Fostering intrinsic motivation in engineering education: a cluster analysis of engineering students’ basic psychological needs

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IntroductionSelf Determination Theory (SDT) suggests that the satisfaction of the basic psychological needs contributes tostudents’ intrinsic motivation as well as a deep approach to learning (Ryan and Deci, 2000; Baeten, Kyndt, Struyven,& Dochy, 2010). In our study, we used the SDT framework to evaluate and redesign a large basic course of Historyand Ethics for first year engineering students.MethodsWe conducted cluster analysis to understand how different combinations of students’ satisfaction of autonomy andcompetence are related to intrinsic motivation, perception of learning, perceived value of the course and overallsatisfaction with it. Questionnaires exploring all abovementioned variables were administered to the students at theend of the course. The sample consisted of 565 students. In addition, in depth interviews with 12 students wereconducted using the SDT framework to explore students’ perceptions of the learning environment and the factorsthey considered as supportive to their autonomy and competence. The qualitative data were analyzed thematically.ResultsThree clusters were derived based on students’ satisfaction of autonomy and competence: a low, a medium and ahigh satisfaction cluster. Follow-up post hoc tests showed that these clusters differed significantly across alldependent variables. Students in the high satisfaction cluster, reported significantly higher intrinsic motivation, atransformative approach to learning, more appreciation and satisfaction with the course. The qualitative study alsoindicated that students value the possibility to formulate groups and choose the project theme as indicators ofautonomy. Perceived competence was enhanced via structured feedback activities, sufficient time allocated toexercises, clarity of learning objectives and study material. Other important factors for students’ intrinsic motivationsuggested by the qualitative study was the perceived relevance and value of the course for students’ professionalidentity as engineers.DiscussionOur study confirms that satisfaction of students’ perceived autonomy and competence plays an important role intheir intrinsic motivation, approach to learning and course satisfaction. We will discuss in detail the findings of thecluster analysis and we will provide suggestions for educational changes in the learning environment that supportstudents’ basic psychological needs.ReferencesBaeten, M., Kyndt, E., Struyven, K., & Dochy, F. (2010). Using student-centred learning environments to stimulatedeep approaches to learning: Factors encouraging or discouraging their effectiveness. Educational ResearchReview, 5(3), 243–260.Ryan, R. M. and Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, socialdevelopment, and well-being, American Psychologist, 55, 68–78.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2019
Event7th Self-determination Theory Conference - Egmond aan Zee, Netherlands
Duration: 21 May 201924 May 2019


Conference7th Self-determination Theory Conference
CityEgmond aan Zee


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