The Key to Learning

By: Dr. Daniel Leu

As a college student, you have decided to further your education. You want to improve your knowledge, gain skills, and grow your network. However, you are struggling to learn and don’t understand why. You have a strong memory, good comprehension skills, and a solid communicator, but you simply can’t retain information in some of your classes. 

The key to learning lies in a trait we all possess, but unfortunately, many of us lose along the way to adulthood. That trait is curiosity, and curiosity generates interest. 

From the moment we are aware of our environment, we are curious. Once an infant discovers their own hands and fingers, they start exploring. They’ll see their own and reach for them out of curiosity. Putting anything and everything into their mouths while exploring is natural. As they get older, they start observing their surroundings. Pay attention to their eyes and expressions; they focus entirely on objects, actions, and sounds. As toddlers, they will start pushing buttons, reaching up shelves, and sticking objects into the outlet because of curiosity. When they can start talking, that’s when the fun begins. Parents will be bombarded with ‘why’ questions.

“Why is the sun yellow?” “Where does the choo choo train go?”, “How do planes fly?” “Why can’t I breathe underwater?”

Their innate curiosity drives children to observe, explore, and learn. Give a child a stick and take them to the forest, and they can spend hours exploring, digging, and observing leaves, insects, and anything they can get their hands on. They’ll ask their parents questions about everything they saw or collected and want to read about it when they go home. Their curiosity is the catalyst for their desire to learn. But unfortunately, as children get older and have more responsibilities, society has forced us not to be curious. People will consider you noisy or annoying if you ask too many questions. If they spend time exploring interests unrelated to your studies, they waste their time. 

Luckily for us, curiosity never leaves but merely gets stored away. But how do we rekindle our curiosity? 

Think about a hobby or activity you enjoy. Let’s use golf as an example. You just started playing golf not too long ago because you were curious why your friends enjoyed it, but now you are capitvated. Therefore, you buy a start set of clubs and visit the driving range more frequently. Within a month, you’ve been bitten by the golf bug. You decide it’s time to upgrade your set but are not ready for a custom fit, so you start researching by reading Golf Digest equipment and reviews online to find the ideal set for your situation. YouTube has become your most used app, and you have all your favorite PGA tour players’ slow-motion swings saved in your favorites. But it doesn’t stop there because you frequent your local golf shop, talk to the staff, test putters, and try different gadgets. 

Your curiosity triggered the avalanche of research into your newfound hobby. You fell into the rabbit hole of golf swings and equipment because your curiosity urged you on. Imagine if you could apply this attitude towards everything you study and learn; you’d be a sponge of knowledge. 

How do I rekindle my curiosity?

First, you must acknowledge and realize that curiosity is an innate ability, and although it may have been hidden for years, it’s still within. Next, you need to identify the topics, activities, and subjects that capture your attention because you will need these to be the anchoring points. Then, you must establish or create connections between the subjects you’re learning and your interests. Once you can correlate what you’re studying with what you like, the learning becomes natural. 

For example, you find statistics boring and irrelevant, but you enjoy playing fantasy sports. Apply the concepts you’ve learned in class to help you analyze your fantasy team and potential trades. Physics is not your cup of tea, but you like cycling. Understanding that reducing body weight, when to apply force into the peddles, and which gears to use will make cycling more efficient. Maybe English 101 seems like a mundane and useless class. Then, you should use the course to adjust existing or test new writing styles. 

Once the fire of curiosity has been extinguished, it is not easy to rekindle; however, like a candle, it requires a strong spark. But unlike a candle, the fire of curiosity will only burn brighter the more you use it. Learning will become natural and effortless with curiosity because it will no longer feel like a task or responsibility. Instead, learning will become a puzzle you want to solve with endless variations.