Curiosity: 3 Ways to Spark the Learning Brain Bonus Zone

We now know that a layer of emotion enriches memories while they’re being formed and improves recall when we want access to that information later. Emotions like compassion or outrage or the type of hyper attention we have in a potentially dangerous situation trigger richer encoding. But what if the content we want to deliver has nothing to do with babies or injustice or self-preservation?

Consider curiosity.

What we’re learning is that once a brain is in a curious state, it’s not only primed to learn about the ideas that triggered that intrigue — but incidental (including unrelated and potentially boring) information presented proximically as well.

Why is that?

Neuroscientist Charan Ranganath and his team at UC Davis studied this phenom and discovered some interesting new things as they observed curious brains with neuroimaging technology. A curious learner shows increased activity in the midbrain where the pleasure and reward circuitry dispenses dopamine – a feel good chemical – which is why learning things we’re curious about feels so good. The curious brain is now poised in a state of anticipation – leaning forward – intrinsically motivated to learn something new.

Now layer that with the hippocampus firing up its memory making machinery and you’re in the learning brain bonus zone. Learners are active, they’re engaged, and it feels satisfying.

How can you jumpstart curiosity in your learners?

1. Mind the gap. Pose questions along the borders of where learners’ knowledge about a subject leaves off. Inspire curiosity about what’s yet unknown that you will explore together.

2. Introduce a problem. Learning brains like to resolve dissonance. Capture curiosity by solving a challenge together. Bonus: add a social component to get learners talking — allow them the opportunity to discover what peers think about solving the issue and refine their own ideas through interaction.

3. Employ visual metaphor. Brains love striking visuals and they love novelty. Cultivate anticipation around your content with a visual that connects seemingly different concepts depicting a relationship that piques interest. (Visual analogies are powerful attention grabbers and memory hooks – super brain sticky) Say, for example, curiosity lights up a brain like striking a match – light ’em up!

How do you cultivate curiosity in your learning design?

Image credit: flickr / Yashna M

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One thought on “Curiosity: 3 Ways to Spark the Learning Brain Bonus Zone