Reconceptualising student motivation: accounting for the social context beyond the classroom

Sandra Winn, David Harley, Paula Wilcox, Sarah Pemberton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper problematizes the widespread use of self-determination theory, with its dichotomized conceptualization of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, as an adequate means of understanding higher education student motivation. We draw on theories of situated motivation and extend them to encompass areas of students lives beyond the academic environment, to analyze data from interviews with first year students. Our findings suggest that students motivation for academic work may be reinforced or obstructed by other motivations in their everyday lives, such as forming friendships and developing as a person. These various motivations are shaped by students social contexts, including social networks and material factors such as accommodation. Students experienced particular problems with motivation for independent study, which was most often understood as working alone. We reconceptualize student motivation as social and relational and we explore the ramifications of this for learning and teaching
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-94
Number of pages18
JournalLearning and Teaching in the Social Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007


  • collaborative learning
  • self determination theory
  • independent learning
  • situated motivation
  • informal learning
  • student motivation


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