I don't know if the phrase, interest driven learning or individualized learning, had been coined, or if it was a popular subject of discussion in the late eighties, but Isaac Asimov was describing the concept in this 1988 interview with Bill Moyers:
That's not the amazing thing about the interview. Computers weren't in every home at the time, yet Asimov envisioned how this technology could revolutionize learning.
Has his vision been realized with the availability of the internet and with the many sites created for autodidacts or independent learners? Sites like HippoCampus, Khan Academy, iTunes U, BBC Languages, just to name a few. Independent and *pure* interest driven learning is possible.
Today, if we want to know about anything, we just search it on the internet, like Asimov described. We don't even have to buy the book, the floppy disk or the cd-rom at the store. Whole courses are available online - most are free. Maybe Sci-fi writers ARE able to see into the future.
Some feared that computers would "dehumanize" learning, and Asimov answered that. I think this technology would become cold and impersonal *only* if it were forced, uniform, controlled and the knowledge gained from it, tested with a one size fits all test. That would make the innovative seem Orwellian.
I think, as a society, we've outgrown the one size fits all type of education that was once so convenient. Technology has allowed for higher quality conveniences. We have the opportunity to make learning a unique experience for each person, based on their "bent." The interviewer asked, "What if I only want to learn about baseball?" Asimov answered, "That's alright...The more you learn about baseball the more you might grow interested in mathematics to figure out what they mean by those earned run averages, the batting averages, and so on... you might, at the end, become more interested in math than baseball, if you are following your own bent..." He sounds a little like John Holt and the many unschoolers I've encountered over the years. ;)
Do you think his vision of learning via computer (the way he described it) was innovative or Orwellian? I think the distinguishing factor is Freedom.
I also think that, contrary to what Asimov said, it could replace school for the independent and motivated learner.