This study applied self-determination theory to investigate the effects of students' autonomous motivation and their perceptions of teacher autonomy support on need satisfaction adjustment, learning achievement, and cardiorespiratory fitness over a 4-month personal conditioning unit. Participants were 253 urban adolescents (121 girls and 132 boys, ages = 12-14 years). Based on a series of multiple regression analyses, perceived autonomy support by teachers significantly predicted students' need satisfaction adjustment and led to learning achievement, especially for students who were not autonomously motivated to learn in physical education. In turn, being more autonomous was directly associated with cardiorespiratory fitness enhancement. The findings suggest that shifts in teaching approaches toward providing more support for students' autonomy and active involvement hold promise for enhancing learning.
Key words: cardiorespiratory fitness, learning achievement, need satisfaction adjustment
In recent years, self-determination theory (SDT) has been applied in physical education (PE) to better understand students' motivation. Researchers have found that self-determined motivation is directly associated with adaptive motivational behaviors. In particular, students who perceive a high degree of self-determination in PE demonstrate positive class behavior (e.g., put forth more effort in class; Ntoumanis, 2005), report intrinsic motivation (Standage, Duda, & Ntoumanis, 2005), and exhibit strong leisure-time physical activity intentions (Standage, Duda, & Ntoumanis, 2003) as well as physical activity behaviors (Shen, McCaughtry, & Martin, 2007). Researchers have also found that nurturing a student's self-determined motivation in mandatory PE may enhance their chances of enrolling in optional PE courses in the future (Ntoumanis, 2005).
Despite these promising achievements, prior research in SDT has not translated well or easily into developing effective PE programs. There are two potential reasons for this. First, prior research using SDT has rarely addressed learning-achievement variables. Therefore, it is questionable whether students' self-determined motivation has any direct influence on learning. Second, SDT studies in PE (e.g., Shen et al., 2007; Standage et al., 2003) were mostly cross-sectional. Consequently, the proposed causal-effect relationships between SDT and motivational behavior lacked time correspondence. Little consideration has been given to the changes in motivation or affective factors as a result of learning. With these concerns in mind, this prospective study was designed to examine the influence of SDT on students' learning achievement and fitness improvement in PE.
Self-determination theorists suggest that psychological needs are essential for growth and well being (Deci & Ryan, 2000). They posit that within the educational domain, opportunities to experience autonomy, competence, and relatedness (each representing a basic psychological need) are critical in promoting satisfaction and optimal learning (Reeve, Bolt, & Cai, 1999). According to SDT, autonomy refers to the basic need to perceive one's behavior as self-endorsed or volitional (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Competence is the need to experience satisfaction in exercising and extending one's capabilities (Deci & Ryan, 2000), as people seem to seek challenges that are optimal for their level of development (Harter, 1978). Finally, relatedness concerns the need to seek and develop secure relationships with others. In PE, relatedness can be reflected in the relationships that students perceive they have with their classmates, such as feeling connected and accepted by peers (Standage et al., 2003).
In the extent to which these psychological needs are fulfilled, self-determination theorists propose that an individual's behavior can be categorized as lying at some point on an intrinsic-extrinsic continuum. This continuum reflects the degree of behavioral autonomy perceived by the individual (Deci & Ryan, 2000). At the internal end of the perceived locus-of-causality spectrum, intrinsic motivation, integrated regulation, and identified regulation lie adjacent to one another. Behaviors engaged in spontaneously, for enjoyment and interest alone, without external reinforcement or perceived contingency, are characterized as intrinsically motivated. Valued behaviors that have been incorporated into an individual's serf-concept are characterized as integrated. (1) Behaviors that are positively valued, but not necessarily enjoyed, are characterized as being identified. At the external end of the perceived locus of causality spectrum, behaviors are enacted due to the perceived demands or expectations of external forces, termed introjected regulation. Behaviors are acted as a result of significant others forcing the action, known as external regulation. Specifically, external regulation stems from the perception that one "must" participate in an activity, whereas introjected regulation derives from the feeling that one "should" take part (Standage et al., 2003).
SDT makes important assumptions about the nature of social contexts. Social environmental factors (e.g., family, peers, school, community, etc) that meet the needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness will enhance perceived need satisfaction, while social environment factors that prevent the expression of those needs will jeopardize satisfaction (Standage et al., 2003). Given the importance of school as a social context on children and adolescents' development, Ryan and Deci (2000a) proposed "in schools, the facilitation of more self-determined learning requires classroom conditions that allow satisfaction of these three basic human needs--that is that support the innate needs to feel connected, effective, and agentic as one is exposed to new ideas and exercises new skills" (p. 65).
To date, most research on the effects of perceived environmental and social factors in need satisfaction have been conducted using autonomy (Black & Deci, 2000; Ntoumanis, 2005). Autonomy-supportive contexts are those that provide choice and opportunity for self-direction and a minimal amount of pressured evaluations, imposed goals, and demands. Autonomy-supportive environments provide greater positive informational feedback and a context in which the learner's opinion is considered (Ryan & Deci, 2000b). An autonomy-supportive teacher might, for instance, provide students with necessary information while encouraging them to use the information to solve a problem in their own way. In contrast, an individual in a position of authority (e.g., a teacher) who is controlling would pressure students to behave in particular ways, such as through coercive techniques that generally include implicit or explicit rewards or punishments (Black & Deci, 2000).
Recognizing that students depend on their teachers for information and guidance, Ryan (1993) stressed that autonomy support should not be misconstrued as permissiveness, neglect, or independence (i.e., the teacher allows students to do whatever they want). Teachers' instruction and their autonomy support are two independent contextual variables that can be complementary and mutually supportive (Reeve, 2002). Student motivation thrives under conditions in which teachers find ways to provide …