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Benefits of personal interest

29 December, 2015 - 11:19
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In general, personal interest in an academic topic or activity tends to correlate with achievement related to the topic or activity. As you might suppose, a student who is truly interested is more likely to focus on the topic or activity more fully, to work at it for longer periods, to use more thoughtful strategies in learning—and to enjoy doing so (Hidi, 2001; Hidi & Renninger, 2006). Small wonder that the student achieves more! Note, though, a persistent ambiguity about this benefit: it is often not clear whether personal interest leads to higher achievement, or higher achievement leads to stronger interest. Either possibility seems plausible. Research to sort them out, however, has suggested that at least some of the influence goes in the direction from interest to achievement; when elementary students were given books from which to learn about a new topic, for example, they tended to learn more from books which they chose themselves than from books that were simply assigned (Reynolds & Symons, 2001). So interest seemed to lead to learning. But this conclusion does not rule out its converse, that achievement may stimulate interest as well. As Joe learns more about history, he steadily finds history more interesting; as McKenzie learns more about biology, she gradually wants to learn more of it.