Impact of Motivational Beliefs on the Experiences of Learning in Higher Education

Background to Research

Adequately meeting the varying needs of an increasingly diverse population of students is a major challenge for education. To face this challenge educational researchers have explored a variety of areas within the students' educational experience to examine the effects on students. Many studies of the experiences, characteristics and needs of students at various grade levels and age groups have been conducted. There is a general consensus that the needs, interests, preferences and characteristics of the students change with the social, economic, and technological changes around them. Provision of the best environment and conditions that support better learning and development of students is on the educational reform agenda worldwide (UNESCO, 1998). Research has emphasized the need and importance of students' views and opinions about their learning experiences, while planning and providing supportive conditions and facilities for learning (Leckey & Neill, 2001, Nicholls, 2002).

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan came into being in 1947. It has an estimated population of 164.8 Million (Population Census organization, 2008) with an overall literacy rate of 51.6 %

(Government of Pakistan, 2005). Education in Pakistan is divided into five levels, Primary (grades one through five), Middle (grades six through eight), High (grades nine and ten, leading to Secondary School certificate), Intermediate (grades eleven and twelve, leading to a higher Secondary School Certificate), and Higher Education (education above grades 12) leading to a bachelor degree (BA/BSC) after two years of study mostly at affiliated colleges. A Masters Degree or Postgraduate degree is mostly undertaken at universities and requires another two years of study. At the time of independence in 1947 there were only two universities, the University of the Punjab, Lahore and the University of Dhaka. At present there are 67 universities in the public sector and 57 in the private (Higher Education Commission, 2005). Currently there are approximately 32, 8603 students enrolled in postgraduate programmes (MA/MSc) with more females (53%) than males currently enrolled (Government of Pakistan, 2003).

Since independence the quality of education at all levels has been a concern in Pakistan. Most of the efforts directed at quality enhancement have been targeted towards primary and secondary education, but during late 1990s higher education became the major concern of the government and this has been expressed in its policies and plans (Government of Pakistan, 1998, 2004, 2005). Responding to unprecedented expansion in higher education, formalized and systematic quality assurance mechanisms began to evolve in the early 2000s, with the establishment of Higher Education Commission (HEC). Most of the efforts at reform designed to improve the quality of higher education have been directed toward physical inputs, teacher training, and material resources (Government of Pakistan, 2004, 2005). There has also been increasing recognition that conventional approaches to curriculum, pedagogy and organization in higher education do not always lead to excellence and quality (Government of Pakistan, 2001). However what is missing in these discussion concerning strategies for enhancing quality of higher education in Pakistan is students' opinions about their learning and their learning experiences.

Being a part of the higher education community in Pakistan, issues of higher education quality have been of increasing concern and interest to me. My experience of teaching at the University of the Punjab (Lahore), Pakistan, during the last ten years have led to the development of an interest in the study of motivational beliefs and learning experiences of the postgraduate students. The University of the Punjab is one of the oldest and largest universities of Pakistan. Established in the 1882, the University is comprised of 4 Campuses, 13 Faculties, 9 constituent colleges, and 64 Departments and Centers. Currently students' feedback about their learning is obtained at the level of individual units or courses but there is no systematic procedure for evaluating students' overall experience of learning at the level of whole course or degree. In Pakistan postgraduate students join the university after completing 10 years of study at school and 4 years of study at college. Postgraduate students who attend university in Pakistan are thus engaged in higher education for a minimum of four years. Their long academic experience means they are in a position to judge the nature and quality of their experiences of learning at university but they are never given a chance to do so except at the unit level and they are not asked about their goals, aspirations and motivations.

Research in western higher education systems shows that the students are best placed to comment about many aspects of quality of education and their ratings are considered to be valid, multidimensional and reliable (Marsh, 1987; Ramsden 1991; Leckey & Niell, 2001). Many studies have also been conducted on students' motivational beliefs and learning in higher education and well developed instruments such as Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) and Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) have been employed to explore the motivational beliefs of the students and to study the impact of various other factors on the students' experiences of teaching, curriculum and assessment and learning in western higher education. A systematic use of the findings of these studies has provided a strong basis for the improvement of the quality of student learning in higher education (Watson, 2003; Harvey, 2003). Much of the research on student learning and higher education has been conducted in developed countries like the USA, UK and Australia (Watson, 2003; Harvery, 2003, Pascarella& Terenzini, 1998; Wilson .Lozzio & Ramsden, 1997; Diseth, 2003; Diseth Pallesen, Hoveland & Larsen, 2006) with very few studies be conducted in the Asian contexts (see Salili, 1996). No studies of this nature have been conducted in the Pakistani context. However the researchers in the field of motivation and learning have increasingly highlighted the importance of conducting research in different cultural and social contexts (Byrne & Flood, 2008; Schunk, Pintrich & Meece, 2008; Kaplan & Maehr, 2006).According to Pintrich and Zusho (2007) cultural and social context can have mojor effect on the motivational beliefs as well as on the outcomes of education and research is needed to explore whether various models of learning and motivation can be generalized and do the various motivational constructs operate similarly among various cultures. Therefore findings and implications of the research on higher education in western contexts, need to be explored further in the social, economic and cultural context of Pakistan. Such research is needed to get an insight into motivational profile and learning experiences of the student at the postgraduate level in Pakistan, where the percentage of female students at postgraduate level (53 %) is higher than male students. These figures for females sit in stark contrast to the lower literacy rate for females (39.2%) across the country (Government of Pakistan, 2005) and where future job prospects for qualified people are very low (Husain, 2005).The overall unemployment rate in Pakistan is 7.8 % (Government of Pakistan, 2008) whereas no statistics are available for different groups such as people with bachelors degrees, masters degrees and professional degrees.

