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Do we encourage our learners to be curious or have we forgotten the power of a curious mind?

Do you consider yourself to be a curious person?

Do you invest quality time to understand and make sense of the world you live in?

If you are reading even this far into this article, then I am sure you are a curious person.

Curiosity is a necessary human endeavour for people to truly learn. It is curiosity that drives and sustains real and immersive learning. How many of us have started a quick online Google search only to find ourselves lost in time an hour or hours later absorbed in something quite distant from where we started our search? This is curiosity at work, it becomes all-consuming and extends our capability for active learning.

Albert Einstein, perhaps one of the greatest of the twentieth century scientists, fully understood this, and to quote him:

‘The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.’

… and yet also back in the mid twentieth century he saw this as a challenge in formal education and is quoted as saying:

‘It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.’

However, now, I think wisely, curiosity is becoming a central theme that underpins much of the current evolution of the world of organisational learning. Organisational learning professionals are increasingly recognising the power of curiosity and are seeking ways to awaken and foster this natural phenomenon that, as Einstein saw, is being stifled by traditional learning models and methods.

Commentators in the field of learning have been talking for some time now about moving to more of a ‘Learner Pull’ versus ‘Learner Push’ culture. Curiosity is at the heart of this debate.

Notable commentators include Jay Cross and Jane Hart who have written widely on the subject and developed their five-stage maturity model for workplace learning.

Cross and Hart suggest that as organisations mature in their approach to workplace learning they move from left to right in the model and phases. As you move from left to right the focus shifts from formal to informal learning and the level of top down control (i.e. by the learning and development function) decreases. Learning becomes an activity that is just part of the workplace itself and the process happens seamlessly involving all the actors such as peers, colleagues and external networks.

A learner-centric approach demands great attention to the relevance of the learning experience to the learner themselves. Of course, relevance has always been a critical factor for successful learning, and it is now just even more so. This can be particularly difficult to achieve with technology-based learning, such as eLearning, because of the structured nature of the learning design. Relevance is the primary goal behind the current interest in personalised learning. Learning technologists are now successfully applying data analytics and machine learning to the task of creating personalised learning journeys. When working through a personalised learning approach, a learner is not taught everything, but rather through structured and precise interrogation and analysis, they are directed to only study what they need to learn by stripping out what they already know and what is not useful to them.

I suggest that we, as learning professionals, need to be more willing to sacrifice control to achieve true empowerment for our learners. Of course, I am not suggesting we let anarchy prevail, but I am suggesting that we may want to take one or two brave steps that shift the centre of gravity more to the learner, in some respects.