The STEAM-Active (Project Number: 2021-1-ES01-KA220-HED-000032107) project is funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.

Motivation, pedagogy, and gender: examining the multifaceted and dynamic situational responses of women and men in college STEM courses

Partners' Institution
Kaunas University of Technology
Year of publication
Educational stage
University Level
Journal name
International Journal of STEM Education
Thematic Area
Gender Inequality
Many research show that female express lower self-efficacy or perceived confidence in their technical abilities regardless their success in the studied program. The aim of this paper was to help educators to understand students’ motivation in STEM courses and its relationship to gender and employed pedagogy. The analysis should benefit to creating diverse and inclusive learning environment.
The Self-Determination Theory-based approach was used in the research to evaluate learners’ internalized or autonomous motivation. It states that motivation and learning outcomes should emerge by developing a sense of mastery and progress (competence), building positive and supportive social connections (relatedness), and supporting choice and control (autonomy). The collected data from questionnaires was clustered using K-means methods to seven clusters with distinct characteristics. The results of the analysis show strong pedagogy-motivation connection. The active pedagogies support more positive motivations compared to lecture-based pedagogies for all students. Moreover, active pedagogies result in more balanced motivational profiles by gender as females find more opportunities for value-, interest-, and enjoyment-based internalization of learning activities.
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
Students’ motivations to participate in classroom activities is a complex and dynamic variable, shaped by personal, interpersonal, and contextual factors. As educators tend to oversimplify students’ motivation, the analysis of motivation and its effects to learning outcomes helps educational practitioners to design STEM courses according to active or lecture-based pedagogies with consideration of students’ motivations at the situational or class activity level. The study provides a perspective of quantitative cluster analysis of situational motivations. The relationships among motivation, pedagogy, and self-reported gender identity were examined in the research. In addition, the stability of students’ motivation during the course was evaluated.
The theoretical framework was based on a Self-Determination Theory (SDT) approach to learner motivation. It argues that motivation is based on developing competence, relatedness, and autonomy. SDT states that motivation is a continuum that ranges between the internal (autonomous) to external (controlled) motivations. Four motivation types were noted in the research, such as intrinsic motivation (deeply internalized engagement), identified regulation (internal drive combined with internal sense of activity value), external regulation (engagement based on external pressure), amotivation (no perceived values of learning activities). The research was focused on situational motivation, that is, the response to a particular activity, such as teamwork or course assignment. The data was collected via questionnaire that maps situational motivation to self-determination continuum and measures four types of the motivation. Students of 72 introductory-level STEM courses (science, engineering, interdisciplinary, mathematics) from 11 higher education institutions participated in the research. To evaluate stability of the motivations, data was collected weekly throughout the courses. 41.1, 58.0, 0.9 percent of answers were provided respectively by men, women, and non-binary. Because of small number of answers, the latter group was not included in gender-based analysis. The pedagogies applied in the courses were identified as active (with activities like project or discussion) and lecture-based approaches. It is worth noting that the actual pedagogical implementation may combine learning activities from both approaches.
K-means method was used to perform quantitative clustering as it enables to extract the patterns in responses of different motivation types. The clustering result with seven motivational profiles (clusters), two of which have distinct properties of low and high amotivation, was chosen for the deeper analysis. Based on the characteristics, the clusters were named:
- Autonomous (AU): engagement in learning for reasons of interest, enjoyment, sense of value, importance, and utility.
- High Autonomous-High External (AU-EX): high level of self-determination and interest in the course activities together with sensitivity to rewards or pressure.
- High Identified – High External (ID-EX): moderate self-determination, positive engagement generated more by a sense of value and less by the enjoyment.
- Moderate Identified (M-ID): lower motivational intensity, positive balance of autonomous versus controlled motivations, positive self-determination.
- Neutral (N): moderate levels of both autonomous and controlled motivations, high levels of effort but poor performance.
- External (EX): recognized value or importance of the activity, motivation mostly based on externalized pressuring contingencies.
- High Amotivation (AM): high level of external regulation; high amotivation, no sense of enjoyment or value in learning, uncertainty about the purpose of activity.
The findings of the research show that there is a strong contrast between students’ motivations in lecture-based versus active course activities. More positive forms of motivation are expressed for active learning for both men and women. It is also noted that active learning is more effective than lecture-based learning in enabling students to relate their personal interests with the sense of value of learning activities. The strongest gender-based difference was observed in lecture-based environments, while active learning environments support highly self-determined motivations for both genders. The authors suggest that gender-related differences in self-efficacy and interests arise due to gender-role stereotypes and gendered socialization processes. Thus, it is suggested to shift the applied pedagogy strategies to active student-centered learning approach.
Point of Strength
The paper presents results of the quantitative cluster analysis of relationships among STEM students’ motivation, pedagogy, and gender identity. Based on the conclusion that active pedagogies result in similar motivation of both male and female, the authors suggest considering more frequent employment of active, student-centered learning in order to create a more inclusive and engaging STEM learning environment.
Motivation, Gender, Pedagogy, Self-determination theory, Motivational dynamics, Active learning, STEM