ERIC Identifier: ED479842
Publication Date: 2003
Author: Arnone, Marilyn P.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology
Using Instructional Design Strategies To Foster Curiosity.
Educators and instructional designers recognize that instilling curiosity
in students encourages their disposition to learn. When students are magnetized
by a new idea or a new situation and are compelled to explore further,
regardless of external rewards, they can be said to be truly motivated.
In each new project, they discover seeds for a future project or a new
question to examine. Curiosity is a heightened state of interest resulting
in exploration, and its importance in motivating scholarship cannot be
ignored. Curiosity is also a critical component of creativity, and fostering
curiosity and creativity in today's learners is a challenge faced by educators
and instructional designers alike. Before presenting instructional design
strategies for fostering curiosity, it will be helpful to provide some
BACKGROUND AND DEFINING CURIOSITY
Any discussion of curiosity must begin with Daniel Berlyne, considered
to be the seminal mind in the study of curiosity. His neurophysiological
view associated curiosity with exploratory behavior. He identified two
forms of exploratory behavior, diversive (e.g., seeking relief from boredom)
and specific (e.g., uncertainty, conceptual conflict). It is specific curiosity
that is of most interest to educators. Berlyne described specific exploration
in the context of epistemic curiosity, that is, "the brand of arousal that
motivates the quest for knowledge and is relieved when knowledge is procured"
(1960, p. 274). It follows that epistemic curiosity results in specific
exploration. This exploration ultimately resolves the uncertainty or conceptual
conflict and returns the individual to a moderate, pleasurable tonus level.
Although his work was cut short by his untimely death, his accomplishments
paved the way for later investigations into the area of curiosity.
Berlyne's colleague, Day, extended the work, representing it graphically
as a curvilinear relationship between level of arousal (or stimulation)
and efficiency (1982). At the optimal level, a person enters the Zone of
Curiosity characterized by exploration, excitement, and interest. Below
the optimal level, the individual is unmotivated, disinterested, and inefficient.
Beyond the optimal level, the individual enters a Zone of Anxiety with
resulting behaviors including defensiveness, disinterest, avoidance, and
inefficiency. This curvilinear explanation of curiosity was used in later
studies, including in an instructional design context exploring differences
in young learners' curiosity and achievement in an electronic learning
environment (Arnone & Grabowski, 1992; Arnone, Grabowski, & Rynd,
A number of researchers have placed more weight on cognitive and information
processing factors in explaining curiosity (e.g., Beswick, 1968; Malone,
1981). Loewenstein (1994) proposed an information-gap theory of specific
epistemic curiosity where a feeling of deprivation occurs when an individual
becomes aware of a difference between "what one knows and what one wants
to know" (p. 87). Maw and Maw's studies (e.g., 1964) resulted in an operationalized
definition of curiosity that continues to be useful: "...curiosity is demonstrated
by an elementary school child when he: (1) reacts positively to new, strange,
incongruous, or mysterious elements in his environment by moving toward
them, by exploring, or by manipulating them, (2) exhibits a need or a desire
to know more about himself and/or his environment, (3) scans his surroundings
seeking new experiences, and (4) persists in examining and exploring stimuli
in order to know more about them" (p. 31).
Whatever explanation one accepts, it cannot be dismissed that curiosity
is a necessary ingredient for motivating scholarship. In his motivational
design model for enhancing instruction, Keller (1987) acknowledges the
important role that stimulating curiosity plays in gaining and sustaining
learners' attention, the first component of his model. In fact, it has
been argued that curiosity is an equally important factor in each of the
other components--relevance, confidence, and satisfaction (Arnone &
Not everyone is equally curious. Curiosity can be viewed as both a stable
personality feature (trait) and as a condition that can be manipulated
(state). Naylor (1981) describes trait curiosity as individual differences
in capacity to experience curiosity and state curiosity as individual differences
in response to a curiosity-arousing situation.
STRATEGIES THAT FOSTER CURIOSITY IN LEARNERS
Most educators would agree that fostering the scholarly attribute of
curiosity in learners is an important task. Providing students with adequate
guidance while affording them the opportunities for exploration, however,
is probably easier stated than accomplished. As mentioned earlier, not
all students are highly curious, and what might stimulate curiosity in
some students might result in anxiety for others. It becomes the job of
the educator and/or instructional designer to recognize these differences
and control the classroom or other learning environment to accommodate
all learners. With this caveat in mind, the following are ten instructional
design strategies for fostering curiosity.
Strategy 1: Curiosity as a Hook
Use curiosity as a primary motivator at the beginning of a lesson by
starting, for example, with a thought-provoking question or surprising
statement (Small & Arnone, 2000).
Strategy 2: Conceptual Conflict
Introduce a conceptual conflict when possible. Learners will feel compelled
to explore the conflict until it is resolved. When the student has resolved
the conceptual conflict, he or she will have a feeling of satisfaction.
Strategy 3: An Atmosphere for Questions
Create an atmosphere where students feel comfortable about raising questions
and where they can test their own hypotheses through discussion and brainstorming.
(Not only does this foster curiosity, but it also helps to build confidence.)
Strategy 4: Time
Allow adequate time for exploration of a topic. If the teacher has been
successful in stimulating curiosity, then learners will want to persist
in that exploration.
Strategy 5: Choices
Give students the opportunity for choosing topics within a subject area.
For example, in a writing class, the student can explore a topic of his
or her interest while accomplishing the goals of the writing task. Being
allowed to choose a topic that is intrinsically motivating will help sustain
Strategy 6: Curiosity-Arousing Elements
Introduce one or more of the following elements into a lesson to arouse
Learners will desire to explore the source of the incongruity, contradiction,
novelty, and so on, and the resulting information will satisfy their curiosity.
Strategy 7: The Right Amount of Stimulation
Be aware of the degree of stimulation that is being entered into the
learning situation. Remember, there are individual differences when it
comes to curiosity. Some learners will become anxious if the stimulus is
too complex, too uncertain, too novel, etc. (Gorlitz, 1987). They may quickly
leave what Day (1982) refers to as the Zone of Curiosity and enter the
Zone of Anxiety.
Strategy 8: Exploration
Encourage students to learn through active exploration.
Strategy 9: Rewards
Allow the exploration and discovery to be its own reward. "Exploration
is self-rewarding" (Day, 1982, p.19). Use external rewards judiciously
as some studies have shown that extrinsic rewards given for a task that
a learner finds intrinsically motivating may dampen future interest in
Strategy 10: Modeling
Model curiosity. Ask questions. Engage in specific exploration to resolve
a question posed, and demonstrate enthusiasm.
To instill curiosity in students is to encourage their disposition to
learn. To ignore its importance is to risk diminishing, if not losing,
the endowment of curiosity conferred upon all at birth.
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