Motivation, Commitment and Learning Styles

Motivation is operationalized using the conscientiousness scale of the BFI. This scale “describes socially prescribed impulse control that facilitates task- and goal-directed behavior, such as thinking before acting, delaying gratification, following norms and rules, and planning, organizing and prioritizing tasks” (John, Naumann, & Soto, 2008, p. 120).

Intuitively, this seems like a critical quality in successful students in general. It is surprising then to discover that this scale does not correlate with academic performance in learning to write computer software and may even negatively correlate with success. This finding contradicts that of Allen and Robbins (2010) who found that motivation did correlate strongly with first-year performance. However, Allen and Robbins defined success as completing a program in the nominal period of the certificate or diploma of study. Using this definition, a student completing a two year diploma in three years would be deemed “unsuccessful.” A number of conjectures are possible to account for this finding: It may be that students who are less conscientious or motivated may still be successful at their course work but take fewer courses per semester of study. Thus their grades per course could still be high but they are delaying the completion of their program. Alternatively, motivation as a personality trait may not be a significant factor in successfully learning to develop computer software.

Comparing students’ preferred learning styles with their academic performance showed no significant correlations. This contradicts previous findings by Thomas et al. who found that reflective and verbal learners became better programmers (2002). That study used a sample of 107 computer science students at the University of Wales. However, this contradiction might be explainable. Academically oriented institutions such as universities and degree granting colleges often rely heavily on lecture based content delivery—the very sort of model that would appeal to students from an abstract, sequential, reflective or verbal oriented learner. Community colleges and institutes of applied learning such as Lethbridge College often utilize a wider variety of pedagogical methodologies and didactic techniques. These practices often use multimedia, group activities, project based learning and problem solving activities—in essence, the very strategies that might resonate with active, visual, random, or global learners—in addition to teaching approaches that may be more favourable to abstract, sequential, reflective or verbal learners.