There is hardly any research conducted in Pakistan that could provide an insight into students' motivational beliefs and their experiences of learning at the postgraduate level. A literature search identified just two recent studies about student's approaches to learning in higher education in Pakistan. Siddiqui (2006) investigated 'study approaches' of Pakistani students in tertiary institutions by using a revised version of the Study Process Questionnaire (R-SPQ-2F). The sample comprised 13,331 students who appeared at 15 centers for National Postgraduate Scholarship Examination in December 2003. The results showed that the students predominantly had higher scores on deep approach. No statistically significant differences were observed on the basis of gender, age and highest qualification, but there were significant differences for various fields of study. Akhtar (2007) conducted a comparative study of 'approaches to study' used by students in pre-service teacher education programs at the University of the Punjab (Lahore), Pakistan and the University of Edinburgh, UK. The study showed that the students from both universities perceived their learning environment in a similar way, but that a surface approach to learning was found to be more dominant among the Pakistani students.

Due to lack of research on higher education students in Pakistan, my proposed study of the motivational beliefs and the experiences of learning in various disciplines of study at the University of the Punjab is expected to be the first in Pakistan to investigate the relationship between the motivational beliefs and learning at postgraduate level in Pakistan. This study will provide an understanding of the factors affecting the learning processes at the University of the Punjab and may serve as a basis for the improvement of academic programs and students' learning experiences in Pakistani universities more generally. In a range of Western countries, many research studies have established the impact of motivational beliefs on self regulation and educational achievement (Pintrich & DeGroot, 1990; Eccles, Wigfield & Schiefele, 1998); Pintrich & Zusho, 2007) but no research has explored the relationship between motivational beliefs and experiences of learning at postgraduate level. This is an important issue in Pakistan where postgraduates do not necessarily expect to find suitable work after completion of their qualification. The results of the study will also help to understand and suggest to the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, some practical and feasible initiatives to highlight the importance of students' views in the current efforts of the Government to enhance the quality of university education.

Literature Review

The following section discusses and examines the concept of students' learning experiences in higher education sector. After a brief review of recent changes in the higher education and how the exploration of student experiences have been used to improve the quality of education, this review discuses various perspectives on learning to provide an account of how experience of learning has been conceptualized so far and what is needed to be explored further to develop our understanding of student learning in higher education.

The Changing Face of Higher Education

Worldwide there has been shift in the nature, structure, function and the financing of the university system (Biggs, 2003). In universities in developed countries these changes are quite evident through the expansion of technology, more diverse student population, increased demand for accountability and emphasis on research and performance related funding.

Studies in Australia and other countries of the world serve to highlight some of the significant changes in the nature of student population over the last decade. For instance, in the UK 21% of full-time students at the start of their degree in 2005 were over the age of 21 (Robotham, 2008). Similarly, Studies by McInnis, James & Hartley (2000) in Australia reveal other important changes when they note an increase in the proportion of full-time students who are working part-time and students seeking more choice in the subjects, delivery modes, assessment activities and facilities provided by the universities. Due to this growing diversity of the student population and rapidly changing social, technological and economic contexts, mass systems of the higher education in USA and Australia are now faced with the challenge of complexity of the student learning (James 2001, Pascarella and Terenzizni, 1998).

According to Biggs (2003) a greater proportion of school leavers with diverse experiences, socio- economic status and cultural backgrounds are now joining higher education, they have to pay more tuition fees, study in large class sizes with fewer teachers and have to choose from more vocationally oriented courses. While discussing the challenge of the growing diversity of the student population and the influences of a number of demographic, institutional, economic and technological forces in the context of the USA, Pascarella and Terenzizni (1998) argue that these changes have significant implications for understanding the impact of college on students and require us to rethink about students' experiences of learning. They further argue that these challenges require us to rethink students' experiences of learning and redefine the outcomes of college and university education.

In developed and developing countries like Pakistan more students are now aspiring to join institutions of higher education and there is a significant increase in the number of universities accommodating this new student population. Over the course of the later part of the twentieth century there was a world wide expansion of higher education institutions and enrollments. In 1900 roughly 500,000 students were enrolled in higher education institutions world wide, representing only one percent of college age population, whereas by the year 2000, this number had grown two hundredfold to approximately 100 million people, or 20 percent of the cohort worldwide (Schofer & Meyer, 2005).

At the time of the creation of Pakistan in 1947, there were only two universities, but after 1999-2000 there was a sharp increase in the number of public and private universities as the government showed the clear commitment to improving the higher education (Government of Pakistan 2004)., There was a significant increase in the spending on tertiary education (15.7% of the total Ed. Expenditure). At present there are 67 universities in public sector in Pakistan and 57 in the private. Despite the fact that only 3.7 percent of the 18 to 23 age cohort participates in higher education, the student enrollment at the University of the Punjab alone has increased from 10,000 to 30,000 over the last eight years (Iqbal, 2008). There are no empirical studies and little literature available on the demographic and economic characteristics, expectations, and experiences of students in Pakistani higher education institutions.

To sum up, it can be said that as a consequence of the changes in the nature and context of higher education, the relationship between universities and students has also changed (James, 2001). Further, learning at university has become far more complex than it has been before. With the changing face of higher education, the factors that can have an impact on student learning in higher education have also become manifold, including personal factors (e.g. age, gender, prior experience and motivation of students) and contextual factors (e.g. teaching and learning activities, courses and content of study, facilities, resources and social environment. In other words, the impacts of wider changes in the context of higher education appear to be filtering down to the level of the individual student.

