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Session 3B


Situational interest: why should learners care about what you want them to care about?

David Shah - Academic Learning Support Tutor | LEaD 

Interest is widely regarded as a prerequisite of effective learning but it is not always explicitly considered by educators.  We cannot immediately influence a learner’s long-term interests, but we can design learning activities that maximise situational interest. This workshop demonstrates how and why we should utilise situational interest to enhance learning.

What is situational interest and how is it distinguished from personal interest?

Personal interest (PI) is a learner’s intrinsic, relatively unchanging set of long-term preferences.  Situational interest (SI) is activated temporarily by aspects of the immediate (teaching & learning) situation. It is a “short‐term spike in a person's attention” (Azevedo, 2017).

PI can’t (immediately) be influenced by the teacher; but SI can be (Rodríguez‐Aflecht et al., 2018).

Why do we need to pay attention to situational interest?

A learner’s level of interest in a topic tends to correlate with their achievement in that topic (Hidi & Renninger, 2006), and this seems likely to be a causal link to some extent.  However, students don’t always come to us with PI that aligns perfectly with the learning outcomes of their programme.  Therefore, as educators, we need to pay attention to fostering SI. This SI, when repeated, can develop into PI (Rotgans & Schmidt, 2017), but even if it doesn’t, the SI aids learning in the moment.

SI is correlated with long-term retention (Naceur & Schiefele, 2005) and it can encourage life-long learning in the subject area (Clapper, 2014).

How can we maximise situational interest?

Teaching & learning activities associated with boosting SI tend to incorporate some of the following elements:

  • Novelty, e.g. a surprising fact
  • Suspense – creating a what-happens-next? moment
  • Models, artefacts and authentic technology
  • Advance organisers – saying what you’re going to teach before you teach it
  • Quick wins – giving students an immediate experience of having learned something (however small)
  • Active learning, e.g. games, quizzes, kinaesthetic tasks
  • Setting problems for students to solve, allowing them to conduct experiments, using trial-and-error
  • Social collaboration
  • Choices, e.g. students choosing their own (form of) assessment task
  • Reflective tasks, e.g. what would you do differently next time?

By the end of the workshop, participants will have considered:

  • What is situational interest and how is it distinguished from personal interest?
  • Why do we need to pay attention to situational interest?
  • How can we maximise situational interest?


Azevedo, F. S. (2018). ‘An inquiry into the structure of situational interests’. Science Education, 102(1), pp.108-127. doi:10.1002/sce.21319

Clapper, T. C. (2014). ‘Situational interest and instructional design: A guide for simulation facilitators’. Simulation & Gaming, 45(2), pp.167-182. doi:10.1177/1046878113518482

Hidi, S., & Renninger, K. A. (2006). ‘The four-phase model of interest development’. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), pp.111-127. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep4102_4

Naceur, A., & Schiefele, U. (2005). ‘Motivation and learning - the role of interest in construction of representation of text and longterm retention: Inter- and intra-individual analyses’. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 20(2), pp.155-170.

Rodríguez‐Aflecht, G., Jaakkola, T., Pongsakdi, N., Hannula‐Sormunen, M., Brezovszky, B., & Lehtinen, E. (2018). ‘The development of situational interest during a digital mathematics game’. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 34(3), pp.259-268. doi:10.1111/jcal.12239

Rotgans, J. I., & Schmidt, H. G. (2017). ‘Interest development: Arousing situational interest affects the growth trajectory of individual interest’. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 49, pp.175-184. doi:10.1016/j.cedpsych.2017.02.003