Exploring conceptualisations of students' interest in learning: The need for a sociocultural approach

Year: 1999

Author: Pressick-Kilborn, Kimberley, Walker, Richard

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Interest is both a lay term, generally used to describe a personal characteristic, as well as a psychological term used to describe an affective and cognitive state which can be influenced by the learning environment. Interest has been identified by Schiefele (1991) as an important resource for both motivation and learning, with research findings suggesting that interest is an intrinsic factor that has an 'energising' effect on student learning (Tobias, 1994). Whilst there have been a number of studies of interest in learning in the past decade, it has been acknowledged by researchers in the field that research on interest is at a relatively early stage (Mitchell, 1993; Alexander & Jetton, 1996). As a result, there are not conclusive findings in relation to a number of issues relating to interest nor consensus about the nature of interest and its relationship to other psychological constructs. The majority of empirical studies have been conducted in non-authentic learning environments, with no explicit concern for the impact of social construction on students' experience of interest. Furthermore, few studies have approached the measurement of interest and analysis of data from a qualitative perspective, which has contributed to a lack of insight into the processes by which students experience interest within authentic learning environments.

The aim of this paper is to present conceptualisations of interest as defined within the literature and to explore the assumptions and limitations, as well as the measurement of interest. A need to examine interest from a sociocultural perspective will be proposed, with discussion of how such an approach to conceptualising interest would enhance an understanding of motivational processes within authentic classroom activity.