When it comes to learning, one size does not fit all. After all, different students have different interests, passions and questions. By teaching an entire class the same thing, the chances of sparking interest across the board become slim to none. Enter the idea of interest-based learning: a way of learning that gives students the opportunity to satisfy curriculum standards by studying material driven by their own interests.

Interest-based learning has actually been around for years; it just goes by different names.

Most homeschooling is based on what is called guided discovery, or learning where educators take a cue from the student on subject matter and when it’s time to progress to the next level.  Similarly, the Montessori teaching method is based on students learning at their own pace, based on their own interests.  The International Baccalaureate program is also designed to nurture student interests while connecting their studies and actions to the real world.

Why does interest-based learning work ?

When a student is interested in what they’re learning, they’re highly likely to want to learn more. A study showed that students were more likely to go to class, pay attention, were engaged, processed information more effectively and also performed better, when subject matter aligned with their interests. Additional benefits of interest-based learning include:

• Interest-based learning breeds lifelong learners. When students have subject matter they’re interested in, they naturally want to learn more.

•  When students have a choice in what they learn, they are more motivated and excited about learning.

• Students learn at their own pace. High achievers won’t have to wait for the rest of the class to catch up.

• Students who discover academic interests in high school and college/university are better prepared for satisfying careers.

How does interest-based learning actually get implemented?

Given the large class sizes in traditional schools, implementing interest-based learning could be challenging. But it can be done. A Regina-based principal gave a TEDx talk on how she incorporated interest-based learning at her school by letting students choose what they studied and tying performance metrics to what they did.

With virtual learning in effect right now, parents may want to help supplement class time by leading their children on their personalized journeys of discovery. Here are some tips to get started:

  1. Identify your child’s interests, stay alert for new ones emerging.
  2. Provide activities to catch attention and engage. Analyze paintings and books together, talk about current events, debate both sides of an argument.
  3. Keep things interesting by bringing different disciplines together. If your child loves language, present geography material in that language. If you have a creative writer, have them write a story as if they were a character in history.
  4. Use problem-based instruction by challenging your child to come up with answers to an issue that intrigues them.
  5. Generate connections between course topics and their lives, to lead to even deeper engagement. If for example, your child loves extreme sports, challenge them to figure out how gravity works for sky diving or para sailing.

There’s no question that student interest is essential to academic success and that personalized, flexible learning can plan a large role in preparing your student for their post-secondary studies and beyond.  By taking a cue from students and planning with them instead of for them, will we be able to connect them to a future filled with possibility.