Effects of Teacher Autonomy Support and Students' Autonomous Motivation on Learning in Physical Education

By Shen, Bo; McCaughtry, Nate et al. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, March 2009 | Go to article overview

Effects of Teacher Autonomy Support and Students' Autonomous Motivation on Learning in Physical Education


Shen, Bo, McCaughtry, Nate, Martin, Jeffrey, Fahlman, Mariane, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


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

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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 Theory

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. …

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