Student Views and Quality of Higher Education

Changes in the nature and provision of higher education have meant that the collection of feedback from students and the importance of students' views and experiences of learning is on the agenda world wide. Students' evaluations of courses and teaching are considered to be an important measure and indicator of educational quality (Marsh, 1987; Leckey & Neill, 2001, Harvey, 2003). Universities in the UK, USA and Australia regularly collect student feedback to improve the quality of higher education. According to Leckey and Neill (2001) many papers have been written about students' evaluation of teaching quality and many authors (such as Marsh, 1987, Kuh, 1999, Vesper & Kuh, 1997) have published the review of these thereby supporting the continuing use of student evaluations. The importance of student feedback to universities can be seen in the growth of student involvement in university decision-making. For example in Sweden the Swedish government passed a bill in 2000 to give representation to students in university decision-making bodies (Swedish Government, 1999)

In the UK a variety of mechanisms is being used both at the local level (faculty, school, course, and module) and institutional level (for example, graduate surveys) to get students' feedback (Leckey & Neill, 2001). At the national level, student surveys were introduced in 2005, to collect feedback from students on the quality of courses in order to contribute to public accountability, as well as to help inform the choices of future applicants coming to higher education (Harvey, 2003).

In the USA there are three major types of surveys used to gather data on students' experiences of learning, namely the College Student Experience Questionnaire (used since 1983 by about 500 colleges and universities), the College Students' Expectation Questionnaire (used since 1996, with over 61,000 students at more than 60 institutions) and the National Survey of Student Engagement (began in 1998). The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) obtains, on an annual basis, information about student participation in programs and activities that institutions provide for their learning and personal development. The results provide an estimate of how undergraduates spend their time and what they gain from attending college (NSSE, 2003).

Similarly, in Australia, since 1993 all graduates in universities have been invited annually to complete the Course Experience Questionnaire. As a result of various investigations and analyses of these surveys since then, many important aspects (e.g quality of teaching, availability of recourses and social climate of the institutions) of learning in higher education have been discovered. Differences in students' evaluations have been noted within different subject areas and disciplines (Ramsden, 2003). The Graduate career Council of Australia (GCCA) considers students' perceptions of curriculum, instruction and assessment as key determinants of their approach to learning and the quality of the outcomes of that learning. The CEQ is considered a valuable instrument for the purpose of improving the quality of teaching in universities and also for informing student choice, managing institutional performance and promoting accountability of the higher education sector (McInnis, Griffin, James & Coates, 2001).

A synthesis of the literature from the above section shows that students' self reported surveys and questionnaires are the most commonly used method for getting feedback from students and evaluating their experiences of learning. Self report questionnaires are considered to be very useful for assessing those outcomes of higher education that can not be measured by achievement tests (Kuh & Vesper, 1997, Watson, 2003). Further Pike (1995) has argued that self reports of experiences were found to be highly correlated with relevant achievement test scores.

The literature shows that student evaluation of teaching quality in higher education is a well-recognised practice in the developed countries. There has been growing support for the use of student satisfaction surveys as an indicator of teaching quality (Alridge & Rowley, 1998). Furthermore, Murray (1997) reports that the use of these surveys has led to measurable improvements in teaching quality. As such, student feedback can be used as an effective tool for quality enhancement. Harvey (1995) also emphasised that student satisfaction goes hand in hand with the development of a culture of continuous quality improvement. In contrast to developed countries the concept of inclusion of the students in the mechanisms of quality improvement is comparatively new to the developing countries like Pakistan. Currently students' evaluations of the individual teachers at the University of the Punjab, Pakistan are generally used as a means of providing feedback to the teachers rather than as means of improving the quality of student learning. According to Byrne and Flood (2004) the evaluation of teaching at the course level (i.e. full course of study such as degree program) rather than at individual unit/module level is more positively accepted by staff and is considered to be more appropriate for maintaining and enhancing quality at institution level .My study of students experiences of learning may provide basis for the development of a systematic way of obtaining student feedback at the level of whole course/degree, on regular basis and to use it as a means for the improvement of quality of student learning at University of the Punjab.

The Contemporary Perspectives on Learning Experiences

The experience of joining an institution of higher education is a significant event or turning point for an individual (Wintage, 2007), in that it provides for a transition to another stage of education and life experiences. Research indicates that the early experiences of students in higher education systems are vital in establishing attitudes and outlooks that are carried forward throughout the course and that these views and beliefs are critical to success (Wintage, 2007). However, these effects sometimes do not show themselves until the second year of a program of study or even later (Wright, 1982). Most of the research on learning in higher education has been focused on the undergraduate students, while postgraduate students have been a comparatively neglected group (Lindsay, Breen & Jenkins, 2002). Although a substantial number of studies (see Schevens, 2003; Meyer & Kiley; 1998; Rowley & Slack, 1998; Haggis, 2002) have been conducted with postgraduate research students and international postgraduate students exploring the issues of cultural and academic adjustment in international universities, it is hard to find studies specifically conducted to explore the experiences of postgraduate students enrolled in taught degrees - which is the case in Pakistan.

However the research on various aspects of higher education has lead to a better understanding of student' experiences of learning (i.e students' needs, problems, preferences and choices) in higher education. Learning in higher education is considered to be complex and multidimensional in nature and it has been viewed from various perspectives as discussed in the following section.

