Interest and Understanding

This page explains the measures we employ to assess learning from content. The two types of interest explained here are situational and individual interest.

Situational Interest versus Individual Interest
For the purposes of the research presenting on this site, situational interest is evoked suddenly by a user’s exposure to content followed by the user’s perceived “interestingness” of that content. A user’s situational interest in a specific message is typically short-term and only marginally influences the knowledge and values of a user who may have little or no familiarity with the content. In other words, situational interest is generated by the characteristics of a specific environment at a given time that capture the attention of many individuals (Hidi & Baird, 1986; Hidi & McLaren, 1990). Therefore, situational interest in digital content by a user with little or no prior interest in the content (compare this to individual interest below), is elicited if the user begins engaging and continues engagement with the content (Krapp, 1988).

Conversely, users with familiarity with – and a prior interest in – content are said to have individual interest. This interest in a specific domain develops over a longer period of time and with long-lasting effects on a user’s knowledge and values (Renninger, Hidi, & Krapp, 1992). Unlike situational interest defined above, individual interest can be measured prior to one’s exposure to content because the user’s long-term interest in a given topic already exists prior to exposure.

Text-based versus Situational Understanding
Similar to interest, we also define understanding at two levels. The level is either text-based or situational understanding. Most communication research measures text based understanding to describe the recall or recognition of recently read content. Such recollection often requires short-term memorization of words or phrases that are recognized on subsequent tests.

We are interested in more robust situational understanding, which requires an individual to infer and then synthesize previously presented information with his or her prior knowledge and experience (McNamara & Kintsch, 1996). Situational understanding requires many of the semantic and contextual features necessary for reactivation of relevant information presented in a message (O’Brien & Myers, 1999). We measure deeper levels of processing of terms, associations, and explanations presented by a message in several ways including: open-ended and thought listing questions and sorting tasks that require related terms to be placed into contextual categories.

Of course, a single message can contribute to both a text-based and situational understanding. But situational understanding was identified when individuals employed the prior knowledge needed to draw crucial inferences from the content to solve problems. If a comprehender is unable to employ his or her prior knowledge to draw inferences, the potential for situational understanding is reduced (Kintsch, 1988).

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