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Curiosity: A Link to Assessing Lifelong Learning Keston H. Fulcher



computer out of the box seven years ago? What a machine! Loaded with the latest software, it was capable of assisting with a multitude of business and personal needs. Today, seven years later, that computer is more of a hindrance than a help (unless it was frequently upgraded). Current software slows the contraption down to a crawl. And while everyone else is surďŹ ng the Net at high speed, you are stuck receiving information at a molasses-like 56K per second. Unfortunately for many in the workforce, the power of their current skills and knowledge can be as short-lived as the functionality of a once-new computer. The issue of workforce obsolescence is particularly important in higher education relative to its role in society. Are colleges and universities placing graduates in the workforce whose functionality quickly diminishes, or are they developing graduates who continue to learn and upgrade their skills in accord with the evolution of their respective occupations? Of course, the latter scenario is preferred. Such ongoing learning and receptivity to change are often referred to as lifelong learning. Scores of colleges and universities have pledged to promote lifelong learning in their most central document, the mission statement. Moreover, A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of Higher Education, the report from the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education (2006), stresses the importance of lifelong learning in a global economy and recommends

not a surprising situation, given the expense and impracticality of carrying out such a long and expensive endeavor. Although most colleges survey their alumni at various yearly intervals, many of those surveys do not include questions related to lifelong learning, and even if they do, the validity of the data is always questionable due to low response rates and unrepresentative sampling. Because of these logistical obstacles, several researchers have pursued the assessment of lifelong learning in higher education through a different approach, one that circumvents the onerous task of collecting extensive behavioral data from alumni. These researchers focus on

implementing a national strategy to foster it. This high-proďŹ le attention to lifelong learning begs the question “How well are institutions of higher education fostering lifelong learning among students?â€? Sadly, the answer to this question is largely unknown because lifelong learning is assessed either poorly or, more commonly, not at all (Carr and Claxton, 2002). In this article, an approach for assessing lifelong learning via students’ self-reported levels of curiosity is introduced, along with four validity studies of the instrument used to gather this information. But ďŹ rst, a brief analysis of the obstacles impeding assessment of lifelong learning is presented.

Are colleges and universities placing graduates in the workforce whose functionality quickly diminishes, or are they developing graduates who continue to learn and upgrade their skills in accord with the evolution of their respective occupations?

íˇŁ Why isn’t lifelong learning assessed in higher education? Perhaps the main culprit is methodology. Lifelong learning is an extremely broad construct that cannot be demonstrated meaningfully by a student during his or her college education. Indeed, by its very nature, lifelong learning is exhibited behaviorally over a complete life span, not a four-year period in early adulthood. The longitudinal data collection necessary to provide evidence of this construct is virtually nonexistent—

the assessment of dispositions instead of behavior. A disposition is distinct from knowledge, skills, or understanding; rather, it is “a tendency to edit, select, adapt and respond to the environment in a recurrent, characteristic kind of way� (Carr and Claxton, 2002, p. 13). Although a college student cannot exhibit lifelong learning behaviorally during college, he or she can exhibit dispositions that are requisite to future lifelong learning.

Assessment Update • March–April 2008 • Volume 20, Number 2 • Š 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. • DOI 10.1002/au


