Imaginative Education

Imaginative Education (IE) is a way of teaching, and of working with the curriculum, that reliably taps into students’ emotional and imaginative lives. IE pays attention to how the human imagination works and changes throughout the process of child development; it employs the learning tools—or “cognitive tools”—that engage and develop imagination, not only in children of all ages, but also in adults.

Unlike many approaches to education, IE is focused on how people acquire lasting understandings of the world. The imaginative educator values and builds upon the way the child understands her or his experiences, rather than always focusing on the “adult” way of understanding as the measure of learning. To do this, educators themselves must be imaginative and sensitive to dimensions of learning that they may have never thought of as relevant to education.

Teaching with IE takes practice, yet the rewards are immense. Students who previously were disengaged from learning will suddenly display unexpected aptitudes and strengths. Topics which previously seemed lifeless become charged with meaning and possibility. This approach to teaching is for students of all ages in all contexts—Pre-K through graduate school, formal schooling, home education, and all kinds of alternative educational settings.

In brief, the IE teacher:

  • shapes topics into narrative or story-form in order to evoke emotion;
  • employs powerful imagery, humour, and bodily engagement;
  • reveals the extremes, limits, and mind-boggling aspects of reality;
  • evokes transcendent qualities and awe-inspiring aspects of topics;
  • embeds ideas into the powerful world of theory;
  • conveys the emotional significance of topics;
  • engages the emotions of teachers and students.

Imaginative Education is founded on the work of Dr. Kieran Egan (1942-2022), a professor of education at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, Canada. You can read more about Dr. Egan’s work here.

From 2001-2015, the Imaginative Education Research Group developed workshops, graduate programs, conferences, teacher resources and other means of supporting learning, teaching and research in Imaginative Education. We have brought together some of the best of these resources in these pages:

Imagination in educational development

To engage with a topic imaginatively is to feel something about the topic. And because memory is shaped to a considerable extent by feeling, we are more likely to remember knowledge that has an emotional dimension. Human cultures have developed tools to help us do this more effectively.

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Imagination in the classroom

This section offers resources for teachers interested in learning more about Imaginative Education or trying it out in their classrooms. It covers the meaning and application of “cognitive tools,” the use of planning frameworks, and the value of Learning in Depth as a curriculum strategy.

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Imaginative Education in action

This section features three kinds of content written by teachers. There are general commentaries on the experience of using Imaginative Education in clasrooms, examples of subject-specific IE lessons and units, and more in-depth accounts of “action research” involving IE.

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Imaginative Ecological Education

Imaginative ecological education (IEE) aims to nurture students’ personal relationships with the natural and cultural contexts in which they live through frequent engagement of the body, emotion, and imagination in learning. To achieve this, the possibility for emotional and imaginative engagement offered by the cognitive tools approach as outlined in Kieran Egan’s theory of Imaginative Education (IE) is paired with focused attention on engaging the body and context.

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Further Research in Imaginative Education

As with other educational approaches, Imaginative Education has been taken up, explored, adapted and further developed in many different contexts, only a few of which have been documented. By putting together a searchable database of books, articles, research reports, theses and other publications, we hope to make it easier for educators, graduate students, university faculty and independent researchers to orient themselves in the field.

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Are you using IE in your classroom, or engaged in related research? Let us know via the feedback form below!