Approaches to Learning Perspective

The origins of approaches to learning perspective can be traced back to a series of studies conducted by Marton and Säljö in the late 1970s (Cuthbert, 2005). Using phenomenography, these researchers looked at the qualitative aspects of the university students' learning. The group of researchers under this perspective focused on the outcomes of learning and described different categories of learning outcomes in terms of the intentions of the students in starting a learning task and the process used to carry out those tasks. Originally two approaches i.e. 'deep' and 'surface' were formulated by Marton and Saljo (1976) and subsequent research by Entwistle and Ramsden (1983) added to this pair the 'strategic' approach. This perspective has provided an explanation of various outcomes exhibited by students. For example, a surface approach to learning was associated with a focus on rote learning, memorisation and reproduction, a lack of reflection, a preoccupation with completing the task and extrinsic value, whereas a deep approach was associated with holistic style with an intention to understand, the use of a wide variety of information and intrinsic value (Entwistle & Tait, 1990). Approaches to learning comprise both what students do (when learning) and why they do it.

After the qualitative and experimental work carried out by Marton and Saljo in 1976, Entwisle and Ramsden (1983) and Biggs (1987) were considered to be among the first to develop quantitative tools such as Course Perceptions Questionnaire (CPQ), Approaches to Study Inventory (ASI) and the Study Process Questionnaire (SPQ) for looking at a broader sample of university students' approaches to learning.

According to Entwistle (1997) the 'approaches to learning perspective' drew attention to the outcomes of learning, which are congruent with the aims of teaching and made us think about the quality of learning in higher education. This perspective is also considered to have provided a great deal of knowledge about leaning in higher education (Case, 2008). Whereas Cuthbert (2005) says that the approaches to learning perspective provided knowledge about differences in the quality of engagement of the learner such as, learning for understanding, learning for reproduction or learning for achievement and that the learner's approach to the learning task is dependent upon his/her conscious choices for learning. He further says that intentions for different tasks depend upon the nature of the task and the context; therefore it is possible to manipulate students' intentions and achievement by manipulating the task and the context of learning.

There have also been several criticisms of the approaches to learning perspective. One argument is that this perspective pays too much attention to the learning context and too little attention to the importance of student context such as cognitive issues, gender and past experience (Cuthbert, 2005). Therefore it is considered to have greater impact on teachers to improve their practice (Prosser & Trigwell, 1997). Similarly the recent longitudinal study conducted by Case and Gunstone, (2006) pointed out the limitations of the approaches to learning perspective in ignoring the influence of students' emotional condition, awareness, control, motivation, and end goals.

Similarly, I am concerned about the limitations of our understanding that result from these studies that rather narrowly conceive of the students' learning experiences. My study is designed to explore how students perceive their learning experiences taking into account personal factors such as gender, motivational beliefs, personal goals and career aspirations.

Alienation and Engagement Perspective

In response to the criticism of the limited scope of the "approaches to learning" perspective, Mann (2001) proposed the concepts of alienation and engagement and argued that these provide a broader and more contextualized picture of the learning experience. The concept of alienation has been very narrowly defined in the literature. Several authors (Mann, 2001; Case, 2008) have referred the concept of alienation as "the state or experience of being isolated from a group or an activity to which one should belong or in which one should be involved" (Oxford English Dictionary). In explaining the concept of alienation Mann (2001) has pointed out that several factors, such as current socio-cultural conditions, pre-existing experiences, cost to individual, loss of creativity, distribution of power, and assessment practices lead to student alienation while learning in higher education. He argued that we should reframe our view of students' experiences of learning, from a focus on surface/strategic/deep approaches to learning to a focus on alienated or engaged experiences of learning in higher education.

In contrast to alienation, engagement is concerned with point of intersection between individuals and things that are critical for learning (Coates, 2006). While discussing the concept of engagement Fredricks, Blumenfeld & Paris (2004) refer to three types of engagement: behavioral engagement, emotional engagement and cognitive engagement with each type being associated with positive academic outcomes and persistence in education. Several factors such as classroom structure, relationship with peers and teachers, nature of task, assessment type, autonomy and support in learning, previous grades, family background and available facilities are considered to have an impact on the nature and quality of engagement in learning (Fredricks et al, 2004; Case, 2008).

The concept of student engagement is considered to be a useful means for assessing and responding to the significant dynamics, challenges and opportunities facing higher education institutions (AUSSE, 2008). This concept has recently gained considerable significance in the discussions about quality in education (Fredricks et al, 2004; AUSSE, 2008) and important reflections of this are to be found in the USA National Survey of student Engagement (NSSE) (NSSE, 2003) which started in 1999 and Australian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE, 2008) conducted for the first time in 2007. Although AUSSE and NSSE provide an insight in to the student learning in higher education by evaluating the experiences of academic challenge, active learning, relationships with staff, learning support and work integrated learning, they do not take account of motivational beliefs of the students, and how these impact on the students' experience of learning in higher education.

Though the concepts of alienation and engagement as discussed above and provide a useful picture of aspects of student learning in higher education, the critical dimension of how the students' experience is formed and the students' motivational profiles are not taken into account. Despite a great deal of knowledge and research about engagement there are several gaps in the literature and the definitions of the construct, measures and designs do not capitalize on what the concept of engagement can offer about learning (Fredricks et al, 2004). Therefore students' experiences of learning and motivational beliefs need further exploration.

The role of motivation in learning has been well established through extensive research at almost all educational levels (Schunk, 1982; Pintrich & De Groot, 1990; Eccles, Wigfield, Harold & Bluemenfeld, 1993). Motivation is the process by which goal-directed activity is instigated and sustained (Schunk,et al, 2008). Motivation can influence what, when and how we learn (Schunk et al, 2008) and it bears a reciprocal relationship to learning and performance (Pintrich, 2003; Shunck, 1995). Though the perspectives discussed above take into consideration the various aspects of learning higher education, the impact of motivational factors on the experiences of learning in higher education needs further exploration and research.

Experiences of Learning from the Perspective of Motivational Beliefs

In higher education, the experiences of learning can only be partially understood if the motivational beliefs of the students are not taken into account. There is thus a need to explore students' experiences of learning in the context of motivation for learning.

