Hey kids! Ever heard of a guy named Eddie Van Halen? In this day of Travis Scott, Lil Nas X, and Kendrick Lamar, Eddie Van Halen, as a member of the rock band Van Halen (named for Eddie and his brother Alex), emerged in the 1980’s as one of the most gifted electric guitar players in rock history. Just listen to Van Halen’s 10 minute “Eruption” solo to witness the passion and mastery of Eddie Van Halen and the electric guitar. Van Halen passed away last October after a long bout with cancer.
Now what does the story of Eddie Van Halen have to do with interest-based learning? Interest-based learning begins with the learner defining a topic they would like to spend time learning. Once the learner defines this topic, then the rest of their learning plan is built around the learner’s primary interest. It’s clear Eddie Van Halen’s primary learning interest was the electric guitar. Although Van Halen graduated high school and attended community college a bit, it was music and the electric guitar that fueled his learning. Van Halen’s childhood friend Tom Broderick, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times at the time of Eddie’s death, remembered “We never played football or rode bikes together, and to be honest I rarely saw him in class at school. When I did see Eddie, he was usually jamming at a party.”
To get started, let’s take a look at an article appearing in Popular Mechanics written by the master himself (Eddie Van Halen Dead at 65: How the Rock Legend Hacked His Guitar (popularmechanics.com). Notice how Van Halen practiced interest-based learning from the beginning of his playing career through experimentation (EVH “I’ve always been a tinkerer.”), adaptation (EVH “If something doesn’t do what you want it to, there’s always a way to fix it.”), invention (EVH “I couldn’t afford a router – I didn’t even know what a router was – so I started hammering away with a screwdriver.”), practice (Van Halen is reported to have practiced 10 hours a day), unbelievable success (Eddie was valued at $100 million at the time of his death) and FAILURE (EVH “I came back an hour later to give it another shot.” “Bottom line is, I didn’t know how to hook it back up.” “Of course I ruined a lot of pickups [Eddie wasn’t referring to vehicles here as his “pickups” were parts of his electric guitars], because the plastic frames would melt before I had a chance to yank the pickup out.”)
We can use the example of Eddie Van Halen to outline what interest-based learning might look like for youngsters today:
Allow your young learner to identify and define the interest they would like to learn about.
Ask your young learner a few clarifying questions (lighter questions that usually have “yes” or “no” answers) and probing questions (deeper questions designed to extract more information from the young learner) to arrive at a clear learning goal for the young learner to work on.
Make a list of potential resources available to help the young learner work on their learning goal. These resources might be online or some community expert your young learner can connect with to work on the learning project.
Schedule daily check-ins and weekly feedback conferences with your young learner to make sure they are on track with their learning goal.
Be ready to add smaller learning sub-goals that break down the larger goal if your young learner demonstrates frustration and struggle. Remember, frustration and struggle is ok, if it is met with additional time and support for the learner.
Continue Steps 1-5 until the goal is achieved. Then, be ready to identify and define another learning goal for your young learner to take on. It’s fun to see how many learning goals a young person can take on, whether they be interest-based or academic. The best learning goal is a goal that is both interest and academic based.
Not all of us can be an Eddie Van Halen, or a Tiger Woods, or a Beyonce. But what we can be are folks who are working on interest-based learning with a continuous improvement mentality. Interest-based learning allows all of us to continue being life-long learners, and becoming smarter and stronger learners is really what life should be about, shouldn’t it?
Matt and Dr. Scott stand ready to help all parents develop learning plans for their kids. Just go to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or give us a call at 832-210-1200 (ext. 1200) to start the journey.