How could I take students’ interests into account?

Ideally, students are already interested in the content of your class, course and programme, as they chose to pursue the programme. Unfortunately, students do not always give the impression of being interested or motivated, as when a student is interested, (s)he is engaged, highly motivated and willingly spends time on their studies. Explicitly building on students’ employability interests can increase student engagement[1].

In designing education to build on students’ interests, the distinction between individual and situational interests is relevant. An individual interest is a topic of activity that a student is already interested in (for a long time), such as a fascination for space or the brain. A situational interest is a topic or activity that catches the attention of the student, for instance interesting class materials.

[1] Research shows that when students are interested in the content of a programme, they receive higher grades, complete the programme faster and are less prone to drop out of the programme.


Getting started

Consider your course material and design. Firstly, are there ways to connect material to other content areas? Consider how your subject is related to other subjects, or practical applications of your subject that students might find interesting, and /or where the knowledge and skills you are going to teach can be applied (in future professions). Discussing your content with  other lecturers and students can be really informative. An example would be to discuss implications of statistical designs for medicine development (“otherwise, how are you going to measure whether a medicine works or not?”). A follow-up assignment can be to let the students brainstorm different applied uses of statistics or even write a paper on possible methods used in an area they favour.

You can also ask students individually or in groups to connect their interests to the curriculum content. Personal contact may strengthen engagement, as students get more interested in things they can share with others.

Secondly, you can encourage students to follow their interests when writing a paper or doing an assignment. In large-scale assignments, students can connect the material of the course to personal interests. If a larger assignment with choice freedom is feasible in your course, make sure to set the framework for the assignment and select a range of options for the students to choose from (in terms of topic, place, pace and form, see the section differentiation in learning).

In that way, students feel they are able to write an assignment in a direction which they find interesting, but do not experience stress when they have an abundance of choice. Writing down suitable alternatives clearly in the guidelines of the assignment is essential, as well as checking with students whether they can pursue their interests in the assignment.





  • Ann Pegg, Jeff Waldock, Sonia Hendy-Isaac, Ruth Lawton (2006) Pedagogy for employability, HEA
  • Renninger, K. A. (2000) Individual interest and its implications for understanding intrinsic motivation. In C. Sansone & J. M. Harackiewicz (Eds.), Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: The search for optimal motivation and performance (pp. 373-404). doi:10.1016/B978-012619070-0/50035-0
  • Corbalan, G., Kester, L., & Van Merriënboer, J.J.G. (2008) Selecting learning tasks: Effects of adaptation and shared control on efficiency and task involvement. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 33(4), 733-756.
  • Barron, B. (2006) Interest and self-sustained learning as catalysts of development: A learning ecology perspective. Human development, 49(4), 193-224.