Interest-Based Learning & its Benefits

Simply put, interest-based learning (IBL) is the kind of learning an individual – whether child or adult – undergoes when their interests, as well as ideas, strengths and abilities, inform and direct what or how they are taught. 

Here the focus is of course on children, and when we talk of interests, they could either be personal, like what a child enjoys doing, what makes them excited or happy, etc.; or situational, like the objects, events and people that capture a child’s attention, causing them to engage.

By default, most schools teach a one-size-fits-all curriculum which is not IBL-friendly, but such curricula have less chances of bringing out the best in a child, academically or otherwise. This is for the simple reason that young children are much more motivated to learn when their interests and passions are somehow linked together with their studies.

So IBL as a highly effective educational strategy – or a process for expanding inquiry and discovery – involves taking advantage of what a child is naturally curious and passionate about, to create and provide tailored, effective programs that actually engage, and motivate the child to learn and grow as much as they can.

We’ll proceed to discuss this educational strategy or philosophy of learning further, and then conclude by outlining the benefits of IBL.

IBL: The Role of Parents

Children are more likely to participate fully in an activity if they’re interested in it; and, being responsive to children’s interests, abilities and strengths helps to, according to the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), ‘ensure motivation and engagement in learning.’ 

But it’s not easy for educators to be responsive to children’s interests individually, especially in formal school settings where they have a significant number of children to instruct at the same time. One way an educator in a traditional school could try IBL is by allowing each of the students select what they want to study, and then grading them based on that; however, this approach isn’t always practicable.

Because its implementation takes more effort on the part of the educator, IBL is easier to carry out in low student-to-teacher ratio educational settings, like early childhood centers. Indeed, the ideal place to practice this strategy is in a homeschool setting where the child can be interacted with one-on-one, and this is where you come in as a parent. 

You can use your children’s interests to create learning experiences that are engaging and meaningful; but of course, before you can do this, you have to find out the things that excite and make them joyful. Since you’re their parent, this will be easier to do, and you can go about it through different ways, such as by talking to them and asking the right questions, observing their activities closely, etc.

Implementing Interest-Based Learning 

Distance online education, internet learning. First grade boy studying at home using microscope, making notes, biology online lesson

Having identified your child’s interests, you can then go on to provide engaging activities that embody these interests. 

It’s worth pointing out that, while the IBL strategies or activities you come up with will be based on your children’s interests, they don’t have to be based only on the interests you’ve been told about and those you’ve found out on your own. Children can only be interested in what they already know about, and since there’s a lot they don’t know about yet, you as a parent can also introduce them to new interests and ideas. 

Your input or deeper involvement is important because for interest-based programs to be most effective, they have to involve more than just allowing the child do only what they’re already interested in, or what they’re familiar with. Children, on their own, will take an idea and own it if they find it interesting, regardless of who it is coming from.

With a little bit of observation and brainstorming, you can come up with ideas which your child will find interesting, and which you can use to supplement their own interests to plan and create IBL activities that are rich, engaging and effective.  

Interest-Based Learning in Practice

So the following is an example of what an IBL program could look like. Let’s say you’ve observed that your school-aged child is interested in plants; how can you use this interest to provide a meaningful learning experience for them? 

You could create an activity that involves

  • identifying all the different plants in your garden, compound or neighbourhood;
  • memorising their names;
  • talking about what each is used for, or the kind of food/fruits they produce;
  • comparing how fast each of them grow;
  • finding out the seasons or months they produce; and 
  • differentiating between grasses, flowers as well as food/fruit plants.

You could also take your child on trips to a local plant nursery, botanical garden or park where they will come in contact with even more varieties of plants, and learn more basic plant facts. 

Such an interest-based learning activity can take place periodically, over a length of time, and alongside with other interest-based activities that address other passions they have. Just bear in mind that interest-based learning is best managed at the child’s pace.

The Benefits of Interest-Based Learning

Now here’s a summary of the positives IBL can bring to the table. IBL

  • alters the child’s role in the educational process by giving them a say in setting the academic agenda; 
  • motivates them to become active, rather than passive or worse, uninterested learners;
  • provokes a child’s curiosity and encourages them to ask questions;
  • makes children look forward to learning;
  • results to deeper, memorable and longer-lasting learning experiences;
  • helps in the development of lifelong skills including critical thinking, creativity and problem solving;
  • makes children more interested in, and willing to attend, school, instead of being afraid of it;
  • provides opportunities for learning beyond the classroom;
  • builds confidence and a lifelong love of learning; and
  • leads to competence and mastery in any given area of learning.

Now that you know what interest-based learning is all about, and why it’s important, try your best to use your children’s interests to provide as much quality learning opportunities for them as possible.