Motivation is an important component in predicting a variety of academic outcomes such as performance, persistence, and learning (Elliott & Dweck, 1988; Vallerand, Pelletier, Blais, Briere, Senecal, & Vallieres, 1992). Additionally, the source of students’ motivation can be either intrinsic or extrinsic (Gagné & Deci, 2005). Intrinsic motivation involves doing an activity because of satisfaction derived from the activity itself, whereas extrinsic motivation involves an activity as being instrumental in achieving some reward not inherent to the activity. In the current research, we tested to see how motivations to go to college were related to effort and performance in early engineering courses.
We invited students enrolled in early engineering courses via email to participate in an online study. After their first exams, 78 participants reported their exam grade and motivation to go to college. They were also randomly assigned to one of two conditions. In the intention condition, we asked students to write about specific strategies they could use to be more successful in the course. In the control task, they wrote about their thoughts and feelings regarding the remainder of the course. In two follow-up surveys administered later in the semester, students rated how many days they used specific strategies (e.g., “Reviewed slides or handouts from class.”). At the end of the semester, course instructors provided final grades.
We explored the associations of motivation to go to college with course effort (i.e.., implementing specific study strategies) and performance (i.e., final course grade). We found that final grades were positively correlated with identification, or the extent that going to college was personally important to the student. Therefore, students who identify personal importance in going to college received better grades. In contrast, grades were negatively correlated with amotivation, or the state of lacking motivation to go to college. Further, the number of days students spent using specific study strategies was positively correlated with both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to go to college. That is, regardless of the source of motivation (intrinsic or extrinsic), greater motivation was related to increased efforts. Students who were intrinsically motivated reported using the most study strategies. The only type of motivation unrelated to course effort was when students were motivated by external rewards. Unfortunately, course efforts did not predict final grades. However, we found some evidence that the intention task may have buffered the negative effects of amotivation. Students assigned to the intention task were not affected by amotivation, whereas those in the control task received worse final grades when they were more amotivated.
Based on our findings that personal importance of going to college is related to course performance, instructors should promote to students that higher education is valuable for their success. Additionally, our intention condition shows preliminary evidence that generating specific study strategies may buffer some negative effects for amotivated students.
Elliott, E. S., & Dweck, C. S. (1988). Goals: An approach to motivation and achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(1), 5.
Gagné, M., & Deci, E. L. (2005). Self‐determination theory and work motivation. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26(4), 331-362.
Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., Blais, M. R., Briere, N. M., Senecal, C., & Vallieres, E. F. (1992). The Academic Motivation Scale: A measure of intrinsic, extrinsic, and amotivation in education. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 52(4), 1003-1017.
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