This thread is one of three that I will post based on curiosity I hold for the following three areas:

a) documented attempts, sometimes badly, to replicate or simulate in-person learning experiences in an online environment

b) methods in which MOOCs are pushing into univeristies, and why they might just be too early to start monetizing

c) how liberal arts education should and should not be emulated online

I’ve started here has to do with curiosity about curiosity, and mainly personal leanings toward a general motivation about learning enivornments. What creates the desire to learn? Always holding curiosity about definitions and root etymologies, I’ll start here with a crowd-sourced definition for curiosity:

cu·ri·os·i·ty  (kyr-s-t)

n. pl. cu·ri·os·i·ties

1. A desire to know or learn.
2. A desire to know about people or things that do not concern one; nosiness.
3. An object that arouses interest, as by being novel or extraordinary: kept the carved bone and displayed it as a curiosity.
4. A strange or odd aspect.
5. Archaic Fastidiousness.


I get the first one, A desire to know or learn. It’s broad, it’s open. Most humans have it, and it’s pretty innate in other animals like cats, dogs, and monkeys, too. For curiosity’s sake, it’s actually pretty hard to satisfy one’s curiosity by simply ignoring something that is curious.

The rest of the Wikipedian definition of curiosity is fuzzier, such as an interest or desire to know about people or things that do not concern one; nosiness. Nosiness and one can trace the entomology to the word relic or artifact – which is to say, things that are odd. The use of the word strange or odd as an aspect of curiosity is troubling to me, because even not used pejoratively, odd points to that which is occasional or strange. The anomalies and outliers peak our curiosity.

Which means: curious people arouse curiosity. Those that are curious, seem curious.

Curiosity and the ability to satisfy curiosity implies that there are opportunities to learn. And learn about people and things that are not like us. Curiosity leads to desire, which leads to experience. Experience leads to learning and understanding. And in turn, opportunities to learn can create more curious people.

Bless Wikipedia for turning me onto this definition of curiosity and its mechanics. If the word comes from Latin curiosus “careful, diligent, curious,” akin to cura “care”), then they share a parallel root for the word “curate,” a museum term, often and arguably misused in various contexts, notably online. But the word cura, “to care” is open enough to be just that: I care, therefore I can.

Looking at ways that curiosity behaves on our brains, then we can then travel down the path of attention, drive, arousal – all areas of study that point to larger parts of our brain’s cognition that we don’t know very much about yet. We just know when we feel it, or that we feel something.

So what makes someone curious enough about an online course to take one? If it’s not for credit, and not for a degree or a grade? What could be possibly make someone curious about something, curious enough to spend online time learning about something, that does not “concern” someone?

Do we value curiosity? Scientists value curiosity, and so do artists. But what about being curious also makes it odd?

More to the point: how can online learning nurture curiosity? Can it? My ability to hit CTRL+N and Google something is as natural as the way I blink. My curiosity about curiosity led me down the Wikipedian rabbit hole of crowd-sourced definitions, and I didn’t dare cross-check Wikidictionary, although I remain curious about how they might compare. How many Google searches must begin with, “Just for the sake of curiosity, I went ahead and looked this up…”

Curiosity is primal and urgent, and for some, one of the sole motivators to learn something new. How do we nourish the desire to learn something new, and to learn something that is not about ourselves?

I’ll posit that immediate acts that “satisfy our curiosity” lead to deeper curiosity beyond our immediate selves, and towards things, people and places that do not concern us. And toward things that concern others. Deeply. The oddness lies in thinking about something other than ourselves.

Does curiosity lead to empathic choices? Can curiosity make the world a better place when we aren’t just curious about ourselves?

See also:;, “Odd is an adjective denoting the quality of being unpaired, occasional, strange or unusual, or a person who is viewed as eccentric.”

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