Which dispositions contribute most to lifelong learning is the subject of debate. Nevertheless, some dispositions—in particular, curiosity—are mentioned more than others. For this reason, I have focused on curiosity as a foot-in-the-door approach to assessing lifelong learning, contending that institutions of higher education can, to some degree, evaluate how well they are developing lifelong learners by assessing students’ curiosity (Fulcher, 2004). To this end, T. Dary Erwin and I developed an instrument, the Curiosity Index (CI), which was derived from Mary Ainley’s empirically supported breadth-and-depth conceptualization of curiosity: “a breadth-of-interest curiosity style, consists of an orientation towards seeking varied and changing experiences. The quality of involvement is one of seeking to experience what the novel event is like. . . . A depth-of-interest curiosity style, represents an orientation towards exploring and investigating new objects, events and ideas. The quality of involvement is one of experiencing the novel in order to achieve an understanding of itâ€? (Ainley, 1987, p. 55). Items were crafted accordingly. “I ďŹ nd myself fascinated by lots of different thingsâ€? and “When learning about something new, I try to ďŹ nd out everything I can about itâ€? are examples of a breadth item and a depth item, respectively. Participants indicate the extent of their agreement with each item’s statement on a six-point scale (1 = “strongly agreeâ€?; 6 = “strongly disagreeâ€?). Higher education and measurement experts reviewed the items at various stages of instrument development. Four studies were conducted to gather evidence for validity of the CI, each investigating a different facet of its functionality. In Study 1, survey data collected from large samples of college students were used to narrow survey items to those that best ďŹ t the two-factor breadth-anddepth model. Statistics provided by structural equation modeling software, coupled with professional judgment, were used in this selection process. The net result was


a reduction of the number of items from forty-seven to twelve. According to ďŹ t indices provided by the software, the data from the responses to the remaining twelve items ďŹ t the two-factor breadthand-depth model relatively well.

sis was that Lifelong Learning Institute members would score highest on all three scores, then sophomores, and, ďŹ nally, freshmen. This hypothesis was only partially supported by a series of comparisons using analysis of variance procedures.

The total curiosity scores of the Curiosity Index correlated most highly with another curiosity scale, next highest to scales of intrinsic motivation, and moderately to a conďŹ dence scale.

íˇŁ Once the core set of items had been identiďŹ ed, the instrument was examined in three validity studies. In Study 2, total, breadth, and depth scores were correlated with scores on several other instruments representing various constructs. The idea was that if the pattern of correlations approximated the hypothesized pattern, then one could make a better case that breadth and depth of curiosity were being measured by the CI. In practice, the total curiosity scores of the CI correlated most highly with another curiosity scale, next highest to scales of intrinsic motivation, and moderately to a confidence scale. No meaningful relationship was found between curiosity and intelligence or extrinsic motivation. In addition, the breadth and depth scales correlated differently with some constructs. For example, the depth scale correlated more highly than the breadth scale with mastery approach—a goal orientation indicative of students who undertake activities to increase their competence (Harackiewicz and others, 2002). In short, the pattern of correlations of the CI to other instruments approximated how one would predict that curiosity would relate to similar and dissimilar constructs. In Study 3, college freshmen, college sophomores, and Lifelong Learning Institute members—older adults taking noncredit courses to continue their learning—were compared on total, breadth, and depth curiosity scores. The hypothe-

Lifelong learners and sophomores scored about the same in all areas. These two groups did not differ from freshmen in breadth of curiosity. Both of these groups, however, had higher total curiosity and depth scores than freshmen, although the effect sizes were small. The differences in total curiosity and depth were not independent ďŹ ndings because half of the total curiosity score is based on the depth subscore. In other words, the differences in total curiosity were signiďŹ cant only because of the differences in depth subscores. Differences in curriculum may explain the higher depth and similar breadth curiosity scores of sophomores in comparison with freshmen. By their sophomore year, many students have selected their major, which effectively restricts the range of courses they take. In other words, depth of curiosity may be emphasized more in the sophomore curriculum than in the freshman curriculum. In considering the members of the Lifelong Learning Institute, confounds such as age may have limited the comparability of this group to college students. Limited evidence suggests that curiosity decreases with age (Giambra, Camp, and Grodsky, 1992). Finally, in Study 4, the items of the breadth and depth scales were analyzed via item response theory. Unlike classical test theory techniques such as Cronbach’s alpha (the depth and breadth curiosity scales both have alphas in the mid .80s),

Assessment Update • March–April 2008 • Volume 20, Number 2 • Š 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. • DOI 10.1002/au

long learning is more conceptual than empirical at present, and further research should be conducted to explore this relationship. In addition, curiosity likely is one piece in a complex puzzle of dispositions that are necessary for lifelong learning. Assessment practitioners should focus

item response theory allows researchers to identify where along the continuum of curiosity the scales are most and least reliable. Overall, the breadth and depth scales both had good reliability. In other words, the measurement error associated with most relevant levels of curiosity was

Curiosity likely is one piece in a complex puzzle of dispositions that are necessary for lifelong learning.

