The ability to think flexibly is important for problem solving and creativity, amd it improves with direct modeling (examples). Flexibility is not the only factor for successful problem solving...selection is equally as important, but it is particularly important in situations in which information is ambiguous or conflicting, or incomplete- and when something totally new is needed.
Based on work by Amabile and others, childrens' fluency of ideas are found to best stimulated in environments that emphasize a great deal of freedom, individuality, playfulness, and ideational risk-taking. We provided links to other papers on encouraging and teaching for flexible thinking, including some more technical papers which look at cognitive flexibility theory.
In work at Oxford (below), Geake and colleagues used the Verbal Similarities task as model for gifted flexible thinking, but we shouldn't forget that that approach only looks at language. Flexibility in visual thinking uses other pathways, and it is possible to be very good at way, but not the other.
We'e also put in a link to an interesting paper involving high functioning autistic kids and young adults. There researchers found that their test subjects were quite strong in 'design fluency' (visual fluency task), and in fact generated as many new visual designs as their controls. What autistic subjects struggled with, though, was language - and for verbal fluency tasks, autistics scored far lower than a globally learning-disabled (retardation) control group.
There's some important stuff here. It's a reminder to us to foster the gifts of autistic students in visual design and problem-solving. Too often we may get preoccupied with their language and social needs, but their visual strengths may help them develop their expertise, interest-based friendships, and careers. In this study, the autistic group had some difficulty intrusive errors on design tasks, but importantly, they could recognize when errors were made. This means that educating for visual strengths should always incorporate at least a 2-step creation process- first generating ideas, then going back to throw out errors and select optimal designs.
Ideational Fluency and Autism
Geake post Fluid Analogies fmri
Cognitive Flexibility, Constructivism, and Hypertext
Flexible Thinking: Learning from real life
Visual Flexibility Current Opinion Neurobio
p.s. Can't remember what brain regions were important for design fluency? Check out our prior post on the Tower of London task here.