Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

The Role of Choice in Children's Learning: A Distinctive Cultural and Gender Difference in Efficacy, Interest, and Effort

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

The Role of Choice in Children's Learning: A Distinctive Cultural and Gender Difference in Efficacy, Interest, and Effort

Article excerpt


A cross-cultural experiment testing the effect of personal choice on learning was conducted with fifth- and sixthgraders from Canada (n = 130) and Taiwan (n = 153) using a computerized foreign language learning task. The results showed that choice had no significant impact on children's interest, effort, or learning outcome. Although comparable to their Chinese counterparts in efficacy beliefs, the Canadian children reported to be more interested but showed less effort and performed less well on the task. The Canadian boys had a lower efficacy belief and consistently showed less interest and effort than the girls; this gender gap, however, was not evident in the Chinese. Unlike the Canadians, Chinese children's effort was unrelated to efficacy beliefs or interest. When told explicitly there would be no test, Chinese children became more interested in the task but the Canadians were unaffected. Implications of these findings are discussed and further studies are suggested.


Une experience transculturelle testant les effets du choix personnel sur l'apprentissage a ete menee aupres d'enfants de cinquieme et sixieme annee du Canada (n = 130) et de Taiwan (n = 153) a l'aide d'une tache informatisee d'apprentissage d'une langue etrangere. Les resultats ont montre que le choix n'a pas d'incidence significative sur l'interet, l'effort ou le resultat de l'apprentissage des enfants. Bien que les convictions d'efficacite des enfants chinois et canadiens soient comparables, les enfants canadiens se sont dits plus interesses, mais ont montre moins d'effort et une moins bonne performance de la tache. Les garcons canadiens avaient une conviction d'efficacite plus faible et montraient de facon constante moins d'interet et d'effort que les filles; cet ecart entre les sexes n'etait toutefois pas evident chez les enfants chinois. Contrairement aux canadiens, l'effort des enfants chinois n'etait pas lie aux convictions d'efficacite ou a l'intere. Lorsqu'on leur disait de facon explicite qu'il n'y aurait pas de test, les enfants chinois devenaient plus interesses dans la tache, mais il n'y avait pas d'effet sur les enfants canadiens. Les implications de ces conclusions font l'objet de discussion et d'autres etudes sont suggerees.

Large scale multinational testing (e.g., TIMSS, The Third International Mathematics and Science, see website http:/ / has been held in recent years to examine students' performance in various academic subjects. The cross-national comparison in children's learning is a direct manifest of the globalization of the world. As our world becomes more globalized, the need for further understanding of the cultural differences both within and across nations becomes more pressing. The present study is a cross-cultural experiment examining the impact of choice and testing on students' interest and effort in learning. Parallel experiments are conducted with children in Taiwan and Canada, which allow for a cross-cultural comparison on the impact of different motivational factors in children's learning.

Many North-American teachers hold a common belief that giving students an opportunity for personal choice promotes learning and motivation. In an interview with 36 practising American teachers, Flowerday and Schraw (2000) found that when asked specifically about the effects of choice on student learning, nearly all of the teachers indicated that they believe their students learn more when choices are offered. Most teachers in their study believe that giving students personal choices leads to personal empowerment and a higher level of interest, that students tend to spend more time and effort on the learning task if they are offered choices, and that giving students choices helps build learning skills, such as self-regulation.

The idea of choice as an important factor in learning has also been strongly advocated in Deci and Ryan's (1985) self-determination theory, in that it assumes that provision of choices increases students' sense of autonomy and hence leads to a positive effect on learning. …

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