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How To Unleash The Power of Curiosity For Learning

The most important factor, which I find is hardly ever discussed when looking to create personal, cultural and organisational change, is measuring the current level of curiosity.

In most cases we need to craft curiosity around the outcome you wish to achieve.

You’re probably aware of this already (or I hope you’re at least!) but people are mostly motivated by self interest.

Recognising that we are missing out on something that others in our community are a part of is a massive motivation in taking action.

We don’t always evolve and learn because we want to, but because we fear missing out on what others are doing.

This is why the act of crafting curiosity among your audience, regardless of the product or project you’re working on, is incredibly important in enabling any successful change.

Your local Oxford dictionary defines curiosity as a strong desire to know or learn something.

They say curiosity killed the cat, but for humans, it might just be the key to unlocking growth. 

Making people do stuff which they have little or no vested interest in.

This almost always leads to no changes in current behaviour, mindset and habits.

But, if you can make people just a little curious about that same thing, then you might just have a chance.

To enable a change or moment of growth, people need to have a certain amount of curiosity for that subject. For me, it’s the magic ingredient in making change stick.

Yet, it’s not easy to influence and isn’t exactly something you can build.

I don’t believe curiosity is a skill one develops, it’s more like a behaviour.

One we can encourage through the daily practice of life.

How do I craft curiosity in learning and education?

To understand how to craft more curiosity amongst our audience, we must first recognise its relationship to psychology.

Author of “The World is Flat”, Thomas Freeman (and no the book title doesn’t mean what you think it means) controversially suggested that on the subject of educational achievement, curiosity combined with motivation to learn are more important than intelligence.

This has been one of the more recent focuses on curiosity as a necessary element in learning and growth activities.

Yes, history is littered with psychologists dating back to the 1800’s who’ve made similar observations.

Recent neurological studies have shown that curiosity makes our brains more receptive to learning and enables us to encode better memories of these experiences too.

So, the better we can understand how the mind works and what natural human behaviour dictates, the better we can understand how to craft curiosity with our audience.

In my own experiences, I’ve found that the best way to craft curiosity with learning and education initiatives is to provide the audience with real world context.

Be clear on the benefits to why making a change might just be in their long term interests.

I often like to borrow from the world of neuroscience and use a couple of tried and tested techniques to spark curiosity, examples being:

Recognising the brain is wired for survival and not knowledge 

Our brains are programmed to take on-board the things we need in order to survive.

Back in the day, that would’ve involved how to escape a sabre tooth tiger but today, thankfully, this is more focused on the skills and experiences we need to navigate life and work.

We can spark curiosity in learning by showcasing the importance of gathering knowledge to survive in the infinite career game and navigate what’s still to come. 

We remember things when we feel them 

Think about how often the most vivid memories you have are of those that are attached with the strongest feelings.

Good, bad or meh – we remember it all.

We encode our memories with feelings and these experiences will inform our future behaviour.

So, if you create an experience with the right emotions then it will be hard for your audience to forget.

We actively seek out 5 core emotions

Joy – Fear – Sadness – Anger – Disgust

You may not consciously recognise it but our behaviours are driven by these core emotions.

Just think about your last 24 hours and I’m sure you acted on at least one of these.

When deciding to take action on options presented to us, we decide by asking two things

  1. How will this make me look?
  1. What are other people doing?

Yes, most of us are all that predictable really.

These are useful motivating factors to remember when building your learning communication campaigns too.

Take time to put yourself in the audience’s position and ask these questions:

  • What’s in it for them?
  • Why should they care about this in the grand scheme of life?
  • What are the obvious and not so obvious long term benefits to being curious about said topic?
  • What happens if they don’t do this?

Craft, don’t instruct

There’s a big difference in crafting curiosity and telling people they should be curious.

The latter will never work in any situation.

Classic examples of this come to mind with initiatives around workplace Diversity and Inclusion.

It’s an incredibly important topic and one that I’m personally extremely happy to now see getting the investment it deserves.

Yet, I’ve seen so many organisations fail at getting their people to care deeply about this.

And, in most situations, this has come down to the old hierarchical mis-step of telling people they should and will care, instead of sparking curiosity amongst their community on the importance of this subject through real world context.

When I say real world context, I mean showcasing stories and experiences that the audience can relate to in their day to day.

Providing real examples from their environment which makes them feel something is going to do so much more than any mandated e-learning module (also it’s the 21st century people, can we please stop saying e-learning!).

Before the solution, assess the appetite

To sum it all up, I believe you can break down the process of crafting curiosity into these sections:

  1. What is the current appetite from your audience on x subject?
  2. Does your culture have a fixed or growth mindset?
  3. What can you do to craft the curiosity needed to enable a successful change?

Next time you’re tasked with creating a cultural change and/or delivering a learning project, take a step back.

Before engaging in any solutioneering, ask the golden question – what is the curiosity to learn and adopt this change in our community? What can we do to craft more of it?

Including this as part of your design approach might just provide the successful outcome you’re seeking.


Research paper: Stimulating curiosity to enhance learning (University of Sheffield)

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