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Curiosity in Learning: Tactics to tap into the learner in us all

I often find, when online or in discussions with others, that I stamp down my curiosity. They tell me of a great article they’ve read or a documentary they’ve watched, and though my innate desire to learn gravitates towards the information, I push it out of my mind. “I simply don’t have time,” I say to myself. “When would I possibly fit in watching that [playing that, reading that]?”  Then I miss out on amazing opportunities to learn and experience. And, when I do take the extra minute and a half to click on a link or explore a Google Doodle, I invariably love every second of it and learn something. And feel guilty for almost missing out.

But what if—picture this—the research and learning you had to complete for work satisfied that curiosity? Or what if the content was so innovative and, frankly, just so cool that you were the one passing on new information to your friends? Rather than suffering through the 60 minutes of death-by-PowerPoint, what if you got to self-explore and research and find things and learn to apply them?

While I let my rhetorical questions hover for a minute (I know, I can’t believe I used them either), let’s take a path down the curiosity highway. The famous Karl Kapp has published time and again about why gaming elements—such as curiosity—matter to instructional design. If we tap into learners’ innate hunger to explore, we can provide them learning they will appreciate and apply. Game designers do this all the time—they provide higher levels and new environments and additional assets to keep the gamer engaged. Heck, even Plants vs. Zombies brings in zombies with rubber ducky floaties to mix things up.

But outside of a game, there are dozens of tactics for tapping into our curiosity as learners within a classroom or digital training session. If things are starting to feel a little stale, it could be time to mix it up and reignite your learners’ curiosity.

  • Web exploration
  • Games and challenges
  • Stories
  • Real examples
  • Repository of microlearning for self-guided learning
  • Brief, documentary-type videos
  • Simulations
  • Self-reflection
  • Layered web interactions
  • Team reflection
  • Infographics
  • Clickable-state activities
  • Apps with multiple functionalities
  • Smartphone integration
  • Data visualization

What we’ve found at Allen is that the more robust the user experience, the more quickly we’re tapping into learners’ curiosity. And that leads to happy learners, less wasted time, and actual behavior change.