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K. Ann Renninger

Dorwin P. Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action

Educational Studies


  2. Phone: (610) 328-8347
  3. Fax: (610) 690-6892
  4. Pearson 201

Research and Teaching Interests

Motivation and learning are both essential to equalizing educational opportunity. As a high school teacher, I was struck by how much of a difference a student’s interest made in what they were ready to learn, and that, as their teacher, I was in a position to help them become interested. Consider the example of a nonreader going into his sophomore year of high school, a person who had been passed from one grade to the next despite his marginal ability to read. He had no interest in improving his reading, but was stuck in a program that required just that. Asked to identify something in a newspaper’s sports section to read, his interest in baseball became clear. Over several weeks of reading about baseball, his abilities markedly improved: he didn’t skip words, and grew willing to not only sound words out, but to step back and discuss the article he had read. The relatively simple shift in what he was asked to read made the difference.

Psychological research shows that when people develop an interest, they find it rewarding to seek information that helps them to figure things out, and that they will independently and voluntarily continue to pursue increasing their own understanding. In fact, interest may be supported to develop at any age, and in any content (e.g. reading, math, chess)—however, it requires other people, such as educators, and their design of activities and tasks to make this possible. My classes and research focus on what can be done to support interest to grow, and what is known about how and why interest, motivation, and learning develop more generally.

I have studied persons of differing ages (preschool through adult) and backgrounds, across a variety of contexts both in and out-of-school (e.g., children's play, students' work with expository text, mathematical word problems, science, participation in online workshops).  The studies that my students and I conduct typically focus on questions that educators identify as information that they want or need answers to. This means that we use the existing research literature to design investigations that provide practical feedback for practitioners, in addition to addressing and enriching our questions as researchers.

For example:

• Since 1992, grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) have enabled my students and I to collaborate with Math Forum project staff to study learning and motivation both online and in face-to-face projects.  Results of these studies have been used to improve the design and delivery of resources and programming.

•  With grants from the Sloan and the Mellon Foundations, I have worked with natural science professors and institutional researchers to explore factors affecting whether undergraduates choose to continue to pursue majors in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering. Findings from these studies are being used by the instructors to adjust their instructional practices. 

• Supported by Howard Hughes Medical Institute funding to Swarthmore College, my students and I are addressing instructors’ questions about supporting the motivation and learning of middle-school age, economically challenged youth in out-of-school science workshops. These studies are providing guidance about how to engage participants in learning science.   

Findings from these studies are shared with those who have been involved and are reported in articles and chapters. I have also collaborated on editing and writing that considers the implications of research for educational practice. Recently, I co-authored The Power of Interest for Motivation and Engagement (Routledge, 2016), and co-author on the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Consensus Study Report: Supporting Students’ College Success: The Role of Assessment of Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Competencies (National Academies Press, 2018). In addition, I co-edited the American Educational Research Association volume: Interest in Science and Mathematics Learning (2015) as well as the Cambridge University Press volume, The Cambridge Handbook of Motivation and Learning (2019).


PhD Bryn Mawr College
MA Bryn Mawr College
BA University of Pennsylvania

Postdoctoral Fellowship, Educational Testing Service

Selected Publications

Interest Theory

Renninger, K. A. & Hidi, S. E. (in press). To level the playing field, develop interest. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Hidi, S. E. & Renninger, K. A. (2019). Interest development, curiosity, and needed neuroscientific research. In E. G. Peterson & S. E. Hidi (Guest Eds), Special Issue: Curiosity and interest, Educational Psychology Review

Hidi, S. E., Renninger, K, A., & Northoff, G. (2018). The development of interest and self-related processing. In F. Guay, H. W. Marsh, D. M. McInerney, & R. G. Craven (Eds.), International advances in self research. Vol. 6: SELF – Driving positive psychology and well-being (pp.  51-70). Charlotte: Information Age Press.​

Renninger, K. A. & Hidi, S. (2016). The power of interest for motivation and learning. New York: Routledge.

Renninger, K. A. & Hidi, S. E. (2019). Interest development and learning. In K. A. Renninger & S. E. Hidi (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of motivation and learning (pp. 265-290). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Interest Research

Renninger, K. A., Bachrach, J. E., & Hidi, S. E. (2019). Triggering and maintaining in early phases of interest development. In H. Hedges & M. Birbili (Guest Eds.), Special Issue: Conceptualising and researching interest/s as a learning phenomenon. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction

Crouch, C. H., Wisittanawat, P., Cai, M., & Renninger, K. A. (2018). Life science students’ attitudes, interest, and performance in introductory physics for life sciences (IPLS): An exploratory study. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 14 (1). doi:

Renninger, K. A. & Bachrach, J. E. (2015). Studying triggers for interest and engagement using observational methods. Educational Psychologist, 50(1), 58-69.

Renninger, K. A., Kensey, C. C., Stevens, S. J., & Lehman, D. L. (2015).  Perceptions of science and their role in the development of interest. In K. A. Renninger, M. Nieswandt, & S. Hidi (Eds.), Interest in mathematics and science learning (pp. 93-110). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

Assessing learning and participation in virtual communities

Alejandre, S. & Renninger, K. A. (2009). Moving from feedback to scaffolding: Improving the LTD student's experience. In C. DiGiano, S. Goldman, & M. Chorost (Eds.), Education learning technology designers: Guiding and inspiring creators of innovative educational tools (pp. 101-121). New York: Routledge.

Renninger, K. A., Cai, M., Lewis, M., Adams, M., & Ernst, K. (2011). Motivation and learning in an online, unmoderated, mathematics workshop for teachers. Special Issue: Motivation and New Media. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 59 (2), 229-247.

Renninger, K. A., & Shumar, W. (2002). Community building with and for teachers: The Math Forum as a resource for teacher professional development. In K. A. Renninger & W. Shumar (Eds.), Building virtual communities: Learning and change in cyberspace (pp. 60-95). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Theory to practice

Lipstein, R. & Renninger, K. A. (2007). Interest for writing: How teachers can make a difference. English Journal, 96 (4), 79-85.

Renninger, K. A., Ren, Y., & Kern, H. M. (2018). Motivation, engagement, and interest: “In the end, it came down to you and how you think of the problem.” In F. Fischer, C. E. Hmelo-Silver, S. R. Goldman, & P. Reimann (Eds.), International handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 116-126). New York: Routledge.

Renninger, K. A. & Riley, R. R. (2015). The ICAN Intervention: Supporting learners to make connections to science content during science inquiry. Science Scope 29(4), pp. 49-53.



EDUC 014    Pedagogy and Power: Introduction to Education

EDUC 016   Supervision of Student Teachers

EDUC 017   Curriculum and Methods Seminar

EDUC 021   Educational Psychology

EDUC 076   Pre-Student Teaching Practicum

EDUC 091   Special Topics

EDUC 121   Motivation and Learning (Honors Seminar)