I Like Therefore I Learn! Engineering Student Motivation to Learn in Their Least and Most Favorite Courses

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Conference Proceeding

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Although motivation for learning has been studied widely, there has been a lack of research examining student motivation for learning and course favoritism. Our conversations with students led us to wonder how much engineering students’ perceptions of courses as their favorite or least favorite determined their motivation to learn. Further, we investigated if students shifted goal orientation from performance to mastery between their least and most favorite courses. The implications are substantial for student learning, success, and career persistence if motivation to learn shifts with how much students like or dislike a course, particularly if courses are degree requirements.

We examined how motivation to learn shifted with students’ course favoritism, why students perceived courses as their most or least favorite, student course achievement, and if these were engineering courses, required courses, and/or STEM courses. We used a cross-sectional exploratory study, and a mixed methods approach gathering both quantitative and qualitative data. We selected items from the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire developed a standard demographics survey and free response items associated with course favoritism. The email was sent to over 500 students, and 82 fully completed our survey. Because our research was exploratory, we determined the sample was sufficient to answer our research questions.

Our analysis revealed that students displayed significantly greater mastery motivation for their most favorite course compared to their least favorite (t(83) = 9.65, p<.01). We found that the least favorite course was required for 91.46% of students, while 71.60% of students indicated their most favorite course was required. Significantly, a greater number of least favorite courses were required courses for an engineering degree (x2 (1) = 10.70, p<.01). Our findings indicate course content and instructor are primary factors associated with why students listed a course as most or least favorite. The intensity of the survey response statements indicated a high level of emotion associated with explaining why a class was most or least favorite. Our research revealed that the students are more likely to be mastery oriented in their favorite courses and more performance motivated in their least favorite courses (p < .01). Significant positive correlations (p < .05) occurred among perceived levels of learning, course performance (grade), and mastery learning in the most favorite course. Through our research and analysis several significant positive correlations emerged between level of learning and performance orientation for learning in the least favorite course. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.