There have been several interpretations of the motivational beliefs of students, however in the literature on student motivation three motivational constructs of expectancy, value and effect are most widely referred to (Bandura, 1997; Pintrich and De Groot, 1990; Pintrich and Schunk, 2002; Wigfield and Eccles, 2000). These constructs have their roots in the social cognitive theory and work on the postulate that motivational processes influence both learning and performance (Schunk, 1995).

Several achievement motivation theorists have attempted to explain people's choice of achievement tasks, persistence on those tasks, vigor in carrying them out and performance on them (Eccles et al, 1998; Pintrich & Schunk, 1996). One longstanding perspective on motivation is expectancy-value theory. In general expectancy-value theorists consider behavior choice, persistence and performance to be a function of the degree to which individuals judge their capabilities to perform designated courses of action (expectancy) and how they value these activities. According to expectancy-value theory three motivational components are very significant and important for analyzing and doing research on student learning (Pintrich and Zusho, 2007). These are beliefs about one's ability or skill to perform a task (expectancy components) beliefs about the importance and value of the task (value components), and feelings about the self or emotional reactions to the task (affective components).

Relationships between expectancy and value beliefs have been studied across various subjects of study (Maths, Chemistry, English) and age groups (primary, middle and secondary school aged children, college students and adults in various professions). Important age related differences in motivational beliefs develop over the course of the life span (Eccles et al, 1998; Pintrich and Schunk, 1996). For example, younger children have more positive achievement related beliefs than older children, and children's self-efficacy for reading and writing is higher among 7th and 10th grade students than among 4th grade students (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000).

Gender differences have also been noted, for example girls and boys begin school with different beliefs of their abilities, with boys having higher perceptions of their maths abilities and girls reporting higher perceptions of their language and arts abilities (Eccles et al, 1993). Similarly boys tend to report higher self-efficacy and expectancy beliefs than girls about their performance in maths and science (Pintrich and De Groot, 1990). The gender differences in self efficacy are also linked to age or grade level, and begin to emerge in the middle years of schooling. These age related gender differences in efficacy-beliefs are generally attributed to increased concerns about gender role stereotypes, with entry into adolescence (Wigfield, Eccles, & Pintrich, 1996).

Eccles and her colleagues have also shown that self-efficacy beliefs and performance expectancies predict performance in Maths, Physics and English, whereas task value predict course plans and enrollment decisions in Mathematics, Physics and English and involvement in sport activities (Eccles, 1987; Eccles, Midgley & Adler, 1984; Meece, Wigfield & Eccles, 1990). Expectancies and values also predict career choices (Eccles et al, 1998). Moreover the motivational components of expectancy and value have been linked with self-regulated learning strategies and process of self regulation (Pintrich & Zusho, 2007). In a study of school aged children conducted by Pintrich and De Groot (1990) higher levels of self efficacy and task value were related to higher levels of self-regulation, and higher levels of intrinsic value and self-efficacy were associated with higher levels of student achievement, while test anxiety was negatively correlated with grades. In the light of the above findings, it is proposed for the current study that these motivational components may interact with one another and in turn, influence the experiences of learning in higher education.

There have been multiple definitions of the constructs of expectancy and value beliefs of the student. In the literature on student motivation, expectancy has been conceptualized as perceived competence, self efficacy and control beliefs (Pintrich, et al, 1993, Eccles, 2006). The value component of the motivation includes the student's goals (Intrinsic, extrinsic) for the task and their beliefs about the importance and interest of the task (task value) (Pintrich et al, 1993; Pintrich & Schunk, 2002).Value has been described as attainment value, interest and utility value by Eccles & Wigfield (1995). In their Expectancy-value model, Wigfield & Eccles (2000) have included effective memories as another source of value. Another construct which has been used in the literature in relation to student motivation is affect, which has been operationalised in terms of students' worry and concerns over taking exams i.e. test anxiety (Pintrich & Zosho, 2007).

For the current study the constructs of expectancy, value and affect will be used to examine the motivational beliefs of students at post graduate level in Pakistan. The operational definitions of these constructs are provided in the methodology section of this paper.

Measuring Students' Learning Experiences

The following section discusses various methods and instruments that have been used to get students feedback on their learning in higher education. It particularly focuses on the Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) as a measure of students' experiences of learning.

One of the earliest studies on student views of their learning mentioned by the current literature on higher education is the one conducted by Ramsden at the University of Lancaster, UK in 1976 that set out to identify the components of the learning environment from the students' point of view. Using a combination of interviews and questionnaires for second year students in six university departments and the school of independent studies, 8 dimensions of their learning experience (relationship of teachers with students, commitment to teaching, workload, teaching methods, vocational relevance, social climate, clear goals and standards, and freedom in learning) were delineated. Whereas, in the recent literature on learning in higher education, the construct of 'course experience' is used to describe the similar dimensions of students' experiences of learning (see for example Trigwell & Prosser, 1991; Wilson, Lizzio, & Ramsden, 1997; Ramsden 1991; Byrne & Flood, 2003; Diseth, 2007, Diseth, Pallesen, Hovland, & Larsen, 2006; Wilson, Lizzio & Ramsden, 1997). The course experience questionnaire is the one of the most widely used instruments for evaluating learning experiences (Ginns, Prosser, & Barrie, 2007; Ahsenden & Milligan, 2002).

