Did Learner Curiosity Kill The Valedictorian?

Learner Curiosity And Achievement  

History tells us that our greatest political, social, and business leaders were usually average students – but were instead exceptional in most of the ways that count in adulthood. Natural leaders have a high EQ (emotional intelligence), leadership skills, paradigm-breaking problem solving abilities, and a breathtaking ease with risk. Bill Gates, John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Jefferson, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, and George H.W. Bush are all examples of average students –or even dropouts!– whose post-school careers have shaped our world. Whether born or made, entrepreneurs learn by doing, by trying and possibly failing, and by innovating the new, not accepting the usual. So how do entrepreneurs who are creating courses for their peers reach and engage adult learners who weren’t A-students in their youth? By firing up the engine that drives passion, interest, and concentration: Curiosity. Let us see how to use learner curiosity to everyone’s advantage.

Performance And Learner Curiosity

When students are young, they have little to no control over their curriculum. Their level of achievement can vary, but the subjects they take don’t. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are delivered in measured doses, and students, with very rare exceptions, move along in a linear fashion. Of course, a solid educational foundation is a key to life in our modern society, but some students can’t focus on grades to the disadvantage of their own passions. Earning As within the academic structure isn’t compelling enough to engage them. As adults, of course, these learners choose what they learn and from whom, and any would-be course builder must accept that the only leverage possible is learner curiosity.

While in academic settings, performance is often measured by a grade, in non-institutional coursework, the measurements are both more abstract and more serious. For example, a new employee needs the information that the company training provides – or they can’t perform in their new job. And although these kinds of courses may include assessments, students who purchase courses from entrepreneurs are more likely to evaluate their own success in terms of experience and outcome. Experience refers to whether or the course held their attention, and outcome refers to whether they learned what they expected to learn, or not. This success is based partially on the way the material is presented, but also on how interested the student is in a successful result. In the context of a course purchased from a peer, the student is a customer as much as they are a student, which alters the student-teacher dynamic. An entrepreneur building a course to share subject matter expertise can’t rely on the stick of bad grades to motivate their students, but rather inspire the students to want the carrot of a successful outcome. When the principles of customer satisfaction are in play, the course builder must use every tool at their disposal to engage the student’s own drive to learn: Their curiosity.

Building Effective Courses

Fortunately for the would-be course builder, the premise that learner curiosity is a key component of academic performance is a solid one, and the body of knowledge is relevant. Regardless of how success is measured for the adult learner, it’s sensible to conclude that students who are curious will do better than students who aren't. While the course builder can assume to a certain point that if students weren't curious, they wouldn't be signing up for the course in the first place, that only goes so far. There are practical, financial, and professional reasons for taking a course, such as learning a lucrative new skill, satisfying continuing education requirements, or improving their resume. These are practical motives, not intrinsic ones, so their motivation to learn isn’t driven by pure intellectual curiosity.

Lifelong learners, or continuous learners, are the students who thrive on encountering and mastering new knowledge, who gain pleasure from learning, and who consider new ideas vital to living. For these students, your course doesn’t have to engender curiosity; it simply must nurture and sustain it.

So how do you do that exactly? Well, you start by being openly curious yourself. You'll want to ask for input, to ask questions of your content, and avoid asking questions that you just answered. For example, the teaching statement ‘The sky is blue’ after the question ‘What color is the sky?’. But instead, make honest queries that you'd like your students to think about, such as ‘Is the sky the same exact color of blue no matter what country you're in?’ or ‘Why does the sky's shade of blue change throughout the day?’.

Obviously, you should adapt this technique to fit within the framework of your course. You don't want to become so open-ended that you drift away from the main points of your content. But, wherever possible, build in a sense of wonder. Provoke your students into drawing on their past experiences by asking open-ended questions, and encouraging them to see themselves reflected in the material. Using role-playing, case studies, and simulations forces your students to put themselves into the story, and this empathy with the material will stick with them. Share material and resources that are tangential to your topic, but still relevant, so if a train of thought leads them outside the purview of your course, they know how to follow it.

Final Word  

Sharing knowledge with your students when they aren’t as eager to learn as you are to teach is an uphill battle. You can’t force students of any age to absorb and connect with information that they simply aren’t interested in – but if you engage their intellectual curiosity, they will pull you up that same hill with the force of their enthusiasm. Building your course the right way will light a spark in your student that will inspire you both.

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