Would you like to be smarter?
Ok. So, what would you like to learn?
For most people, that first question is an easy one to answer. It’s the second one that causes hesitation.
“People want to get smarter, but they don’t want to learn,” said Michael Burke, Head of Business Strategy with Curiosity. “Learning’s a dirty word. People want the baby, but not the labor.”
So, how do you get a group of people – yes, we’re mostly talking about you, millennials – to learn without knowing that they’re actually doing it?
That’s a question that Curiosity, a Chicago-based learning platform, has been working to answer since it was hatched in Discovery Communications’ internal incubator in early 2014. The app, functioning like a “Pandora for learning materials,” curates hundreds of thousands of educational videos, aggregating and categorizing the Web’s best knowledge-focused content so that users can discover new things to learn about every day.
When Curiosity was building out its massive library, the company considered organizing its content by specific topics – like ‘Curiosity Nature’ or ‘Curiosity Science’ – so that people could more easily find the things that they’re interested in. What Curiosity discovered, however, was that their users “enjoyed the randomness of discovering content.”
“We saw that serendipity is really important to learning,” said Burke. “Self-selecting what you want to learn is almost impossible, it feels like work. People just want to be fed knowledge. Keeping it random is more fun.”
Curiosity became more convinced about this model and method during their conversations with teachers. In speaking with educators, they learned that the “hardest thing about teaching is getting people interested in learning,” said Burke. That’s why many teachers are using the platform to inspire, yes, curiosity amongst their student, using the app’s random educational content as a gateway into the day’s lesson plans.
“My best teachers in high school we’re the ones who, out of nowhere, would be like, ‘today, we’re watching The Graduate,'” said Burke. “That’s as good a time piece as you’re going to get on the 60s. And it was different and unexpected. That’s the same thing, conceptually, that we’re trying to do at Curiosity.”
The other advantage of relying on randomness is that it has the power to unlock interest in the unexpected. In other words, you can’t like what you don’t know.
“One of our editors stumbled across a video about how knitting is beneficial to the brain and can serve as a form of meditation,” said Burke. “And now she’s super into knitting. We see that a lot.”
Curiosity’s discovery that randomness is essential to its product (and to learning in general) resulted in recently shifting its tagline from “learn something new ever day” to “Curiosity makes you smarter.”
“Most of the stuff you consume on Curiosity, you didn’t know you were looking for. And that makes you smarter,” said Burke. “For example, did you know it snows metal on Venus? How crazy is that?”
(Images via Curiosity; Download the app here)