Academic Achievement Motivation: Differences among Underprepared Students Taking a PSI General Psychology Course

By Langley, Seth; Wambach, Cathrine et al. | Research & Teaching in Developmental Education, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview
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Academic Achievement Motivation: Differences among Underprepared Students Taking a PSI General Psychology Course

Langley, Seth, Wambach, Cathrine, Brothen, Thomas, Madyun, Na'im, Research & Teaching in Developmental Education


To create good educational interventions and assess their effectiveness, it is important for developmental educators to understand the complex nature of students' academic achievement motivation and self-regulation. The purpose of this study was to illustrate an approach to this by identifying underprepared college students' motivation and use of self-regulated learning strategies in a Personalized System of Instruction (PSI) General Psychology course. This study explored whether successful and unsuccessful college students in this course differed in learning beliefs, self-efficacy, self-regulation, time and study environment, and effort regulation as measured by the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ; Pintrich, Smith, Garcia, & McKeachie, 1991). Results suggest that these students differ on the self-efficacy, effort regulation, and time and study environment scales.

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Underprepared students enter college despite histories of poor prior academic performance. A 1995 Survey by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that 78 percent of higher institutions that enrolled freshman offered at least one remedial reading, writing, or mathematics course. Some of the students enrolled in these remedial courses may be characterized by learned helplessness and fail to put forth reasonable efforts when necessary. Others may appear to be motivated, but are primarily worried about poor performance and thus avoid the challenges of difficult tasks or new academic experiences (Dweck, 1975). Academic aptitude alone does not explain why some of these students are successful and others are not. Academic achievement motivation may be a critical factor in understanding the success of underprepared college students. The challenge for developmental educators is to understand the development of students' academic achievement motivation and create interventions that foster high levels of academic achievement (Bempechat & Wells, 1989).

Academic achievement motivation affects not only how well a student learns new skills and information, but also how well the student uses existing skills and knowledge in both familiar and novel situations (Lepper, 1983). There is convincing evidence that a variety of achievement deficits, such as those observed in underprepared students, are the result of motivational problems rather than factors directly attributable to specific cognitive abilities (Resnick & Klopfer, 1989). Therefore, approaches to the design of effective instructional practices should be guided by knowledge of factors that impede or contribute to academic achievement motivation.

A fairly recent model that attempts to explain academic achievement motivation is achievement goal theory (Ames, 1992; Urdan, 1997). This theory contends that individuals' interpretations of their achievement outcomes, rather than motivational dispositions or actual outcomes, determine achievement strivings by their effect on cognitive self-regulation processes. Cognitive self-regulation refers to students being actively engaged in their own learning, including analyzing the demands of school assignments, planning for and utilizing their resources to meet these demands, and monitoring their progress toward completion of assignments (Pintrich, 1999). In order for students to accept responsibility for their own learning, they must be motivated to succeed and possess the skills and abilities to engage in appropriate self-regulated learning strategies (McCombs, 1988).

The cause of underpreparation for college may be partially explained by the examination of self-regulated learning strategies. These strategies have been defined as a set of metacognitive, motivational, and behavioral techniques a learner may use to control his or her own learning process (Zimmerman, 1990). Zimmerman suggests that in a given situation, self-regulated learners are aware of the information and skills they must possess, and they take the steps necessary to acquire these skills.

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Academic Achievement Motivation: Differences among Underprepared Students Taking a PSI General Psychology Course


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