Interest-Based Learning

Intrinsically Motivating Students Through Their Interests

Why Change?

When examining why students fail in education two ideas become apparent, lack of ability and the lack of effort. While the first issue came to light many years ago and special strategies and programs have been created to help, there does not seem to be as many strategies for improvement in the second issue, lack of effort with students in the classroom today.

Interest-Based Learning

Interest is an interactive association between an individual and his/her environment that is content specific. Interest can be perceived as both a state and a mood of a person, and it has a cerebral, as well as an emotional component. Theorists have also suggested that interest may be crucial to early stages of learning, as well as to differences between expert and moderately skilled performers.

Constance Steinkuehler on Interest-Driven Learning (Big Thinkers Series)

Three Types of Interest

Individual Interest - Tends to focus on enduring preferences, developed over time, and was the longest lasting of all the interests


Situational Interest - Is caused more quickly by environmental factors and may or may not last beyond the time that it is triggered


Intrinsic Interest - Students are intrinsically motivated to continue to learn about their interests. This type of interest is the most emotional aspect of interest and is not grounded in knowledge, but value

Individual Interest

Individual Interest is a stable positioning towards certain areas or toward particular classes of objects, events, or ideas that have personal significance and are usually associated with high levels of knowledge and value, positive emotions, and an increase reference value.


Research Study 1: The results confirmed that learning strategies are a mediator between students’ interest and their academic achievement.

Research Study 2: The results from the study showed that the more interest-based learning a child with autism has, the more progress the children demonstrated over a short period of time.

Research Study 3: The findings reported that a good, sensitive teacher will adapt lesson content to the interests of the students by bridging between the technical, social, and scientific worlds. The interests of the specific students provide the fine focus for teaching.

Research Study 4: The results for this study showed that, context personalization to students' interests has a significant positive effect on students’ performance, allowed students to spend less time on having to learn the content, and promoted robust learning of the underlying concept of algebraic expression.

Situational Interest

There are three ways to maximize situational interest in a classroom:

Offer meaningful choices

The selection of well-organized texts that promote interest in the classroom

Providing background knowledge that students need to fully understand a topic.


There are two subcategories of Situational Interest:


Educational Text-based or Topic-based Interest - Educational text-based interest, as the name implies, is grounded on students’ interest in texts and tasks in a classroom. The research looks at what makes texts and tasks in the classroom more or less interesting and how interesting they are to students can influence comprehension, learning, and writing.


Research Study 5: The results were that the students with higher topic interest demonstrated more motivation that contributed to higher self-study time and perseverance that in turn resulted in higher test scores.


Learning Environment Interest - The research on the learning environment interests examines students’ preferences in the classroom, such as single-sex classrooms or positive feedback in the classroom.


Research Study 6: The study determined that a learning environment that has high situational interest can override the unmotivating effect of low individual interest in learning.

Research Study 7: They found that the students’ situational interest fluctuated throughout a learning experience, but at an increase the student had a desire to learn new information and became motivated for exploratory actions.

Intrinsic Interest

Intrinsic Interest is the satisfaction externally and internally that humans get when doing something in the context of a task. Students with higher points of interest in a task, the more intrinsically motivated they are to do the task than students with lower levels of interest.


Research 8: The results of this study showed that high interest can help children to overcome the potentially harmful effects of lack of positive feedback and makes students’ less susceptible to negative, gender-related, influences of various types of feedback conditions.

Research 9: The authors noted that when underachieving gifted students became involved in service learning in their community, based on their interests, that it allowed students to develop decision-making, leadership, planning, and high-level critical thinking skills. When students’ interests and concerns are brought in the learning environment as service-learning projects are developed, the authors noted, the probability of academic, social, and psychological gains is increased.

Tools To Measure Students' Interest

A wealth of research suggests that by framing learning with student interests in mind, teachers can increase student motivation, knowledge, and academic achievement. The data from the research studies suggest that the best way for educators to determine students’ interests are for educators to communicate individually with their students and create their own interest questionnaires that relate to their own class content and needs.

In Conclusion

It is in the best interest of the students to be taught using interest-based learning.


It is in the best interest of the leaders of schools to support and encourage interest-based instruction to be taught in the classrooms for their students' academic success.


An educator or educational leader that truly BELIEVES students have as much knowledge to teach as they do to learn, opens the door to teaching in the 21st century.