• Dr. Mario

Eliminate the Anguish of Online Learning with Curiosity

“Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.” -William Arthur Ward

In some of my past blog posts, I’ve shared personal struggles I’ve experienced during the learning process. As I started thinking about the ways I overcame those challenges, I began to see that what got me from one task to the next was a sense of wonder mixed with a little anxiety about what to expect. But that intrigue kept my engine running and motivated me to stay committed to reaching the end of an assignment. I’ve now learned that at the root of my experiences was curiosity.

When I had no clue what I needed to complete an assignment, shifting my mindset from not knowing to being curious made going through the learning process bearable. When things got tough, curiosity helped me muster the mental strength to take a series of small steps that led to me completing the larger assignment. Reflecting on these experiences helped me realize that students don’t have to suffer through classwork and that they can enjoy the experience if they embrace a simple attitude—curiosity.

In this post, I’m going to explain what it means to be a curious learner and how to practice this attitude in online learning. I’m also going to discuss the benefits that practicing curiosity brings to your educational experience. More importantly, I will teach you how to apply my TAME YOUR BRAIN 🧠 technique to your learning process so you can log on, log off, and get your online classes DONE! ✔️

Why curiosity is necessary for online learning

If you’re taking online classes, then you already know that online learning requires a certain set of skills, including self-motivation, discipline, and resiliency. But those skills are high-level metacognitive abilities that must be broken down into smaller parts. As such, I believe that practicing curiosity in the learning process helps you go from start to finish in your online coursework. So, let’s talk about why we need curiosity to have a successful online learning experience.

Let’s take one of the skills I mentioned previously: self-motivation. How does a student stay motivated to continue progressing through online classes? I believe that practicing curiosity teaches your brain not to focus on feelings like fear or anxiety. Instead, approaching new learning situations with curiosity takes some of the stress those feelings produce and replaces it with wonder, which can be motivating in itself.

Curiosity works by neutralizing the circumstances associated with learning and lessens the brain’s ability to attach negative thoughts and feelings to those circumstances. Having a neutral playing field in which you can learn comfortably improves your chances of staying motivated and on track throughout the learning process. In other words, curiosity helps you learn how to manage the learning process so you don’t throw in the towel when things get tough.

I’ll provide an example of how to practice curiosity in online learning later in the post. But for now, I want you to understand the concept’s underlying logic. I’ll continue to use this reasoning as I walk you through the process.

How do students practice curiosity in the learning process?

At this point, you’re probably wondering how you can be curious about some of the online classes you’re taking right now. That might be a hard sell, especially if it’s a class focused on a subject that doesn’t particularly inspire you. But if this is the case, then practicing curiosity could be just the thing you need to stay motivated. Practicing curiosity involves a few steps to work effectively, and that’s where my TAME YOUR BRAIN 🧠 technique comes into play.

Here’s an example that shows you how to practice curiosity. The technique works by shifting your mindset from stonewalling to opening yourself up to the many possibilities of what you can accomplish. Let’s consider an example from one of my former students. (Note: I changed the student’s name to maintain anonymity.)

Jerisha was preparing for an exam in her business writing course. When she reviewed the assignment, she realized that she had to write and email a networking letter to a complete stranger. Jerisha immediately felt her anxiety rising because she believed that she was not a strong writer and that she would embarrass herself. The first thought that popped into her head was, “I can’t do this.” This thought increased Jerisha’s anxiety, which caused her to leave her online class and surf social media for a few hours. All the while, Jerisha’s anxiety grew steadily as that assignment lurked in the back of her mind.

What Jerisha failed to see in this scenario was that she had the ability to choose her thoughts. In this case, her thought pattern was not serving her well because it was causing her to shut down. In reality, she could choose thoughts that would neutralize her negative feelings so that she could produce the actions she needed to get her assignment DONE! ✔️ Here’s how I helped Jerisha use my TAME YOUR BRAIN 🧠 technique.

Jerisha had been feeding her brain thoughts that caused her brain to shut down. Instead, I guided her through practicing a new set of thoughts that didn’t feel so overwhelming. Instead of thinking “I can’t do this,” we replaced that thought with “I wonder how I can _____?” Integrating a sense of wonder into Jerisha’s thought pattern helped move her from shutting down to taking action. Instead of feeling powerless to change her outcome, Jerisha took full advantage of the positive feelings that curiosity sparked, like excitement, energy, and motivation.

We continued the practice by moving to an initial task to help her maintain her momentum. I directed Jerisha to think a new thought like, “I wonder where I can find an example of a networking letter that will show me the content to include in my networking letter.” That thought sent Jerisha off on a scavenger hunt to locate a model letter that she could use to guide her through the writing process. Once she found a sample she liked, we moved to another neutral thought: “I wonder who I can ask for advice on how to write the letter.” Here you can see how repeating this line of questioning that incorporates curiosity created the feelings and actions Jerisha needed to take on the assignment in small steps. Replacing each of her negative thoughts with an “I wonder how I can_____?” thought led to the next task that she needed to accomplish.