íˇŁ small, although there were some subtle issues. The breadth scale had more reliability in the middle ranges of curiosity but dropped rapidly at around 1.5 standard deviations above the mean. On the other hand, the depth scale did not have as much reliability across the middle but reliability was spread more uniformly across the continuum. The results imply that additional items should be developed that distinguish between the high breadthcurious person and the extremely high breadth-curious person. In the aggregate, the four validity studies offer reasonable support for the use of the CI in measuring breadth and depth curiosity. To the extent that curiosity is a key disposition in the development of lifelong learning, the CI may also be applied to gauge how well institutions of higher education cultivate lifelong learners. For example, a university may administer the CI to entering freshmen and then again to the same cohort as juniors or seniors. If the difference between the two assessments reveals gains in curiosity, then that institution is in a better position to describe the degree to which it cultivates lifelong learning. Furthermore, linking results of the CI with institutional experience may indicate which programs, courses, or activities best foster curiosity. This level of analysis could inform decision making. Despite these possibilities, the strong relationship between curiosity and life-

on identifying the other elements that contribute to lifelong learning and creating instruments to measure them such as the Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory, a scale that measures seven dimensions of lifelong learning (Crick, Broadfoot, and Claxton, 2004). More information about this project can be found at <http://www.>. Undoubtedly, lifelong learning is a large and seemingly nebulous construct. Nevertheless, given globalization and the ever-increasing rate at which job skills become obsolete, is there a more important educational area to understand? â&#x2013; 

ing Across the Adult Life Span: Cross Sectional and 6- to 8-Year Longitudinal Findings.â&#x20AC;? Psychology and Aging, 1992, 7(1), 150â&#x20AC;&#x201C;157. Harackiewicz, J. M., Barron, K. E., Pintrich, P. R., Elliot, A. J., and Thrash, T. M. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Revision of Achievement Goal Theory: Necessary and Illuminating.â&#x20AC;? Journal of Educational Psychology, 2002, 94, 638â&#x20AC;&#x201C;645. U.S. Department of Education. A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education (pre-publication copy). [ comm/list/hiedfuture/reports/pre-pubreport.pdf]. 2006. Accessed Oct. 20, 2006. Keston H. Fulcher is director of assessment, evaluation, and accreditation at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.

References Ainley, M. D. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The Factor Structure of Curiosity Measures: Breadth and Depth of Interest Curiosity Styles.â&#x20AC;? Australian Journal of Psychology, 1987, 39(1), 53â&#x20AC;&#x201C;59. Carr, M., and Claxton, G. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Tracking the Development of Learning Dispositions.â&#x20AC;? Assessment in Education, 2002, 9(1), 9â&#x20AC;&#x201C;37. Crick, D., Broadfoot, P., and Claxton, G. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Developing an Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory.â&#x20AC;? Assessment in Education, 2004, 11(3), 248â&#x20AC;&#x201C;272. Fulcher, K. H. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Towards Measuring Lifelong Learning: The Curiosity Index.â&#x20AC;? Unpublished doctoral dissertation, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va., 2004. Giambra, L. M., Camp, C. J., and Grodsky, A. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Curiosity and Stimulation Seek-

Assessment Update â&#x20AC;˘ Marchâ&#x20AC;&#x201C;April 2008 â&#x20AC;˘ Volume 20, Number 2 â&#x20AC;˘ Š 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. â&#x20AC;˘ DOI 10.1002/au


Curiosity: A Link to Assessing Lifelong Learning