How Curiosity Learning Improves Your Education
Curiosity is a concept that doesn't get much direct attention. And when it does, it sometimes gets a bad press. Everyone has heard the saying, "Curiosity killed the cat," and curiosity is sometimes seen as a threat to productivity and focus, causing an ill-disciplined mind to wander away from its tasks.
And yet science is increasingly showing us that curiosity is an overlooked critical skill. Curiosity actually makes our brains more receptive to learning and helps us to enjoy the process of learning more.
So what is the concept of curiosity learning and how can it help both children and adults to further their education? Well, if you're curious, read on to explore more intriguing questions!
Curiosity in Myth and History
Maybe you learned the story of Icarus at school and what happened when he flew too close to the sun? Or the dire consequences for Adam and Eve when they couldn't resist the apple? Curious individuals in myth often came to a sticky end, perhaps to warn readers against the dangers of challenging authority.
But as the great biochemist and science fiction writer Isaac Asmiov famously said, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’”
Examples of intellectual curiosity include the studies of ancient Greeks such as Archimedes and Hippocrates of the internal structure of animals. This led to the development of the science of anatomy. Many centuries later, Newton's curiosity about rainbows led to the discovery of the laws of reflection and refraction.
Human curiosity has triggered some of the most important discoveries and inventions in history. So we should pay heed to this in our own education and learning and be sure not to neglect it.
What Exactly Is Curiosity?
Curiosity is a fundamental human instinct that motivates innovation and learning. Curiosity can be defined as "the recognition, pursuit, and intense desire to explore novel, challenging and uncertain events."
It's often thought that the approach which schools take these days in teaching our children actually stifles curiosity, instead of encouraging it. But the human brain is designed to be motivated to unravel problems and predict outcomes.
The desire to know what happens next has informed the whole concept of suspense in literature and film. And small children are constantly intrigued by machines and mechanisms, always wanting to figure out how they work. It's this innate desire which has led to many of the major developments of human civilization.
Curiosity, Learning and the Brain
Recent scientific research has demonstrated the role that curiosity plays in learning. But how much do we really understand about this? Let's dive in and find out more about curiosity, learning, and the brain.
Studies conducted at the University of Californa investigated what happens to the brain when the subject's curiosity is aroused. These studies demonstrated that curiosity actually primes the brain and gets it ready for learning. If our curiosity is triggered, it's easier for us to learn and remember unrelated information.
Curiosity sets the brain into a naturally receptive mode. So if a student's curiosity is triggered by something that they're really interested in, they're more likely to absorb information about other things too, which they may not intrinsically find so interesting.
Once curiosity has been sparked, the brain shows increased activity in the regions relating to pleasure and reward. This shows that curiosity makes the learning process much more pleasurable.
So it's a natural human instinct to be curious. Of course, most parents and teachers know intuitively that it's beneficial to foster curiosity and inquisitiveness in children, but the science shows that it also helps students to learn more effectively.
Ways to Encourage Curiosity
We've seen the benefits of encouraging curiosity to enhance learning. But what strategies can teachers and parents use to encourage the curious learner? Here are a few ideas to try out. Many of these ideas are relevant to adult learners too!
If teachers show their own curiosity, this is likely to rub off on their students. If an educator shows enthusiasm for a particular topic, it's likely to trigger interest in that topic for their students, too.
For adults, this is also relevant. If you've just listened to a great podcast or read a great book, telling your friends about it could generate some interesting discussions and you could all learn something new.
Great human discoveries were made by people working together to satisfy their curiosity, then sharing their findings with others. Enthusiasm is catching, so don't hide your passions!
Exhausted parents of toddlers will find it pretty hard to respond with patience and fascination to each of the 300 questions an average four-year-old asks daily. But allowing students' natural curiosity to be heard is critical in developing critical thinking skills.
For older learners too, it's important to cultivate your own learning. Don't ignore the questions that occur to you during the day about aspects of life you don't understand. Challenge yourself to find out how lightbulbs really work, or how many dogs survived the sinking of the Titanic.
Now that we have access to so much information at our fingertips on the internet, there's a world of knowledge out there that you can use to feed your curiosity. Don't lose the passion to learn just because you're no longer in school!
Curiosity-Based Learning is Unstructured
In teaching, the questions students ask may not be the questions that their teachers expect. They might not fit in with the curriculum planned for that day. So it's important to allow some unstructured time to allow for these curious students to explore their questions.
Similarly, for adults, it's just as important to develop a practice of embracing curiosity in an unstructured way. This is how we discover unknown things that challenge and invigorate us in our daily lives.
How to Cultivate Your Curiosity
We have seen that children's curiosity can be fostered and developed through different techniques? But how do we maintain our curiosity into adulthood? There are many different activities to develop curiosity.
Curiosity essentially is the desire to fill a gap in your knowledge or resolve some kind of uncertainty. For this to happen, you need first to acknowledge that this gap exists, then to cultivate the desire to fill the gap. The next step is to seek out information to satisfy your curiosity.
One strategy to cultivate curiosity is to read more. By setting aside regular time to read, and choosing a varied reading diet, you can expand your horizons and stimulate your sense of curiosity further.
You might want to consider signing up for a streaming service for documentaries, such as CuriosityStream, headed up by Clint Stinchcomb. There is a world of content out there to suit just about every interest imaginable, so you can really go to town on finding out more about the world we live in.
Another strategy is to learn from other people in your life. What are they passionate about? What's their area of expert knowledge? Your colleagues' hobbies and interests might surprise you, and you may even discover something you didn't know about your spouse.
The Power of Curiosity
Let's finish up with a cautionary tale of what happens if you stifle curiosity and comply too strictly with expectations and prior plans. Have you ever heard of an explore named Bjarni Herjólfsson? No? That's ok, most people haven't.
He was a Viking Explorer who was sailing from Norway to Greenland in 986 AD when his ship got caught up in a storm. When the storm was over, he and his crew didn't know where they were, but they caught sight of a distant land.
They knew it wasn't Greenland, as there were no mountains and glaciers. All they could see was deep forest. But instead of exploring the new land, as his crew encouraged him to do, Bjarni turned around and sailed away, and made it home to Greenland as planned.
He told his story to a friend some years later, who decided to buy Bjarni’s ship and attempt to retrace the route he'd taken. His friend's name was Leif Erikson, and it is his name which has gone down in history as the first explorer to have sight of the New World. That forested land they had seen in the distance was actually Canada.
Embrace Your Curiosity Now!
Don't be like Bjarni, be like Leif! Embrace the habit of curiosity, and who knows where it might lead you? Cultivating your curiosity can improve your relationships and give you greater fulfillment in every aspect of your daily life.