A Learner-Centered Approach Affects Student Motivation

Most of the time research evidence grows by bits and pieces—not all at once, and the evidence documenting the effectiveness of learner-centered approaches is no exception. It continues to accumulate, as illustrated by this study. It occurred in a third-year pharmacotherapy course in a doctor of pharmacy program. The students were randomly assigned to five- and six-member groups, with each group being assigned a patient case with multiple drug-related problems.

Students in the groups had to jointly work through the case and prepare a detailed course of recommendations as well as some alternative plans. They also had to provide classmates with a list of key learning points and reading references. Each group presented its case to the class. The presentation was critiqued by another randomly selected group, and then the faculty discussant provided feedback. Based on this feedback, the group could choose to revise and resubmit its case plan for the patient. The groups could also opt to complete several optional assignments.

To measure the effects of this learner-centered experience, the researcher had students complete the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ), a widely used empirical instrument, before the course began and then again at its conclusion. At the end of the course, students also assessed the extent to which this learner-centered approach facilitated their preparation and learning.

The MSLQ includes six measures of motivation. The comparison of pre- and post-test scores revealed improvement at statistically significant levels for three of those scales: intrinsic goal orientation (a measure that focuses on learning and mastery), control of learning beliefs (beliefs that outcomes are the result of effort rather than luck), and self-efficacy (beliefs about competence and ability). Although not significant, there were also improvements in test anxiety and task value (judgments about the interest, use, and importance of course content). As for the learning strategies, there was significant improvement for two of the nine subscales: critical thinking and metacognitive self-regulation.

The researcher expected that MSLQ subscale scores would correlate with exam performance, but that relationship did not emerge in the data. “A possible explanation is that the learner-centered approach may have made students less interested in their grades, as suggested by the majority of the students reporting that they focused on learning rather than just obtaining a good grade.” Also the magnitude of improvement was small and not present for a number of the subscales.

Despite this, students were uniformly positive in their assessment of the experience. Seventy-one percent agreed or strongly agreed that the approach enhanced their ability to learn the material; 88 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they were able to learn the material and obtain the grade they desired. More than 76 percent thought working with other students reinforced the material more than did studying alone, and more than 75 percent said they would rather take a pharmacotherapy course using a learner-centered approach.

As the researcher notes, the rapid development of technology and drugs within this field makes it essential that students “be motivated to become lifelong learners rather than allowed to learn ‘just what is necessary to pass the test,’ if they are to provide quality care to their future patients.” A similar assessment applies to student learning in almost any field nowadays.

Reference: Cheang, K. I. (2009). Effects of learner-centered teaching on motivation and learning strategies in a third-year pharmacotherapy course. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 73 (3), Article 42.

Reprinted from “A Learner-Centered Approach Affects Motivation in One Course.” The Teaching Professor, 26.6 (2010): 2.