I’ve written about music previously and the tremendous impact it can have on learning. In the book “This Is Your Brain on Music:The Science of a Human Obsession” I heard (I listened to it in audio form) the author explain just one of the reasons that Stevie Wonders Superstition is so catchy. Our brains look for patterns and during the short drum intro to the song Stevie doesn’t stick to the type of rhythm that we’d expect. He adds a lot of flair to the symbol portion and this messes with our brain. The brain expects a natural rhythm and he gives us something else and our brain doesn’t know what just happened, it’s not a pattern. This natural mental feature is why we see a man in the moon, why some clouds look like a rhino eating a donut, and why Jim Carrey goes crazy in the film The Number 23. We need to make sense of the world and to look for familiar patterns and logic in places where there may be none. When we don’t see those patterns we can become…curious.
This need to understand is what drives us to do many things.
Curiosity is one of conduits through which we accomplish a great many things. To incorporate curiosity in a learning scenario would be natural, if not inherent. As it turns out this in not the case.
In some cases we’ve put the cart before the horse by pushing information instead having it pulled from us. It’s providing a mystery to tap into this natural motivator, curiosity.
How can we do this? You don’t need to be psychic but you will need to get a bit into the heads of your learners. What is something that they will find interesting? You have to know roughly what their previous experience is and their current knowledge level. Science class is perfectly suited for this. “Well, here is an interesting chemical reaction. Why does it do that?” or “what set of circumstances would you need to have a penny and a feather fall at the same rate of speed?” This taps into our natural curiosity and understanding of the natural laws of the world. We can approach this with our WIIFM statements. We tell learners why they will benefit from being in our session and the get their engagement but we don’t necessarily tell them how.
Take a page out of the J.J. Abrams book of Lost and provide a mystery that is related to the material. Take the craziest most interesting thing that you’ll be talking about in that session and make a 2 or 3 sentence story about it that sets up a set of circumstances and explains them (Sherlock Holmes was a great example) and then remove the explaining portion. Boom! Teaser!
The Gap, itself, is the official gap between the current level of knowledge that the learner has and their desired level of knowledge. George Loewenstein is a really smart guy who stood on the shoulders of giants, as they say, to come up with a lot of really cool information on the topic. I can’t say that I’ve read it all but what I have read, make curiosity seem a bit more difficult to sum up in a blog post. I say another paper that explored the impact of the size of the gap and the difference that confidence levels have on long term learning and success. I got through most of it but there was quite a bit of stats type stuff in it. Not my bag. What was clear was that too large of a gap and it’s discouraging, too small of a gap and it’s not a challenge so why bother? Like Goldilocks, the gap has to be just right and that’s where the hard work comes into play. You need to know your audience to put something out there that is in that just right category. I have no formula, but I think it warrants some serious consideration and I think you’ll be able to find the value in it as a tool to get more learner engagement. If you’re using it and have had success, please let me know! I’d love to share some best practices.
As far as what’s behind both the moon landing and the God-particle? Curiosity, my friend. It’s pretty much behind everything.