Developmental Stage

Publication Type

Although online courses are becoming increasingly popular in higher education, evidence is inconclusive regarding whether online students are likely to be as academically successful and motivated as students in face-to-face courses. In this study, we documented online and face-to-face students’ academic motivation and outcomes in community college mathematics courses, and whether differences might vary based on student characteristics (i.e., gender, underrepresented ethnic/racial minority status, first-generation college status, and adult learner status). Over 2,400 developmental mathematics students reported on their math motivation at the beginning (Week 1) and middle (Weeks 3, 5) of the semester. Findings indicated that online students received lower grades and were less likely to pass from their courses than face-to-face students, with online adult learners receiving particularly low final course grades and pass rates. In contrast, online and face-to-face students did not differ on incoming motivation, with subgroup analyses suggesting largely similar patterns of motivation across student groups. Together, findings suggest that online and face-to-face students may differ overall in academic outcomes but not in their motivation or differentially based on student characteristics. Small but significant differences on academic outcomes across modalities (Cohen’s ds = 0.17–0.28) have implications for community college students’ success in online learning environments, particularly for adult learners who are most likely to be faced with competing demands.

Pass rates in community college front-door math courses are a national crisis. The current study adapted a utility value intervention from Hulleman and Harackiewicz (2009) to facilitate student success in community college math. In a double-blind experimental study (n = 180), we found a significant effect of the intervention on student pass rates. Further analysis revealed the intervention primarily improved men’s passing rates by 13% (d = .54), but did not affect women’s (d = -.15). The current study demonstrates that the utility value intervention can boost community college math outcomes. Intervention fidelity, practice, theory, and study limitations are discussed.

This study compared two expectancy-value-theory-based interventions designed to promote college students’ motivation and performance in introductory college physics. The utility value intervention was adapted from prior research and focused on helping students relate course material to their lives in order to perceive the material as more useful. The cost reduction intervention was novel and aimed to help students perceive the challenges of their physics course as less psychologically costly to them. Students (n = 148) were randomly assigned to the utility value intervention, cost reduction intervention, or a control condition. Participants completed intervention or control activities online at two points during the semester. Their motivational beliefs and values were measured twice, once immediately after the intervention or control activities ended and again at the end of the semester. Both interventions improved students’ grades and exam scores relative to the control group (d’s from 0.24-0.30), with stronger effects for students with lower initial course exam scores (d’s from 0.72-0.90). Unexpectedly, both interventions effects were explained in part by initially lower performing students reporting higher competence-related beliefs and lower cost immediately after they received either intervention, compared with lower performing students in the control condition. Results suggest that cost reduction and utility value interventions are both useful tools for improving students’ STEM course performance.

This article reports findings from the largest-ever randomized controlled trial of a growth mindset program in the United States in K-12 settings. The study combined a test for cause-and-effect (a randomized experiment) with a sample that enables claims about an entire population (a nationally representative probability sample). The study found that a short (less than one hour), online growth mindset intervention—which teaches that intellectual abilities can be developed—improved grades among lower-achieving students and increased enrollment in advanced mathematics courses among both higher- and lower-achieving students in a nationally representative sample of regular public high schools in the United States. Notably, the study identified school contexts that moderated the effects of the growth mindset intervention: the intervention had a stronger effect on grades when peer norms aligned with the messages of the intervention. In addition to its rigorous design, the study also featured independent data collection and processing, pre-registration of analyses, and corroboration of results by a blinded Bayesian analysis.

Expectancy-value theory (Eccles, 2009) posits that students’ relative expectancies and values across domains inform their academic choices. Students should therefore be more likely to choose a STEM major if they have higher expectancies and values in STEM domains compared with other domains. Accordingly, this study aimed to explore how upper secondary school students’ profiles in expectancy-value beliefs in math and English are related to concurrent achievement and university major choice. Data on expectancies and values in math and English were collected from 2,153 German students in their last school year, along with their concurrent math and English achievement and their university major 2 years later. Latent profile analyses revealed four distinct expectancy-value profiles characterized as Low Math/High English, Moderate Math/Moderate English, High Math/Low English, and High Math/High English. Students’ gender, socioeconomic status, and type of school were meaningfully associated with profile membership. For instance, female students were overrepresented in the Low Math/High English profile compared with other profiles. Students in the four profiles also differed in their math and English achievement. These differences were mostly in line with students’ expectancies and values in the respective domain, but some differences suggested that intraindividual cross-domain comparison processes were also at play. Finally, profile membership predicted students’ choice of a STEM major over and above demographic characteristics and achievement. Students in the High Math/Low English profile were most likely to choose a STEM major. These findings support the importance of considering intraindividual comparisons of expectancies and values for students’ achievement-related behavior and choices.

During high school, developing competence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is critically important as preparation to pursue STEM careers, yet students in the United States lag behind other countries, ranking 35th in mathematics and 27th in science achievement internationally. Given the importance of STEM careers as drivers of modern economies, this deficiency in preparation for STEM careers threatens the United States’ continued economic progress.