In 1981 Ramsden and Entwistle devised the Course Perceptions Questionnaire (CPQ) to measure students' experiences of a particular degree, courses and departments. The CPQ was modified by Ramsden in 1991 to yield a Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ), designed specifically as a performance indicator (PI) of teaching effectiveness, at the level of whole course or degree, in higher education institutions. CEQ is based on the development of work originally carried out at Lancaster University in the 1980s. The CEQ is based on a theory of university teaching and learning in which students' perceptions of curriculum, instruction and assessment are regarded as key determinants of their approaches to learning and the quality of their learning outcomes (Entwisle & Ramsden, 1983; Ramsden, 1991, Wilson et al 1997). The CEQ inststrument was designed to measure differences in the quality of teaching between comparable academic organizational units in those important aspects of teaching about which students have direct experience and are therefore validly able to comment (viz. quality of teaching, clear goals and standards, workload, assessment, emphasis on independence ( Wilson , Lizzio & Ramsden, 1997). The CEQ was initially piloted on 3,372 final-year undergraduate students at universities and colleges of advanced education in Australia (Ramsden, 1991). The individual items from the CEQ were included in a student questionnaire employed in a national review of undergraduate accounting courses in Australia (Mathews et al., 1990), and the original CEQ was also used in a study of final-year nursing students in Sydney (Trigwell & Prosser, 1991).

The first version of the CEQ (CEQ 30) comprised the five scales with thirty items i.e. Good Teaching (8 items), Clear Goals and Standards (5 items), Appropriate Work Load (5 items), Appropriate Assessment (6 items) and Emphasis on Independence (6 items). Whereas the most widely used version of the CEQ is the short form with five scales and 23 items. The emphasis on the Independence scale due its comparatively weaker scale structure was not included in this short form and a new scale measuring Generic Skills (6 items) was added (Wilson, et al 1997). In 1999 a project was conducted to prepare an extended form of the existing CEQ to include measures of the broader aspects of the student experience while maintaining the integrity of the original instrument. As a result of this project, five additional scales, (Student Support Scale (SSS), Learning Resources Scale (LRS), Learning Community Scale (LCS), Graduate Qualities Scale (GQS) and Intellectual Motivation Scale (IMS), comprised of 25 new items were developed and proposed as suitable for inclusion in an extended CEQ.

Wilson (1997) found a higher order structure of the CEQ, consisting of teaching quality factor (good teaching, clear gaols and standards, generic skills and appropriate assessment and work load (appropriate work load). However Lawless & Richardson (2002) showed that factors in the CEQ may be expressed as a single, higher order factor. The strong factor structure and validity of the CEQ scales has been establish by research. (Wilson et al, 1997). The five new scales noted above have also been tested for high levels of validity and reliability (McInnis, Griffin, James, & Coates 2001). The CEQ has also been validated for use in British higher education by Richardson (1994) and for use with Irish accounting students by Byrne and Flood (2003).Empirical research has thus documented the extensive use and the qualities of validity and reliability CEQ. For this reason, I considered the CEQ to be the most appropriate instrument for evaluating experiences of postgraduate students at the University of the Punjab, Pakistan. I will use the following scales from two versions of the CEQ (Wilson, Lizzio & Ramsden, 1997) and (McInnis, Griffin, James, & Coates, 2001) in my study:

  1. Good Teaching Scale (GT)
  2. Clear Goals and Standards Scale (CG)
  3. Appropriate Workload Scale (AW)
  4. Appropriate Assessment Scale (AA)
  5. Learning Resources Scale (LRS)
  6. Learning Community Scale (LCS)

Several research studies using the CEQ have examined the relationship between approaches to studying, experiences of teaching and academic outcomes (Diseth, 2007; Diseth, Pallesen, Hovland, & Larsen, 2006). A close relationship between Course Experience (CE) and Students Approaches to Learning (SAL) has been found (Lawless, and Richardson, 2002). Associations have also been found between approaches to learning and CEQ measures of Appropriate Assessment and Good Teaching (Long and Hillman, 2000; Ramsden, 1998). In recent study Diseth and colleagues (2006) investigated the relationship between course experience and approaches to learning and examined their relative importance as predictors of academic achievement. Correlation analysis showed most of the course experience variables, except for 'clear goals and standards' were significantly related to examination grades. However, there is hardly any research investigating the relationship between motivational beliefs of the students and their experiences of learning at postgraduate level. The lack of research on the relationship between motivational beliefs and experiences of learning establishes the need for and importance of investigating the relationship between the students' motivational beliefs and their learning experiences.

Measuring Motivational Beliefs of Students in Higher Education

Extensive research, longitudinal as well as cross sectional, has been conducted on the role and effects of motivational beliefs in a variety of subject areas and with almost all age groups of students (see Wgfiled & Eccles, 2000, Pintrich & Zusho, 2007). In most of the studies self report instruments generally questionnaires have been used to assess ability beliefs, expectancy for success and subjective valuing of different academic tasks and activities (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000).

In research on college students, in recent years, an extensively used instrument for evaluating the motivational orientations is the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MLSQ).The MSLQ was developed "using the social cognitive view of motivation and learning strategies, with the student represented as an active processor of information whose beliefs and cognitions are important mediator of instructional input" (Pintrich, et al 1993 p, 801). Prior to the development of MSLQ in the 1980s, most of the research on college students' learning focused on individual differences or learning styles which has no clear links to students' actual study behavior or to students' cognitive processing (Duncan & McKeachie, 2005). The inventories used in those studies to measure leaning have been criticized for not having strong theoretical basis (Pintrich et al, 1993; Duncan & Mckeachie, 2005). The social cognitive frame work on which MSLQ was developed "assumes that motivation and learning strategies are not traits of learner, but, rather that motivation is dynamic and contextually bound and that the learning strategies can be learned and brought under the control of the student" (Duncan & McKeachie, 2005, p 117). In other words students in different courses may have different motivations depending on their efficacy beliefs for performance, goal orientation and value of the different tasks.

