Curiosity helps learning stick: how can assessments help?

John Kleeman HeadshotPosted by John Kleeman

Recent learning research has provided further evidence that being curious aids retention of learning. You are more likely to remember something if you were in a curious state of mind when you learned it. This blog article explores how assessments can help.

A recent study at the University of California at Davis found that people retained more information during learning when they were more curious. You can see the full paper here (paywall) and a Scientific American summary here. Participants learned a series of answers to trivia questions while at the same time seeing some unrelated faces. Curiosity was measured by asking the participants to report curiosity level and via brain scanning.  When tested a day later, participants scored higher on the trivia questions when they had been more curious. They also (to a smaller extent) recognized the faces they’d seen incidentally at those times when they had been more curious.

You can see the average numbers the day after the learning in the chart below – showing that people remembered about 46% of trivia information they were curious about as against 28% they were less curious about, and that they also remembered incidental faces slightly better, about 35% to 31%.

Average recall of answers to high-curiosity questions was 45.9% vs 28.1% for low-curiosity questions, with the ratio for faces 35.2% vs 31.2%.

Essentially the study provides evidence that people learn and retain information better when they are more curious. And it suggests that to quote the authors: “stimulating curiosity ahead of knowledge acquisition could enhance learning success”.

So if  curiosity stimulates learning, how can assessments help?

The most obvious way is to use pre-course tests and other questions prior to learning to create intrigue and stimulate curiosity. Pre-tests have lots of other benefits – combined with a post-test they allow you to measure change from learning, and they give instructors an understanding of the topics participants know. But a key benefit from such a pre-test will be to stimulate curiosity and so put participants in a state of mind to trigger the retention benefits shown above.

You can deliver questions to stimulate curiosity in many ways – but one way to consider is to deliver to mobile devices, easy to do with Questionmark software. If you have participants coming to learning, think how you could use Questionmark assessments that work on smartphones to stimulate curiosity.

The other side of the coin is that people who are not curious about or interested in something will be less apt to retain what they learn about it. This is another argument for allowing testing out of compliance training. If people are forced to take training about things they already know, not only will they not be curious, but they will likely be positively de-motivated. And this could easily spread to other learners and other training, devaluing other learning and training. There are several articles on testing out of compliance training on this blog. See for example Good practice from PwC in testing out of training or Testing out of training: It can save time and money.

What other ways are there to use assessments to stimulate curiosity? I’d love to hear your ideas. For as Arnold Edinborough has said: “Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly.

And I can’t help asking myself. “Did curiosity kill the cat, or should she have asked more questions?”

John Kleeman will discuss the different ways to use assessments at the 2015 Users Conference in Napa Valley, March 10-13. Register before Dec. 17 and save $200.

White Paper: 5 Steps to Better Tests

Joan Phaup HeadshotPosted by Joan Phaup5 white paper

Doug Peterson‘s recent 10-part series about test design and delivery — published here on the blog this winter — offers some great advice about five key stages of testing deployment.

There was so much interest in this subject that we’ve used his posts as the basis for a new white paper designed to help you save time and effort as you produce assessments that truly serve your organization’s needs.

The paper will walk you through these essential steps:

1. Planning the test
2. Creating the test items
3. Creating the test form
4. Delivering the test
5. Evaluating the test

We invite you to download the paper  with our compliments! And do send us any questions you have about it. We’ll be very happy to respond.


Questionmark Perception Users to Meet in Miami in 2010!


Posted by Joan Phaup

Yes, that’s right! The Questionmark 2010 Users Conference will take place March 14 -17 at the Hilton Miami Downtown.conf09

If you want to learn how to write better assessments, use Perception more effectively, discuss best practices, and soar up the learning curve at high speed, mark your calendar now and plan to attend!

conf09-3I’m looking forward to the conference because it is the ideal place for Perception users to get together and talk about mutual interests  and help each other move forward. It’s also an opportunity for our customers to meet with Questionmark staff and air their views about our products and services.

This conference is an outstanding professional development event. But don’t just take this from me. Here are just a few of the comments we received after the 2009 conference:

conf09-4“The Questionmark conferences are always full of excellent learning opportunities, chances for networking and tons of fun!”

“Now I have faces to go with contacts from other organizations and Questionmark staff.  Classy Conference!”

“As always, the conference proved to be the best conference I go to.”

“This was a great conference. I learned something at every session I attended.”

We will soon provide more information about the conference and issue a call for proposals. In the meantime, we hope Perception users from far and wide will start planning now to meet in Miami next March.