This is a great example of how settling yourself into a constant state of wonder and curiosity tricks the brain away from following its faulty patterns by lowering the stakes connected to the task you have to accomplish. Perhaps it is not easy for students to write a networking letter for the first time, but I think it is easy for them to be curious about what’s involved in the letter-writing process. Most importantly, I believe using this TAME YOUR BRAIN 🧠 technique has some benefits in the online learning process.

What are the benefits?

Being curious about the new things I could learn from my studies allowed me to develop a lot of skills during my time as a student and an online instructor. Some of those skills included learning new instructional technology, research tools, and project management software. And I think other benefits result from shifting your mindset from doubt to curiosity, particularly avoiding unnecessary suffering, stress, and anxiety.

Online learning is a complex terrain for even the most skilled students to navigate. However, maneuvering through the online learning process doesn’t have to result in suffering. Now, I’m not talking about physical suffering. I’m referring to psychological suffering. You don’t have to lose sleep over your online courses to be a successful learner. Hear me clearly: I’m not saying that you won’t encounter some painful moments as an online learner, but you don’t have to make yourself suffer unnecessarily over mistakes or failures.

Now, we know that life is not always rainbows and sunshine and that we are bound to make mistakes from time to time. When students make mistakes, they can use curiosity to get back on track. For instance, let’s imagine that Jerisha didn’t get the grade she hoped for after she submitted her assignment. Instead of receiving an “A,” she got a “B” on the assignment because she overlooked some spelling and grammar errors in her final draft. Jerisha can still apply curiosity by using the “I wonder how I can do ____?” statement. Perhaps, Jerisha responds to her mistake by finding additional ways to proof her writing like getting a second proofreader or reading her completed assignments in reverse. Using curiosity this way allows students to continue focusing on improving their online learning process rather than ruminating over and undesired grade.

Previously, I mentioned how practicing curiosity in your learning process can help you decrease the stress associated with online learning. I want to reiterate that I’m not promising an experience that’s completely devoid of stress, but you can minimize how much of an impact that stress has on you if you practice curiosity. Undoubtedly, as you work on new course assignments, you will encounter vital pieces of the assignment’s requirements that you simply don’t know how to do. Instead of falling into a thinking pattern that creates negative emotions, you can opt for one that gets you to a neutral playing field.

While anxiety is a close cousin to stress, it manifests differently in people given their individual circumstances and contexts. In my teaching experience, I’ve found that students who do a good job of keeping the various aspects of their lives together sometimes melt down in online learning. I’ve learned from teaching students like this that the anxiety they’re experiencing causes them to worry immensely and distrust the learning process. For these students, applying curiosity transports them from an unfamiliar environment to one where they feel less worried about taking the wrong actions.

What's next?

So, there you have it. You’ve learned my TAME YOUR BRAIN 🧠 technique for practicing curiosity in the online learning process. Now, it’s time for you to n what you’ve learned. The next time you find yourself telling yourself that you can’t complete a task, replace that thought with one of the curiosity statements I described. You can also modify the basic statement’s formula to fit the context. So, “I wonder how I can do _____?” could become “I wonder who can _____?” or “I wonder when _____?” Follow Jerisha’s example using a form of the “I wonder” statement that makes sense for you and repeat the cycle until you complete each step or assignment task.

Afterward, reflect upon what you learned about yourself during the process. Think about how curiosity helped you discover new knowledge about the way you go about the learning process. Make note of where things appeared challenging and how shifting your mindset to a state of wonder helped you reach your goal.

Finally, consider ways that you can extend curiosity to other aspects of your life. For instance, maybe you’ve always wanted to start a new business. Consider how you can use curiosity to go about the learning process associated with getting a startup off the ground. How might that look, given that you haven’t done it before? Apply the insights you gained from your reflections to get a sense of what to expect from yourself when you take on the new challenge.

Final Note

Are you enjoying learning about how to master online learning? Well, if you like the insights and tips I’m sharing, make sure you check out the Office Hours Facebook page. I post weekly videos with my TAME YOUR BRAIN 🧠strategies along with other tips that help you succeed in your online classes. You don’t want to miss out on what I’m sharing because it could be just what you need to maintain your sanity while taking online learning classes.

You won’t find my techniques anywhere else because I created them based on my experience teaching and taking online classes, and I designed them for busy students just like you. So, click on this link to my Facebook and like my page so you get access to all my tips and strategies.

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