Curiosity is born from a desire to learn for the sake of gaining new knowledge about a particular subject or idea. In contrast to rote learning practices, curiosity promotes a deeper level of understanding as it motivates a learner to think critically and engage with the material to seek out answers.

Research studies in psychology have proven that curiosity enhances a student’s ability to learn and understand new concepts. But why is this, and how can we harness it in both the classroom and online learning environments?

Students today are constantly using technology to become more active learners, meaning that if their individual curiosity is piqued, they relish the freedom to seek out answers to their own questions and uncover new information.

“When the brain is engaged more, by making a task relevant and interesting, people learn more.”

Amy Reichelt, psychology research fellow at University of New South Wales.

A study conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that curiosity worked to prepare the brain for learning, making students better able to learn and remember not only the answer to the initial curiosity-stimulating question, but also unrelated facts that were presented in the same learning session.

Curiosity plays a vital role in determining how deeply a student engages with the material, as well as with the wider world around them. Here are three ways to incite curiosity to enhance learning in the classroom.

1. Asking questions that stimulate curiosity

Consolidate your students’ learning with a conversational discussion. The best questions to ask are those that begin with ‘why’. Answering these types of questions requires a greater level of engagement than fact-based questions such as who, what, when or where, and is therefore a great way to incite deeper interest.

2. Provide regular feedback

Regular assessment through quizzes and tests helps students to establish what they do and don’t know. Following up these assessments with detailed feedback allows students to identify their knowledge gaps, which is one of the best ways to trigger curiosity. Research has shown that students tend not to be inquisitive when it comes to subjects and theories about which they’re already knowledgeable.

3. Make it okay ‘not to know’

Assessment-based learning can often make students feel like they should know the answer to everything they’re asked, which can contribute to a false belief that they shouldn’t admit when they don’t know something. Reassuring students that it’s okay if they don’t know, and encouraging them to seek out answers by asking questions will foster a strong sense of curiosity. This instills a passion to learn to acquire new information, and not just to pass tests.