Academic journal article Journal of Interactive Learning Research

Motivational Orientation in a Problem-Based Learning Environment

Academic journal article Journal of Interactive Learning Research

Motivational Orientation in a Problem-Based Learning Environment

Article excerpt

This study employed a mixed methods design to examine students' motivational orientation (intrinsic/extrinsic) during problem-based learning (PBL), comparing it to their orientation during typical class activities. Participants were regular education students who used Alien Rescue, a computer based PBL program designed for sixth grade science. Analysis of the quantitative data shows that students demonstrate more intrinsically motivated behavior during PBL than during their regular class activities. The qualitative data suggest that the greater opportunity for collaboration and student control over class activities afforded by PBL may partially account for students' enhanced motivation, though the media-rich, game-like environment offered by the software program, a lack of extrinsic motivators, as well as the novelty of the approach for these learners may also have encouraged an intrinsic orientation. Implications of the findings for the design of PBL programs are discussed.


The literature on intrinsic motivation enumerates the many ways it can benefit learning. Intrinsically motivated students persist in the face of failure, undertake challenging aspects of a task, show creativity, and remain cognitively engaged in tasks longer than their extrinsically motivated peers (Ormrod, 1995). Given these conditions, it is no wonder that interest in learning for its own sake has been shown to be positively correlated with achievement (Alexander & Murphy, 1998; Schiefele, 1996).

How do we account for variations in motivational orientation? Research conducted within a developmental framework (e.g., Harter, 1978a) cast intrinsic versus extrinsic orientation as a property of the individual, an enduring characteristic that is shaped over time by successes and failures (Schunk, 2000). Similarly, models that have arisen out of a cognitive framework have primarily examined learners' perceptions and beliefs, tacitly defining motivational orientation as a product of the covert thought processes of the individual (Bong, 1996). In both cases the effect of situational variables on motivation has largely been overlooked.

Recent theories of motivation have taken a different view, using a "learner in context" approach in the study of motivation. In their theory of situated motivation, Paris and Turner (1995) postulated that motivation, like cognition, is situated. They argued that an individual's motivational beliefs and behaviors are derived from contextual transactions. From this perspective, motivation is necessarily unstable, varying with each context because the context itself causes variations in learners' perceptions and goals.

This interest in the role of context has led researchers to examine the types of approaches and the conditions within learning environments that can encourage learners to assume an intrinsic motivational orientation to learning. One approach that holds promise is problem-based learning (PBL). In PBL, all learning occurs as a result of students' efforts to solve a complex problem. The literature on PBL stresses that this problem should be authentic (Koschmann, Kelson, Feltovich, & Barrows, 1996), meaning that it reflects a real world problem that experts within a field would be called upon to handle. Instruction begins with the presentation of this problem; as students grapple with it, they realize that they lack information and skills that they need to develop a solution. Students then engage in self-directed study to meet these learning needs. As a result, activity is largely under student control and learning is meaningful because students are the ones who have generated a need for it. Students often colla borate with peers, but while collaboration is considered an integral component of PBL in medical programs (Williams, 1993), not all efforts at creating PBL environments have used collaborative groups, and the question of whether or not the team approach is essential has been addressed in the literature (Boud & Feletti, 1991). …

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