Meta-study on learning motivation in students: the key lies in learning success and teacher behavior

June 9th, 2022

Thorben Jansen and Jennifer Meyer, who both head junior research groups at the IPN, together with Allan Wigfield from the University of Maryland and Jens Möller from Kiel University, have achieved a special publication success. A large-scale literature review on student motivation appears in the renowned journal Psychological Bulletin, examining which variables are related to students' motivation to learn. It looked at student characteristics as well as aspects of the learning environment and teachers. "Teachers and learning success matter. The students' family background or gender are less important." Thorben Jansen sums up the results.

What is particularly exciting and groundbreaking for school practice is that students who have high-quality instruction and a good relationship with their teachers are especially motivated to learn. "If student motivation is to be fostered, ensuring continuous learning growth and a good relationship with teachers will help most of all," Jansen continued.

On the part of the students, perceptions of their own abilities and their learning success are strongly linked to their motivation to learn. In contrast, the social status of the family, ethnicity and the support children receive at home play a rather subordinate role in motivation. The fact that family background is weakly related to learning motivation opens up the possibility for teachers to promote the motivation of their students with targeted interventions.

The results are based on the analysis of 125 survey studies, which the team systematically evaluated over six years according to their content and methods. A total of more than 5,000 empirical studies and data from 25 million students were considered. The large data base also allows the study to provide important information for further research. However, the study does not allow conclusions to be drawn about whether motivation is the cause or the result. "Motivation to learn is a complex construct and is understood differently between studies and research traditions. We hope the study will provide a point of connection between traditions and are now working toward a common understanding," said Jennifer Meyer. The study is thus a call for further theoretically sound research and still far from being a final report of research on learning motivation.

Jansen, T., Meyer, J., Wigfield, A., & Möller, J. (2022). Which student and instructional variables are most strongly related to academic motivation in K-12 education? A systematic review of meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 148(1-2), 1–26.