Director The Learning Architect
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Why the key to lifelong learning is developing curiosity

Even in the midst of uncertainty, it’s important to take time to pause. We can use this time to reflect on our path in life and to develop our curiosity, which ultimately is the key to lifelong learning.

22nd May 2020
Director The Learning Architect
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Little boy and girl looking into their fishing net at the wildlife they have found.
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Learning is the eternal gift. Every single day provides us all with so many opportunities to learn and grow. Life is one big adventure in so many ways and when we adopt a curious and open mindset it’s amazing what we can discover. I certainly know from personal experience that curiosity has helped me to be more resilient in challenging times, and life is never boring for a curious person.

Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures.
– Anonymous

In many ways curiosity is the catalyst of innovation. Curious people have an ongoing, intrinsic interest in both their inner experience and the world around them. Curiosity is also the engine of intellectual achievement and those who are more interested in a topic will learn faster and prime the brain better for learning. It is also associated with high performance in both academic and work settings and there is an increasing amount of evidence that suggests that the more you learn, the more you want to learn.

Curious minds are active minds, and active minds become smart minds. Curiosity is associated with intelligence, creativity and problem-solving ability. Curious people cultivate interesting and creative environments for themselves as they seek out new experiences and are open to exploring new ideas and possibilities.

Everyone possesses curiosity to some degree, although people will differ according to the depth and strength of their curiosity and their willingness to act on it. In this article, I’ll offer some suggestions to help you become more curious.

Embrace diversity

Globalisation means that we now work and share our lives with people from so many different backgrounds. We are also working with people across a wide range of age groups. This can be so enlightening and educational and will help you to broaden your perspective by listening and learning from others. Being curious about differences will help you to expand your mind and expose you to other viewpoints, values and beliefs.

Ask open questions

There is a great benefit to asking open questions, i.e. ones that start with why, how, where, what, when, which, who? These types of questions open up opportunities to gain further information and avoid shutting down conversation with closed questions that only require a simple yes or no answer. It is also important to be aware of your tone when you ask questions to ensure that you avoid turning a curious conversation into an interrogation.

Listen

It’s essential to be genuinely interested in what other people have to say. Appreciate that all the time your mouth is open, you are not learning. Do this without making assumptions and judgments so that you can fully absorb all the information. By demonstrating active listening skills through body language and interpersonal skills, you will also encourage the other person to open up to you.

Be present

Being fully present when you are with someone will help you to focus and attend to what someone is actually saying. Switching mobile technology off when you are with them will help you to be mindfully present. Also, quieting your own mind chatter and being calm when you are in any situation will help you to be absorbed in what is actually going on around you. Being mindfully present is something you have to practice, as it’s a very necessary discipline.

Adopt a growth mindset

When you adopt a growth mindset, you understand that even your most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Brains and talent are just the starting point and the potential to learn and grow is an opportunity available to everyone at any age. The ability to learn, unlearn and relearn will help you to keep what you do relevant and useful. Being open-minded and willing to learn are the key ingredients to fresh thinking.  

Be comfortable with not knowing

It would be impossible to know absolutely everything and there will always be something new to learn. You don’t need to be afraid to admit that you don’t have the answer. It doesn’t mean you have failed or lack intelligence. Saying ‘I don’t know, but I can find out’ gives you an opportunity to embark on a whole new chapter of discovery.

The Open University Flexible Learning hub

Be open to surprises

The conundrum with surprises is that too many can make us anxious, but conversely too much certainty in our lives can make things a bit dull and boring. You may well feel comfortable with certainty. In many ways you will feel more alert and alive when you don’t know what’s going to happen next, however. Introducing new situations into your life, talking to strangers, eating new food, or taking a different route, are just small ways that you bring an element of surprise into your life. Learn to be comfortable with uncertainty and surprises because you never know what you might discover.

Let go of the past

It can be easy to get trapped in the past and rely on what you have always done. If you want different outcomes, however, you need to be prepared to let go of the past and not let it affect your future. Starting each day with a beginner’s mindset and looking to the future with an open mind will help you to see every situation you are in from a fresh perspective. Remember that was then and this is now, and every day of your life can be the beginning of a curious new journey.

Take time to pause

Curiosity in many ways comes from intentional pauses. Human beings are creatures of habits in many ways and can get caught up in habitual behaviours that lead them down the same old path and routine. Making time to be more curious and to explore new ways of doing things can be the catalyst to fresh thinking, new discoveries and exciting adventures.

If you would like to read more on curiosity in learning, or explore other topics such as wellbeing, resilience and creativity, you can find Liggy Webb's collection of bite-sized books here.

Interested in this topic? Read Learning culture: why we must champion curiosity and cultivate critical thinking.

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