Motivation and Drop-Out

Jan Nedermeijer

CEL (Centre for Education and Learning) Innovation Room #2: A symposium in which two renowned researchers shared their views on study success. Presentations of Jeroen van Merriënboer and Jonas Forsman See at the end of the article under attachments. Research based on Self Determination Theory shows a relationship between low intrinsic motivation and high drop-out (e.g., Vallerand et al., 1997). Fortunately, instructional design may affect intrinsic motivation (Martens & Kirschner, 2006). Three concepts are important: Competence, relatedness and autonomy of the student (Ryan&Deci, 2000).

Self Determination Theory: Competence

  • “Students seek to control the outcomes of their learning process and experience mastery…”
  • Learning tasks should be designed in such a way that they help students feel competent (also called “confidence”; Keller, 1983)

Designing for Competence

  • Ensure high intrinsic motivation of students by setting them tasks that
    • are relevant to their future profession or field of work
    • are challenging, i.e. not too simple but a little beyond their reach
    • provide just enough support and guidance to help them complete the tasks

Self Determination Theory: Relatedness

  • “the universal desire to interact, be connected to, and experience caring for others…”
  • Groups in which students perform the learning tasks should be designed in such a way that they help students feel related and part of a ‘community’

Designing for Relatedness

  • Ensure high intrinsic motivation of students by organizing group work
    • That allows them to become and stay connected with fellow students and staff
    • That requires complementary contributions from all group members

Self Determination Theory: Autonomy

  • “the universal urge to be causal agents of one’s own life and act in harmony with one’s integrated self…”
  • Educational programs in which students operate should be designed in such a way that they give students (some) control over their own learning

Designing for Autonomy

  • Ensure high intrinsic motivation of students by organizing learner control so that
    • students can select their own learning resources
    • Or even their own learning tasks
    • But they are explicitly taught how to do this in a responsible way (“second-order scaffolding”)


  • SDT as a theoretical basis for improving intrinsic motivation and reducing drop-out
  • Fits nicely with design guidelines from 4C/ID – also relates to student satisfaction (e.g., Frick et al., 2009)
  • Disclaimer: Available studies are mostly correlational and do not yet provide strong evidence

Wikipedia: Self-determination in education
Self-determination is the ability to make choices and exercise a high degree of control, such as what the student does and how they do it (Deci et al., 1991; Reeve, Hamm, & Nix, 2003; Ryan & Deci, 2002). Self-determination can be supported by providing opportunities for students to be challenged, such as leadership opportunities, providing appropriate feedback and fostering, establishing and maintaining good relationships between teachers and students. These strategies can increase students’ interest, competence, creativity and desire to be challenged and ensure that students are intrinsically motivated to study. On the other hand, students who lack of self-determination are more likely to feel their success is out of their control. Such students lose motivation to study, which causes a state of “helpless learning”. Students who feel helpless readily believe they will fail and therefore cease to try. Over time, a vicious circle of low achievement develops.

See also the article in Delta.

Posted in: Onderzoek ⋅ Tagged: competentie, engels, motivatie, sociale cohesie, sociale integratie