Are you tired of the same old rote learning techniques in the classroom?

5 cartoon fish characters stuck in a boring class. The fish in the middle face plants in the desk.

Picture a classroom where students aren't just sitting passively. Instead, they're constantly absorbing new information through exciting and engaging hands-on learning experiences.

Kids playing outdoors. The child in the middle appears to be held up by other children. Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

Incidental learning has the potential to transform the way we approach teaching and learning in the classroom, with benefits such as:

  1. Increased engagement

  2. Improved retention

  3. Increased motivation

What is Incidental Learning?

Incidental learning happens when we learn something without even trying to. It occurs when we're doing "something else", but we still gain knowledge or skills that can be useful in our lives. Incidental learning is like receiving a bonus.

Child dancing in front of a blackboard with the words

Red example button

  • While playing adventure games, you might inadvertently learn how to read a map as you had fun exploring different virtual worlds.

  • You might enjoy watching culinary shows, such as Master Chef, and unintentionally learn about different cultures and customs as the chefs explore different types of cuisines from around the world.

  • As you spend time with someone from a younger generation, such as a nephew or niece, you might learn new slang words.

1. Increased Engagement

Incidental learning can increase engagement among students by providing an element of surprise and novelty.

A busker pretending to be a statue surprising a pedestrian.

This is because:

  • Unexpected information or events increase attention, which results in more buy-in.

  • Students are more likely to think critically and engage in more complex mental processing to understand the material.

  • It involves making connections between new information and existing knowledge, which also leads to deeper learning.

Example A psychology professor lectures on memory and the brain. The professor shows a video of someone trying to remember a list of items by associating those items with different areas in their house.

The professor follows up with a surprising fact: that people forget "50% of all new information within a day...and 90% of all new information within a week."


Ms. Mozaria wants to increase her students' engagement in math class. She decides to incorporate incidental learning. Which of the following activities would be the best way to increase engagement through incidental learning?

2. Improved Retention

Incidental learning can improve retention by creating a more memorable learning experience.

Brain zoomed into the individual neurons.

This is because it:

  • Engages multiple areas in the brain.

  • Facilitates the connections made in learning from one context to another.

  • Promotes long-term recall through a vivid memory.

Flaticon Icon An economics professor uses the Beanie Baby craze — a time when the popularity of Beanie Babies drove people to pay absurdly high prices for them — to teach students the concept of supply and demand.

3. Increased Motivation

Incidental learning can also increase motivation. When students encounter unexpected information, they're more likely to feel a sense of wonder and a desire to learn more.

Mayim Bialik showing a hand gesture with text saying

This is because it:

  • Creates a sense of excitement and curiosity.

  • Encourages students to think creatively to reach solutions.

  • Fosters a sense of personal ownership over their learning.

Flaticon Icon To engage students in a discussion on what statistics do and don't show, a statistics professor might begin the lesson with a surprising statistic, such as "1 in 5 Americans admits to peeing in the pool."

Take Action

Ready to take learning to the next level?

Use incidental learning in your classroom for a more effective, efficient, and enjoyable teaching and learning experience with your students.

NASA Space Shuttle launch with text


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