Curiosity primes deep, wide learning; innovation, too

The start of a new year is a good time to consider a new learning path or plan for the coming year. What’s yours? What are you most curious about? What are you committed to exploring or investigating?

This decision is yours to covet, just as it is for everyone. After all, each of us has our own unique learning itches to scratch, reflecting our interests, passions and life-stories that help to prime our curiosity about, well, whatever.

The same is true for our children and students, whose learning impulses are just as strong as ours and possibly stronger. This possibility reflects insights from researchers who consider curiosity an innate, even instinctual disposition that calls the youngest child to seek to learn about the world around them.

Initially, curiosity guides babies and toddlers to explore a world of finite experiences but, with time, that world expands, again and again, until the teen is looking at the Milky Way or the ocean depths and conceptualizing those worlds.


We’re born with a curious mindset, the same disposition that inspired Steve Jobs to design and tinker with the first Apple computers with a few like-minded people.

Everyone of us does this if our curiosity is not impeded or boxed in for some reason.  With curiosity as the main driver, it’s no wonder that the learning that unfolds from this simple but important gesture is so potent. Curiosity is also the seedbed of tinkering and experimentation, primed by a wondering of “what if …?”  that ultimately drives a cycle of  innovation.

In SelfDesign, the school I helped to co-found, we seek to prime curiosity by enfranchising learners of all ages to declare for themselves what they are most curious about. Then, with the help of SelfDesign educators, learners co-craft learning plans around exploring these interests. Subsequently, we support these plans with ongoing encouragement and resources where applicable.

Unfortunately, that’s not the outcome for many children experiencing conventional schooling where curricula too-often thwarts curiosity, insisting that a child’s urge to explore and discover take second place to some other agenda. This might meet the limited, short-term goals of an educational authority but it has the unfortunate result of shutting down a kind of learning that many experts today say is key to a prosperous, sustainable future, as well as a kind of learning reflecting an intelligence with which we were born. This is also at odds with the Hacking, Making and DIY movements that have become so popular and fruitful, worldwide.

This coming year I know what I’m doing: Individually, I’m answering the call to scratch my learning itches as I’ve done with much satisfaction in previous years. And, as a SelfDesign educator, I’m listening keenly to my learners to hear of their learning interests, and asking them how I might support them.

I can’t imagine a more exciting start to to a new year.

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