Designing learning environments that engage science undergraduates: Principles from motivational theory and research

Richard Walker


Although there are many different motivational theories, they can be categorised into two main approaches: person in context and socio-cultural. Person in context approaches emphasise the individual and cognitive nature of motivation and consider it to be a transaction between the person and their environment. Most motivational theories fall into this category and, taken together, they suggest that student engagement in learning depends upon perceptions of autonomy, control, challenge and a sense of relatedness to others. Engagement also depends upon the extent to which students perceive themselves as efficacious and value the knowledge and skills they are learning.

Socio-cultural approaches emphasise the social nature and origins of motivation. These approaches consider that motivation has its origins in collaborative practices, is internalised to become individual motivation, and is externalised in subsequent individual or collaborative activity. These emerging approaches suggest that student engagement will be more effectively motivated in environments in which learning is appropriately scaffolded, and in which positive interpersonal relations and shared understanding are emphasised.

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