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Do undergraduates' motivations change as they progress through their degrees?

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Patricia Tynan.

Do students arrive at university with a desire to learn and master their subject but end up just trying to get a good grade? [Outcome A] Or is it that after years of testing in primary and secondary education, the experience of university with its emphasis on independent learning helps students develop their desire to learn? [Outcome B] Or is it that students are fundamentally grade orientated and simply start and end university with the goal of getting a good grade [Outcome C], or is it that students are fundamentally interested in their work and start and end university with a desire to learn? [Outcome D]. If you had to make an educated guess, which outcome would you predict?

Goal theorists suggest that in some situations, our goal is to master a task for its own sake (a mastery goal), whereas in others it is performed well in order to achieve some goal extrinsic to the task, such as impressing others (a performance goal). In the first part of the talk, I will outline some of the studies we have carried out in the U.K. using standard goal instruments to examine the types of goals students have in different years of their degree programme. You can see whether your prediction was supported by our evidence.

In the second part of the talk, I’ll be looking at some of the more recent criticisms of goal theory and I’ll spend some time talking about the usefulness of the items on traditional goal questionnaires. Here I shall introduce some of the work we have done in Russia and Latvia examining the same research questions addressed in the U.K. studies, compare and contrast the findings and offer some explanations for the different results.


  • Lieberman, D. A., & Remedios, R. (2007). Do Undergraduates’ Motivations for Study Change as They Progress Through Their Degrees?. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 379-395.

Dr Richard Remedios

I joined Durham University in April 2006 as a Lecturer having previously worked in the Psychology department at Stirling University in Scotland. My main research interest is in the factors that influence student motivation. I am particularly interested in theories such as goal theory, social comparison and intrinsic motivation and how far these theories explain the study behaviours of students across all age ranges (e.g., primary, secondary, post-compulsory) and cultures (e.g., Latvia, Russia). I am also very interested in implicit learning, learning without awareness and other non-conscious explanations for how humans behave. I am currently looking at ways of examining student goals using paradigms that examine the impact of non-conscious processes.

A few other references

  • Remedios, R., Kiseleva, Z., & Elliott, J. G. (submitted). Goal orientations in Russian university students: from mastery to performance? Educational Psychology.
  • Remedios, R. & Lieberman, D.A. (2008). I liked your course because you taught me well: The influence of grades, workload, expectations and goals on students’ evaluations of teaching. British Educational Research Journal, 34, 1, 91-115.
  • Remedios, R., Ritchie, K, A., & Lieberman, D. A. (2005) The effects of the transfer test in Northern Ireland on pupils’ intrinsic motivation. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 57, 435-452.
  • Remedios, R. and Boreham, N. (2004). Intrinsic Motivation and Organisational Learning. Journal of Education and Work, 17, 2, 219-236.
  • Remedios, R., Lieberman, D. A., and Benton, T. G. (2000). The effects of grades on course enjoyment: Did you get the grade you wanted? British Journal of Educational Psychology, 70, 353-368.

This talk is part of the Psychology & Education series.

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