A Cross-Classified Path Analysis of the General Self-Determination Theory Model on Situational, Individual and Classroom Levels
According to self-determination theory (SDT), the extent to which students’ motivation is self-determined is critical for their academic performance. When self-determined, students learn because of personal interest or identification, out of a sense of volition, as opposed to pressure or indifference. SDT also proposes that self-determined academic motivation is facilitated when the learning environment supports the basic psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence. This model of social support à needs satisfaction à motivation à learning outcomes is termed the general self-determination theory model (hereafter the General Model), and numerous studies have provided support for it.
However, the current evidence regarding the General Model is limited, in that no study to date has examined it in its full using within-individual methods. Between-individual analytical methods answer the question of whether a person with higher response on variable A is also more likely to report higher levels of B, whereas within-individual analytical methods answer the question of whether the same person is more likely to experience variable B when reporting experiences of A. Despite the popularity of between-individual methods in educational psychology, they may not be able to reveal the within-person relationships between variables, which are critical for understanding inner psychological processes and mechanisms.
Therefore, the current study aims to apply a within-individual analytical approach to the General Model, using a large dataset collected at Purdue over several years. Specifically, in the current dataset, not only may a student provide multiple responses, but also the same classroom contain various students’ responses. Therefore, a cross-classified path model is used, such that the General Model is analyzed under the framework of “responses cross-classified under students and classrooms”. This model enables me to explain the variance-covariance matrix of the variables using the General Model on three levels: the situational (within-student and within-classroom) level, the student level, and the classroom level.
Results generally supported the predictions of the General Model on the within-individual, within-classroom level. That is, for the same student, in the same classroom, when she or he experiences higher levels of autonomy support, they would also be more likely to have their psychological needs satisfied, and to study for self-determined reasons, which is then associated with higher perceived learning performance. Unexpected findings include the dominant effect of competence, the direct effects of learning climate and competence, and the lack of relationship between grades and other variables. The General Model is also largely replicated on the student- and classroom-levels.
In addition, supplemental analyses showed that (1) although the general trend of motivation and perceived learning climate across one’s college life is null, the trend is moderated by major, such that students in business-related majors decrease in self-determined motivation and perceptions of autonomy support, whereas students in social sciences increase in self-determined motivation and perceptions of autonomy support; (2) there is limited and inconsistent support for a buffer effect, such that the higher autonomy and competence needs satisfaction students generally get, the lower their needs satisfaction in a specific classroom depends on the learning climate. Overall, the current research provides a comprehensive and multilevel understanding of the role of self-determination in the classroom.