Student motivation to learn: is self-belief the key to transition and first year performance in an undergraduate health professions program?

Susan Edgar
Susan Edgar
The University of Notre Dame Australia
Sandra E Carr
Sandra E Carr
University of Western Australia
Antonio Celenza
Antonio Celenza
University of Western Australia

BMC Med Educ 2019 Apr 18;19(1):111. Epub 2019 Apr 18.

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Nedlands, Western Australia, 6009, Australia.

Background: Student motivation to learn has been undervalued to date though has been identified as an area influencing student success and retention at university. The transition into university has been highlighted as a key period affecting student outcomes as well as well-being. Early identification of those students at risk may assist the transition for many students moving into higher education. Previous research has identified the Motivation and Engagement Scale - University/College (MES-UC) as a valid instrument for measuring motivation to learn in physiotherapy students. The aim of this study was to determine the relationship between a student's motivation to learn on entry into an undergraduate physiotherapy program and their performance through first year. The relationship of admissions scores, to motivation to learn on entry, were also considered, to determine any link between these measures.

Methods: An observational longitudinal study was conducted on one cohort of undergraduate physiotherapy students commencing their studies in 2015 with a response rate of 67%. Correlations were performed between admission variables and Year 1 MES-UC scoring; and between Year 1 MES-UC scoring and subsequent academic performance across first year, taking into consideration gender and age.

Results: Self-belief was identified as the key dimension of motivation influencing student success in the transition into university. Results identified the link between self-belief scores on entry and academic performance in first year, including grade point average and performance in six of nine courses. Courses where there was no significant relationship were identified as curriculum areas where students may be less motivated. There was a relationship between the admissions interview and MES-UC scoring, demonstrating a link between non-cognitive selection measures and student motivation to learn on entry into the program.

Conclusion: Motivation to learn and specifically self-belief with learning, may be influential in the transition into higher education. Undertaking measures of academic motivation may be useful to determine student engagement with curriculum, through identifying any link between student self-belief and performance in specific courses. Changes to curriculum based on student motivation as well as targeting early those students with reduced self-belief may improve student success, psychosocial wellbeing and retention.

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April 2019
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