Curious Learners are Happy People

Over the years, every individual develops their unique style of learning, influenced by their upbringing, social environment, schooling, and the evolved preferences on ways of learning. Usually, it is a combination of the seven learning styles as we know them to be:

 

Visual: Prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.

 

Aural: Prefer using sound and music.

 

Verbal: Prefer using words both in speech and writing.

 

Physical: Prefer using the body, hands, and sense of touch.

 

Logical: Prefer logical reasoning and systems.

 

Social: Prefer to learn in groups or with people.

 

Interpersonal: Prefer to work alone or self-study.

 

Roles & jobs within an organisation require a combination of learning styles. For instance, design engineers could heavily depend on logical and/or visual learning style but might lack in social learning styles that could cause unease & pressure while working in groups. The elementary process of learning, such as "I can follow only when I see a process document or detail workflow", sometimes becomes a drag for the team trying to move at a fast pace and develop innovative ideas. While such an approach may not work across many industries, this would be perfectly fine in the manufacturing or logistics space. So, there is no perfect style of learning, but then learning is a mindset that is required by an individual to grow.

 

This mindset can be changed by taking deliberate, purposeful steps, and practising in a way that helps imbibe new ways or add to one's capability to learn. The ability & willingness to learn and absorb information that comes from experiences, and apply it to new situations is defined as learning agility. While working with some highly innovative companies over the years, I have noticed that some individuals stand out in their ability to learn, apply, and come up with innovative ideas. When you look closely at them, they can be categorised as 'curious learners' - a trend that is commonly spotted in startup organisations and technology companies succeeding in innovation. The key is to understand what this is and how to ingrain it in the organisational culture.

 

First, why be a curious learner? I recently read an interesting article on Science Daily that cited a research study about how piquing curiosity enhances learning and memory. Three startling findings stated by Dr. Matthias Gruber, lead author of the study were:

 

"Curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it."

 

"Intrinsic motivation actually recruits the very same brain areas that are heavily involved in tangible, extrinsic motivation."

 

"Curiosity recruits the reward system, and interactions between the reward system and the hippocampus seem to put the brain in a state in which you are more likely to learn and retain information."

 

As a non-expert, the way I understood was that a curious learner builds an enormous potential to learn & retain, and is also highly motivated because curiosity triggers the reward mechanism in one's brain. This was very much in line with the cultural foundation we are establishing at our organisation for cultivating 'happy employees'. While many direct and indirect motivators influence a 'happy employee,' the centre of it all is the curiosity of learning.

 

Now the question remains: how to make a person 'curious' at work while continuing to accomplish the mundane tasks of routine jobs, meeting project deadlines, and attending more meetings than there is time? This is what I call the 'crash zone' where good concepts meet with the reality of what is desired and what is practically possible. More often, I have seen many wonderful concepts crash due to the lack of a practical implementation plan. So, it's vital to take a step back and develop a creative plan on how to develop 'curious learner' as a way of working.

 

'Curious learner' is a mindset, and to develop this we have adopted a two-fold strategy at our organisation: one is a conscious effort to understand learning styles and build 'learning agility', and the second is integrating 'design thinking'. This is a simple equation we have developed to drive a 'curious learner' culture for cultivating happy and innovative employees.

 

 

I am very fond of our Vedic heritage and try to derive inspiration from it all the time. Our Vedic literature is filled with narrations of characters, both young and old, who are all excellent illustrations of 'curious learners'. I am sure you can relate this trait to many legendary names we have heard growing up and are ingrained in our culture. One of the most prominent warriors and my favourite is Prince Arjuna, who was one of the greatest archers and an accomplished warrior of his times, but his curious learning style led to the exposition of Bhagwat Gita that helps millions of spiritual seekers today.

 

 

Similarly, there are other examples like Nachiketa's conversation with Lord Yama or Maitreyi as the wife of Sage Yajnavalkya. So, it doesn't matter if you are a super-expert, a successful professional, a child, a woman, or a successful leader, 'curious learner' is within the hearts - we just need to make that mindset mainstream again. Quoting Einstein, "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing". A culture of developing 'curious learners' is going to be a key driver and critical component of the future growth models supporting Artificial Intelligence to become an integrated part of our lives.  

 

References:

Neil Fleming VAK / VARK model

"How curiosity changes the brain to enhance learning." ScienceDaily, 2 October 2014.

Matthias J. Gruber, Bernard D. Gelman, Charan Ranganath. States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit. Neuron, 2014.

Dr. Rakshita Shharma is Vice President – Human Capital at Bobble AI Technologies. With over 29 years of experience across diverse sectors like engineering, healthcare, oil & gas, automotive, consulting, IT, consumer durables, and education, she has worked with several multinational corporations and promoter-driven companies in the role of Chief Talent & Learning, CHRO, Angel Investor, Startup Mentor, IPO ready, M&A cultural integrator & certified Corporate Director. She is the ICC Chairperson for POSH and an external committee member for various organisations. Dr. Rakshita is a PhD in Organisational Behavior and also teaches OB & HRM at B-schools.

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