This contextual view of student motivation provides a strong basis for the current study of student's motivational beliefs across various disciplines of study at the University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan.

With the MSLQ the course is seen as the unit of measure, with the idea that the course is ideally situated between the very general level of 'all learning activities' and the very specific and unworkable level of 'every learning situation within the course' (Pintrich,1991). This distinct feature of the MSLQ makes it different from another widely used self report instrument, the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI), which measures students' learning strategies and attitudes towards learning in general (Duncan & McKeachie, 2005).

The MSLQ in its original form consists of a motivation section and a learning strategies section. The motivation section comprises of 31 items that assess students' goals and value beliefs for a course, their beliefs about their skills to succeed in a course, and their anxiety about tests in a course. The learning strategy section contains 31 items regarding students' use of different cognitive and metacognitive strategies. In addition, the learning strategies section includes 19 items concerning student management of different resources. The 15 scales on the MSLQ can be used together or singly (Pintrich, Smith, Garcia & Mckeachie, 1993). The scales are designed to be modular and can be used to fit the needs of the researcher or instructor (Pintrich, Smith, Garcia & Mckeachie, 1993).

In addition to the above mentioned properties, the MSLQ scales have established levels of validly and reliability and have been used extensively by hundreds of researchers and countless instructors all over the world. It has been translated into more than 20 different languages and has also undergone formal assessment of validity and reliability in two languages apart from English: Spanish and Chinese (Duncan & McKeachie, 2005). According to Duncan and McKeachie (2005), the MSLQ has been used frequently to study the nature of motivation and the use of learning strategies across different content areas including undergraduate statistics, undergraduate chemistry, high school social studies, and middle school physical education, with target populations, including African American undergraduates, female undergraduate engineering majors, nursing student, and gifted high school students. Moreover the MSLQ has been used to help refine theoretical understanding of the between- and within-domain specificity of motivational constructs, to explore the nature of multiple goals and to understand more deeply the individual differences that exist in self-regulated learning. The most frequent use of the MSLQ is for evaluating the effects of courses on students. The MSLQ has also been used to assess the motivational and cognitive effects of different aspects of instruction, including instructional strategies, course structures, classroom goal structures, and interventions.

The MSLQ has been used by researchers throughout the world including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, India, Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Russia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and , the United State. Three major studies (Hancock, 2002, 2004; Seibert (2002) have used the motivation sub-scales of MSLQ at the graduate level. Due these properties of the scales of MSLQ, I consider the following motivational scales of the MSLQ (Pintrich, 1993) to be most appropriate for measuring the motivational beliefs of the postgraduate students in various disciplines of study at the University of the Punjab, Pakistan. For the current study three motivational components (expectancy, value and affect) are proposed to interact with one another and in turn, to influence the overall experiences of learning in higher education: i) Value Components (intrinsic goal orientation; extrinsic goal orientation: task value); ii) Expectancy Components (control of learning beliefs; self-Efficacy for learning and performance); iii) Affective Components (test anxiety). The operational definitions of these components are given in appendix 2.

Research Questions

This research study is designed to explore the impact of motivational beliefs on the experiences of learning as well as the impact of experiences of learning on the motivational beliefs at postgraduate level in Pakistan. The study will be driven by the following research questions:

  • What are the motivational beliefs of the students in various disciplines of study at the University of Punjab?
  • What are the learning experiences of students in various disciplines of study at the University of Punjab?
  • Are there differences in the motivational beliefs of male and female students?
  • Are there differences in the learning experiences of male and female students?
  • Are there differences in the students' motivational beliefs in various disciplines of study?
  • Are there differences in the students' learning experiences in various disciplines of study?
  • How do motivational beliefs influence experiences of learning in higher Education?
  • How do experiences of learning influence the motivational beliefs in higher education?

Hypotheses of the Study

In order to perform group comparisons between the male and female students and students of various disciplines following hypotheses will be tested:

Ho1: There is no significant difference between the motivational beliefs of male and female students.

Ho2: There is no significant difference between the learning experiences of male and female students.

Ho3: There is no significant difference among the motivational beliefs of the students of various disciplines of the study

Ho4: There is no significant difference among the learning experiences of the students of various disciplines of the study

Ho5: There is no significant difference between the learning experiences of the students enrolled in morning and afternoon shifts.

Ho6: There is no significant difference between the learning experiences of the students enrolled in morning and afternoon shifts

Conceptual Framework for the Study

The conceptual framework for my study which is concerned with the impact of motivational beliefs on the experiences of learning in higher education is elaborated in Figure 1. According to this framework students' experiences of learning are influenced by certain background factors such as gender, past academic performance, their parent's qualification and SES . These background factors also have an impact on the motivational beliefs of the students. However the relationship between experiences of learning and motivational beliefs is bi-directional, that is, students' motivational beliefs have an impact on their experiences of learning and experiences of learning may shape and influence students' motivational beliefs.


This research study falls into the category of descriptive research. It aims not only to provide useful information about students' motivational beliefs and learning experiences but will also yield information for improving the quality of higher education in Pakistan. After analyzing the pros and cons of different methods the approach of survey research is considered to be the most suitable and cost effective for carrying out this research study. Surveys allow the collection of detailed description of the phenomena under study with the intent of employing data to justify current conditions and practices or to make suitable plans for improving them (Dalen 1979, Fraenkel & Wallen, 1996; Gay 2000).

