How Humans Learn: Curiosity

The ADEIL book group has been reading How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching by Joshua R. Eyler. After reviewing fields of psychology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, Eyler saw that humans learn when there is curiosity, sociality, emotion, authenticity, and failure; below are a few takeaways from his chapter on curiosity.

Children are known for being especially curious; it’s how they take in the world and learn life skills while developing. Studies have shown that curiosity in a subject can help memory retention about that subject. Dopamine (a neurochemical associated with pleasure and addiction) has been present alongside moments of curiosity. “Our species has been shaped by nature to be wide-eyed children approaching the world inquisitively from beginning to end, always striving to know more” (p.29).

While curiosity seems to foster learning, in many education settings – and especially as students become older – the desire to achieve higher grades becomes greater than the desire to explore. There is greater incentive in earning points than in pursuing curiosity about a subject. In response to this, Eyler proposes the use of low-stakes assignments and activities. Encourage students to explore a subject, where the primary takeaway is what they explored, not how many correct answers they achieved.

When designing a course, try to think of essential questions and use those to determine the readings and assignments. What do you want students to take away from your courses?

You can encourage curiosity with course discussions by including open-ended questions. Instead of focusing the discussion about what something is, try to focus on why those aspects are important. Eyler also shares an example of a chemistry professor who helps students explore concepts on their own before teaching them; the professor has students construct and deconstruct simple Lego objects while another student times the process. Generally, it takes less time to deconstruct than construct; students are then taught that chemical processes of deconstruction are typically quicker than construction.

Do you have any examples of low-stakes assignments, where students can focus on exploring a subject without fear of what their grade might be?

If you’d like to join the ADEIL book discussion, go to:

Leave a Reply