a good performance.

    I don’t really know what proportion of the skills that people need to learn cannot be practiced, but certainly using your imagination to support learning can be a good strategy in many circumstances.


  2. A classic TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson discusses the importance of Arts in Education and how cutting back on Arts education is a disservice:

    There is a growing amount of literature in the area of ‘Positive Psychology’ revolving around creativity and imagination as keys to well-being and learning.

    When I was looking for academic literature in the area of imagination and learning I found an interesting book related quite closely to your question. I haven’t read it personally, just a summary of it, but it may be of interest to you: Dramatic Play and Process Drama: Towards a Collective Zone of Proximal Development to Enhance Language and Literacy Learning



  1. Professor Philip Davis at the University of Liverpool has some interesting ideas about how Shakespeare and other famous writers use functional shift to stimulate the imagination of readers. For example, by using semantic and syntactic violations.
    Also, there is evidence accumulating to suggest that metaphor is more common when interacting with others at distance using computer mediated communication. We could speculate that in these circumstances we use metaphor as a substitute for pointing, expressing feelings ( much more powerful than emoticons) etc.
    So yes, imagination is important.