The interaction of motivation and learning environment

The doctoral dissertation by Antti-Tuomas Pulkka examines the role that adult students’ achievement goal orientations play in their perceptions of their learning environment (course evaluations) and performance. Accordingly, a learning environment questionnaire was developed, students’ goal orientation profiles and their stability were examined, and associations between goal orientations, course-specific goals, and course evaluations and performance were looked at. The samples came from the National Defence University.

All in all, the results show the common motivational profiles (i.e., mastery-oriented, performance-oriented, success-oriented, avoidance-oriented, and indifferent) being displayed in a selective adult-student sample, and that these profiles are related to students’ perceptions of their learning environment and their own role in relation to it. For example, mastery- and performance- or success-oriented students were most positive in their evaluations when compared to avoidance-oriented or indifferent students. In sum, the emphasis on learning and absolute success seems adaptive, whereas an emphasis on avoidance seems maladaptive.

Further, the results concerning the stability support the conceptualization of goal orientation as motivational disposition. The results concerning students’ open-ended answers show that not all goal orientation dimensions were present, or present at equal frequency, and that the students also described their purposes in more instrumental terms. Regarding course-specific goals, by far most frequently, the students open answers included responses displaying goals of gaining career qualifications as well as mastery-intrinsic goals.

Based on these findings, instructors need to be aware of both the personal and contextual factors affecting students’ interpretations of teaching, as these interpretations may further influence motivation and learning. Students are not a homogenous group in their purposes and approaches as regards learning and studying, and these differing emphases lead to distinct preferences for and interpretations of the various aspects of the learning environment.

Antti-Tuomas Pulkka will defend the doctoral dissertation entitled “The interaction of motivation and learning environment: The role of goal orientations in students’ course evaluations” in the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, University of Helsinki, on 17 June 2014 at 12:00. The opponent in the public examination will be Professor Marina Lemos from the University of Porto, Portugal, and the Custos will be Professor Markku Niemivirta. The dissertation is also available in electronic form through the E-thesis service.


Pulkka, A.-T. (2014). The interaction of motivation and learning environment: The role of goal orientations in students course evaluations. Studies in Educational Sciences 254. University of Helsinki, Institute of Behavioural Sciences.