You won’t believe how curiosity can transform your training. This post could change your life! You’ll be shocked if you keep reading.

OK, enough of that. But if you’ve spent any time on the Internet, statements like those should look familiar. Certain advertisers use manipulative headlines like these, often called “clickbait,” in a blatant attempt to get more eyes on their posts.

The technique is a bit shameless – but it also works. Why? Because of what researchers call the “curiosity gap.” Dr. Evan Polman from the University of Wisconsin explains: “Evidently, people really have a need for closure when something has piqued their curiosity,” said Polman. “They want the information that fills the curiosity gap, and they will go to great lengths to get it.”

Given that the “curiosity gap” can be a great motivator, Polman began researching how it can be used to promote positive behaviors. And what he found suggests that learning professionals can utilize curiosity to boost learners’ motivation and engagement in workplace learning.

The research

In a series of experiments, Polman and his team wanted to see if curiosity could motivate people to change their routine and engage in positive behaviors.

In one experiment, the researchers tried to increase the use of stairs over the elevator in a campus building. They posted signs with trivia questions by the elevators, with a final sign stating that the answers could be found along the staircase. By piquing people’s curiosity, they boosted use of the stairs by 10 percent.

In a similar experiment, this time using jokes and punch lines instead of trivia questions, they were able to motivate people to walk through the produce section of a grocery store, increasing the purchase of fresh produce by 10 percent.

“Our results suggest that using interventions based on curiosity gaps has the potential to increase participation in desired behaviors for which people often lack motivation,” said Polman. “It also provides new evidence that curiosity-based interventions come at an incredibly small cost and could help steer people toward a variety of positive actions.”

Application

Here are some suggestions of how you can utilize learners’ curiosity to increase motivation and results in your training program.

Inspire curiosity in advance of a learning experience. In the days or hours before a learning event, consider sending out a “teaser” email that will inspire curiosity in your learners. For example, if you’re presenting a new closing technique to salespeople, consider writing something along these lines: “There’s a key closing mistake that you probably made this week. Find out what it is at 3:00 pm tomorrow.” Or if there’s a new time-saving procedure being introduced, consider something like, “One simple technique can reclaim three hours a week of your time — what is it?”

Begin learning experiences with curiosity. At the start of a learning event, consider activating your learners’ curiosity. In addition to introducing the topic in an intriguing way, ask questions. Get learners to think about what they already know about the topic and, more importantly, what they don’t know to highlight the curiosity gap.

Ask questions — and then don’t answer them. At the end of a learning experience, ask follow-up questions that could inspire learners to further explore what they’ve learned. For example, if you’ve just reviewed the new sales closing technique, consider asking, “What if it doesn’t go as planned? How will you respond in order to keep the sale on track?” or maybe “How would you alter this technique based on a specific client’s needs?” These questions will help learners remain curious about how to apply the new information in the real world. If you keep learners thinking about the content, figuring how to apply it and practicing skills on their own, you will help increase knowledge retention and behavior change.

Source: Polman, E., et al. (2016). Using curiosity to increase the choice of “should” options. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2016/08/using-curiosity.pdfe

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