Learning Issues: Prior experience & expectations

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Faculty of Social Sciences

A University-wide study into student motivation parameters: implications of academic, environmental and cognitive motivators for practitioners

Jackie Andrews (Nottingham University Business School), Nikolaos Diamantis (School of Mathematical Sciences), Simon Harrison (Department of Mechanical, Materials & Manufacturing Engineering), Mathew Hughes (Nottingham University Business School), Dario Landa Silva (School of Computer Science & Information Technology), Mauro Overend (Department of Architecture and the Built Environment), Xiaowen Tian (School of Contemporary Chinese Studies).

Academics and university management require knowledge of student motivation parameters because motivation influences the magnitude and persistence of learning efforts. Unfortunately, an effective solution to the motivation problem has proved elusive due to its multi-faceted nature. Consequently, this study sought to generate a holistic conceptualization of the antecedents and consequences of student motivation.

The research comprised three phases. First, a literature analysis was performed to glean information to frame conceptualization. Second, a preliminary scoping enquiry using semi-structured interviews with first-year students was undertaken to generate practical insight into student motivation to inform conceptual development. Third, an empirical investigation was made to test the hypothesized model. A questionnaire was published online and a hyperlink distributed by e-mail to 5608 first-year students. A total of 1235 eligible responses were received.

Academic motivators comprising developmental feedback, achievement recognition, student-teacher interaction, and valuable career-based and educational-based outcomes were found to positively influence motivation. Academics can, seemingly, directly influence student motivation by managing these factors through course design and their working relationship with students. Environmental motivators including sufficient high-quality facilities, campus quality and friendly rivalry among students were found to positively influence motivation. Against expectations, the perception of safety had a negative impact on motivation and neither accommodation provision nor positive financial status had a relationship either. These findings raise implications for university management in that students' working environment helps stimulate their motivation to study. Managing these factors is valuable because motivation level is found to have a powerful bearing on academic performance.

Cognitive motivators encompassing "Push" (student obligated to come to university by family or peers), "Pull" (driven to come to university by a desire for further development) and "Adversity" factors (fought extenuating circumstances to fulfil a dream of coming to university) were also examined. It was found that students "pushed" to come to university were subsequently de-motivated whereas those of the other two types were positively influenced by such experiences. Interestingly, students "pushed" to university and those "fought adversity" suffered negative effects on their academic performance. The implication is that students arrive with heterogeneous motivation levels and might well be cognitively handicapped to perform badly regardless of academic input.

It is cautiously concluded that student motivation should not be treated passively by any university stakeholder. Academics are encouraged to actively manage student motivation by manipulating academic conditions and university management are urged to coordinate environmental factors effectively. Staff should also be conscious of cognitive issues and try to manage students' thought processes so as to mediate apparent negative effects.

The study did not investigate second- or third-year undergraduates or postgraduates. Future research could address this. Particularly, a longitudinal study would generate valuable insight into whether motivational factors change over the course of an undergraduate programme. Also, it would be fascinating to see whether differences exist between undergraduates and postgraduates.

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Paper presented at the University's Seventh Learning & Teaching conference (September, 2005).
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