Sample for the Study

There are 13 faculties at the University of the Punjab, Lahore Pakistan. The sample will be drawn from four faculties: Faculty of Science, Faculty of Education, Faculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences. One department from each faculty that has been functioning for at least five years will be included in the sample, assuming that these departments must have developed a stable system of teaching and learning after going through a period of development. As the study aims to compare students' experiences and motivational beliefs in various disciples of study, only those departments will be included in the sample where the number of enrolled students is more than 30. A detail of the sample is given in table 1.

All students enrolled in the sampled departments/ institutes will be invited to participate in the study. Participation in the study will be completely voluntary. A detail of the total number of students currently enrolled in each of the sampled department/ institute is as given in the Table 2. Currently at Punjab University all pragrams of study are offered twice in a day i.e. in the form of two shifts, one in the morning and a second shift in the afternoon. Students enrolled in the afternoon shift have lower admission scores than the students in the morning shifts. The academic requirements of these two shifts are exactly the same except the time at which they run.

Study Instrument

Questionnaires are most commonly and widely used means of collecting information from students in higher education (Watson, 2003; Leckey & Neill, 2001). Moreover questionnaires are considered to be relatively unobtrusive, inexpensive and easy means of gathering representative quantitative data compared with other methods such as individual observation or interview (Gay, 1996). A review of literature on student learning and motivation in the previous sections shows that students' self report surveys are the most widely and effectively used method for evaluating their motivational beliefs and experiences of learning (Marsh 1987, Biggs, 1987; Ramsden, 1991, Wilson et al, 1997, Pascarella et al, 2004 Ginns et al, 2007). Therefore a questionnaire is considered to be the most appropriate tool for collecting information about students' motivational beliefs and learning experiences.

After a detailed review of questionnaires and materials (for example Pascarella, 1984, Pascarella et al, 2004, Leckey & Neill, 2001; Trigwell & Prosser 1991; Zeegers; 2004, Entwistle & Ramsden 1983; Wilson et al 1997; McInnis et al 2001; Delvin 1999; Cuthbert, 2005; Diesth et al 2006; Diseth, 2007; Kaplan & Maehr, 2006; Pintrich 1993,1996, 2003, 2004; Duncan & Mckechie ,2005) two instruments, the Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ)( Wilson et al, 1997; Mcinnis et al, 2001) and the Motivated Strategies for learning Questionnaire (MSLQ)(Pintrich, et al, 1993) were selected. These instruments have been most widely used and have established levels of validity and reliability across various contexts with a variety of student populations in higher education.

The questionnaire has four parts. Part I seeks personal information from students. Part II asks questions about motivational beliefs and require students to rate themselves on seven point likert scale from "not at all true of me' (1) to "completely true of me" (7). Part III seeks information about experiences of learning and students are asked to indicate their relative agreement on a five point scale as follows: 5 (strongly agree), 4 (agree), 3(neutral), 2 (disagree), 1 (strongly disagree).Part IV consists of open-ended questions about reasons for choosing the current degree and future plans.

The medium of instruction at the postgraduate level in Pakistan is English allowing the use of the original language and format of the scales. However, clear instructions for the completion of questionnaires, along with explanatory statement will be included to avoid any confusion.

Ethical Approval of the study

After fulfilling the requirements, this study has been granted ethical clearance by the Standing Committee on Ethics in Research Involving Humans (SCERH) at Monash University on 10 October 2008 - Approval Number: CF08/2642 -2008001344 (See Appendix 1)

Piloting of the Instruments

In order to estimate the time required for the completion of the questionnaire and to test the language of the open-ended questions, questionnaire was administered to a group of 10, international post graduate students (from India, Sirilanka, Bangaladesh and Pakistan). This helped to clarify and simplify the wording of the open-ended questions. Questions causing confusion of meaning were improved after analyzing the responses of the group.

Field Administration of Instruments and Collection of Data

The data will be collected in February 2009. It is the time when students in first year of the university will just have completed their first semester of study (and started second semester) at the university and students in the final year will be in the last semester of their study at university. This specific time is selected d for data collection to allow for the comparison between the experiences and motivational beliefs of the students who have just started their postgraduate study at the university and those who are near the completion of their postgraduate study.

The researcher will personally explain the study and invite participation, answer questions, distribute and collect up the completed questionnaires. Lecturers who teach in each of the departments will be invited to participate in the study. Each class is taught by five different lecturers in each semester so a request will be made to all lecturers teaching the class to provide access to their class to distribute questionnaire in the last 15 minutes of the class time before lunch break, whenever it is possible for them. The questionnaire will be distributed during the last 15 minutes of the class time and students who do not wish to take part will be invited to leave early for their lunch break.

Type of Data to be collected

Following type of data will be collected

Quantitative Data

Nominal Data (Personal and Demographic Information)

Interval Data (Responses to Close-Ended Questions)

Qualitative Data (Response to Open-Ended Questions)

Analysis of Data

Initially descriptive analysis of the data will be performed and response rate for each item will be given as well as the total sample size. The percentage of respondents who selected each alternative for each item will be indicated.

In order to perform group comparisons 'mean scores' will be calculated for different groups like male and female, students in morning and evening shifts, students in first year and final year etc.

But just comparing the means of different groups does not lead to any valid conclusion, to be statistically significant; the difference must be greater than that reasonably attributed sampling error. Therefore the test of significance of the difference between two means known as t test will be used. Moreover Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) will be used to explore:

  • effect of motivational beliefs on the experiences of learning in various disciplines of study.
  • effect of disciplines of study on the experiences of learning
  • effect of disciplines of study on the motivational beliefs
  • effect of gender on the experiences of learning and motivational beliefs
  • effect of shifts of study on the experiences of learning and motivational beliefs

Bar and Pie graphs will also be used to amplify the statistical analysis. Along with quantitative analysis and interpretations, qualitative analysis of the responses to open-ended questions will also be done.


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