Encouraging curiosity.

Linking pedagogical research to psychological theory, curiosity can be informed by what Lowenstein (1994) has described as ‘information gaps’ which are important in an individual’s knowledge. A prime example in the classroom would be when a student knows the basic structure of a theory or concept, but lacks specific details.

Loewenstein’s theory suggests that the student would then be curious about the missing information and be motivated to fill the information gaps. In addition, it is suggested that curiosity becomes stronger, the closer the individual feels that they are to achieving the knowledge, and that there is a pleasant feeling of satisfaction when information gaps are resolved. Such observations suggest that curiosity may increase learning by motivating individuals to think more about the material being presented, and has obvious links to theories that propose distinctions between deep and surface learning and psychological approaches that suggest deep processing of information results in enhanced learning (Pluck and Johnson, 2011).

Interestingly, curiosity will come into many different forms. Kadshan et al. (2017) identified 5 different types of curiosity: 

  • “Joyous Exploration” Curiosity: You are filled with wonder and fascinated by the world—like when you travel to a new place, discover a new artist you love, or pursue a new hobby. 
  • “Need to Know” Curiosity: You feel uncomfortable because there is a gap in your knowledge, and you have to fill that gap (This dimension is technically called “Deprivation Sensitivity.”) 
  • “Social” Curiosity: You want to know more about another person, so you watch them and talk to them—like when you try to find out what makes your new friend laugh. 
  • “Accepting the Anxiety” Curiosity: You tolerate any uncomfortable feelings that may come with a new experience, and they don’t hold you back. (This dimension is technically called “Stress Tolerance.”).
  • “Thrill Seeking” Curiosity: You take risks because you enjoy new and exciting experiences— You don’t just tolerate the anxiety; you thrive from it. 

 Ava (2018) writing for the UC Berkeley Greater Good Magazine provides ways to promote curiosity in the schoolroom:  

  1. Model and encourage academic risk-taking. We can help pupils by modelling risk-taking in the schoolroom. For example, solve a maths problem with students and allow for mistakes to happen. Show what struggles you might experience when you are trying to advance your thinking. Students need to see us falter, and they need to feel like it’s okay to be unsure of themselves when they try something new.
  2. Normalize fear and anxiety. Mindfulness and self-compassion practices provide us with practical tools for tolerating stress and navigating the frustration, fear, or anxiety associated with trying new things. You can adapt simple practices for your classroom like mindful breathing or self-compassion and give students tools to deal with stress which might yield from the unknown.
  3. Provide challenging group project options. Based on research, we know that curious students do not necessarily get higher grades and test scores unless they believe that school is challenging. Therefore, students’ learning tasks must be challenging (and well-scaffolded), but they should also centre around group inquiry (e.g., experiments, expeditions, and other research) driven by higher-order questions (the why’s and how’s) and supported by cooperative group structures where students can work interdependently.
  4. Link the boring stuff with what pupils want to know. Of course, learning isn’t always fun and exciting; there are some things we just have to know and do, whether we like it or not. For those skills, try to find ways to make learning more enticing. If you need to teach students to write topic sentences or research papers, have them choose something of interest to explore. As mentioned above, providing real world problems which students might feel passionate about will result in some real engagement.  
  5. Let curiosity drive goal-setting and growth. Research suggests that curious people may also be more hopeful and purposeful. Try to think how curiosity can affect students’ long and short-term goals.  In a study, researchers discovered that curiosity makes progress feel more satisfying. In other words, when you meet a goal that is driven by your authentic desire to learn, you may get a more lasting boost in well-being. In this case, your academic goals become less about performance and achievement and more about personal growth.



Ava, A. L. (2018). How to cultivate curiosity in your classroom. Greater Good Magazine UC Berkeley. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_cultivate_curiosity_in_your_classroom [accessed 26.11.2018].  

Friedman, T. (2007). The World is flat: A brief history of the 21st century. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.  

Kadhsan, T. et al. (2018). The Five-Dimensional Curiosity Scale: Capturing the bandwidth of curiosity and identifying four unique subgroups of curious people. Journal of Research in Personality, 73: 130-149. 

Loewenstein G. (1994). The psychology of curiosity: a review and reinterpretation. Psychological Bulletin, 116(1):75-98. 

Pluck, G. and Johnson, H. L. (2011) Stimulating curiosity to enhance learning. GESJ: Education Sciences and Psychology, 2 (19)  http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/74470/1/Pluck_and_Johnson_2011_Curiosity.pdf [accessed 26.11.2018].  

Also see here: 

[opinion piece] How can teachers foster curiosity?  https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/06/04/33shonstrom.h33.html  

[psychological interpretations of curiosity] The Psychology of curiosity: a review and reinterpretation. Psychological Bulletin. https://www.cmu.edu/dietrich/sds/docs/loewenstein/PsychofCuriosity.pdf  

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