In the present study, the research team evaluated the long-term effects of a theory-based intervention designed to help parents convey the importance of mathematics and science courses to their high-school–aged children. A prior report on this intervention showed that it promoted STEM course-taking in high school; in the current follow-up study, the researchers found that the intervention improved mathematics and science standardized test scores on a college preparatory examination (ACT) for adolescents by 12 percentile points. Greater high-school STEM preparation (STEM course-taking and ACT scores) was associated with increased STEM career pursuit (i.e., STEM career interest, the number of college STEM courses, and students’ attitudes toward STEM) 5 years after the intervention. These results suggest that the intervention can affect STEM career pursuit indirectly by increasing high-school STEM preparation. This finding underscores the importance of targeting high-school STEM preparation to increase STEM career pursuit.

The pipeline toward careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) begins to leak in high school, when some students choose not to take advanced mathematics and science courses. The research team conducted a field experiment testing whether a theory-based intervention that was designed to help parents convey the importance of mathematics and science courses to their high school–aged children would lead them to take more mathematics and science courses in high school. The three-part intervention consisted of two brochures mailed to parents and a Web site, all highlighting the usefulness of STEM courses. This relatively simple intervention led students whose parents were in the experimental group to take, on average, nearly one semester more of science and mathematics in the last 2 years of high school, compared with the control group. Parents are an untapped resource for increasing STEM motivation in adolescents, and the results demonstrate that motivational theory can be applied to this important pipeline problem.

In this paper the research team discuss two studies that explore the effects of connecting classroom content to students' lives. First, the research team replicated prior work by demonstrating that the utility value intervention, which manipulated whether students made connections between the course material and their lives, increased both interest and performance of low-performing students in a college general education course. In Study 2, the team manipulated connection frequency by developing an enhanced utility value intervention designed to increase the frequency with which students made connections. The results indicated that students randomly assigned to either utility value intervention, compared with the control condition, subsequently became more confident that they could learn the material, which led to increased course performance. The utility value interventions were particularly effective for the lowest-performing students.

In the context of concerns about American youths' failure to take advanced math and science (MS) courses in high school, we examined mothers' communication with their adolescent about taking MS courses. At ninth grade, U.S. mothers were interviewed about their responses to hypothetical questions from their adolescent about the usefulness of algebra, geometry, calculus, biology, chemistry, and physics. Responses were coded for elaboration and making personal connections to the adolescent. The number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics courses taken in 12th grade was obtained from school records. Mothers' use of personal connections predicted adolescents' MS interest and utility value, as well as actual MS course-taking. Parents can play an important role in motivating their adolescent to take MS courses.

Harackiewicz, Rozek, Hulleman, and Hyde (2012) documented an increase in adolescents’ STEM course-taking for students whose parents were assigned to a utility-value intervention in comparison to a control group. In this study, the researchers examined whether that intervention was equally effective for boys and girls and examined factors that moderate and mediate the effect of the intervention on adolescent outcomes. The intervention was most effective in increasing STEM course-taking for high-achieving daughters and low-achieving sons, whereas the intervention did not help low-achieving daughters (prior achievement measured in terms of grade point average in 9th-grade STEM courses). The results are consistent with a model in which parents’ utility value plays a causal role in affecting adolescents’ achievement behavior in the STEM domain. The findings also indicate that utility-value interventions with parents can be effective for low-achieving boys and for high-achieving girls but suggest modifications in their use with low-achieving girls.

There are many promising psychological interventions on the horizon, but there is no clear methodology for preparing them to be scaled up. Drawing on design thinking, the present research formalizes a methodology for redesigning and tailoring initial interventions. The researchers test the methodology using the case of fixed versus growth mindsets during the transition to high school. The current research provides a model for how to improve and scale interventions that begin to address pressing educational problems. It also provides insight into how to teach a growth mindset more effectively.

Although numerous theories of motivation have been proposed over the past few decades, Expectancy-Value models of motivation stand out for their ability to synthesize multiple theoretical perspectives, capture the key components of what motivates an individual, and explain a wide range of achievement-related behaviors. In the current chapter, we review the contemporary perspective of Expectancy-Value models used in education.


This meta-analysis provides an extensive and organized summary of intervention studies in education that are grounded in motivation theory. We identified 74 published and unpublished papers that experimentally manipulated an independent variable and measured an authentic educational outcome within an ecologically valid educational context. Our analyses included 92 independent effect sizes with 38,377 participants. Our results indicated that interventions were generally effective, with an average mean effect size of d = 0.49 (95% confidence interval = [0.43, 0.56]). Although there were descriptive differences in the effect sizes across several moderator variables considered in our analyses, the only significant difference found was for the type of experimental design, with randomized designs having smaller effect sizes than quasi-experimental designs. This work illustrates the extent to which interventions and accompanying theories have been tested via experimental methods and provides information about appropriate next steps in developing and testing effective motivation interventions in education.


The authors tested whether classroom activities that encourage students to connect course materials to their lives increases student motivation and learning. In a randomized field experiment with high school students, the authors found that a relevance intervention, which encouraged students to make connections between their lives and what they were learning in their science courses, increased interest in science and course grades for students with low expectations for success.

The authors review achievement goal theory--one of the most prominent theories of motivation in educational research. They review criticisms of a multiple goal perspective (the positive effect of holding both performance-approach and master goals) in light of the relevant research and spotlight future areas of research.