Motivation theories and implications for teaching and learning in the biosciences

Perumal, Dhayaneethie (2009) Motivation theories and implications for teaching and learning in the biosciences. Investigations in university teaching and learning, 5 (2). pp. 111-120. ISSN 1740-5106


Learning is fundamental throughout the development of human life. It is also known that motivation is a key factor to successful learning. The pre-entry attributes of the student (Terenzini & Pascarella, 1980) including their own internal attitudes and motivations, are considered important for successful integration into a university system. In addition, Tinto (1975) has maintained that pre-university schooling is important for academic and social integration of students and hence their learning and motivation as deduced from successful completion rates. A pivotal goal of higher education is for students ‘to learn how to learn.’ A variety of teaching approaches encourage students to adopt a deep approach to learning by seeking a personal understanding. Within the science domain, the recent Science and Innovation White Paper (HEFCE 2008) highlighted ‘the critical role that higher education plays in the competitiveness of the nation and the productivity of its public services’. A good supply of well-trained, talented and motivated researchers is essential for research excellence and innovation. The challenge therefore, for higher education, is to skill and motivate science students to become creative and entrepreneurial ‘lifelong learners’ in a fast changing work environment that provides better health care, ensures a cleaner, safer environment, and builds on the existing science base to ensure excellence. For the Biosciences disciplines, QAA Benchmark statements specify motivating and challenging the student with the use of a ‘skilled and balanced selection of teaching and learning techniques’ (QAA website). Blended learning is recommended through a wide range of teaching methods - including laboratory sessions, self-directed study, computer-aided learning, case studies and problem-based learning, demonstrations, active learning sets, work-based learning and/or placements, reflective practice, research project work - and assessment strategies. This paper provides an overview of theories of motivation based on the work of some motivation theorists. Some key principles are identified from the literature that link cognition, motivation and learning and which could have application in the teaching of Biosciences towards the goal of lifelong learning.

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