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#KeyLIMEpodcast 129: Why do I learn? #Meded

The Key Literature In Medical Education podcast dives into education theory this week…. wait… come back…

The theory we discuss is not abstract.  Rather the theories (there are 5) attempt to describe how you and/or your learner are motivated to learn and to develop as a Clinician Educator.  I think these theories will be illuminating for your ongoing professional development.  Which theory resonates with you?

For the most details, check out the podcast here.

The abstract is below.



KeyLIME Session 129 – Article under review:

Listen to the podcast

View/download the abstract here.

Cook DA, Artino AR Jr.  Motivation to learn: an overview of contemporary theories. Medical Education. 2016. 50(10):997-1014.

Reviewer: Linda Snell (@LindaSMedEd)


Motivation is a common concept in life and in education, yet it is not well characterized. Many theories have been proposed to explain motivation, but each of

neglects others, creates confusion through conceptual overlap and disagreement, and use of idiosyncratic vocabulary. However each contemporary theory contributes a unique perspective with insights and implications for practice and future research.

Prior reviews (e.g., Episode 40) have focused on one theory or have been broad overviews. A review that explains and contrasts multiple theories will encourage a more nuanced understanding of motivational principles, and will facilitate additional research to advance the field.


To summarize five contemporary theories about motivation to learn, articulate key intersections and distinctions among these theories, and identify important considerations for future research. Goal is not to present a comprehensive examination of evidence, but to make the theoretical foundations of motivation accessible to medical educators.

Type of Paper

Focused review

Key Points on Methods

Not a research study. Theories selected based on frequency in recent reviews. The authors have expertise in the area and review literature and compare across theories, finding common themes and implications for research and practice.

Key Outcomes

  • Motivation defined as the process whereby goal-directed activities are initiated and sustained.Can be summarized in 4 tables – 2 in paper and 2 online.Five contemporary theories:
    1. Expectancy-value theory: motivation is a function of the expectation of success and perceived value.
    2. Attribution theory: focuses on the causal attributions learners create to explain the results of an activity, and classifies these in terms of their locus, stability and controllability.
    3. Social cognitive theory emphasizes self-efficacy as the primary driver of motivated action, and identifies cues that influence future self-efficacy and support self-regulated learning.
    4. Goal orientation theory suggests that learners tend to engage in tasks with concerns about mastering the content (mastery goal, arising from a ‘growth’ mindset regarding intelligence and learning) or about doing better than others or avoiding failure (performance goals, arising from a ‘fixed’ mindset).
    5. Self-determination theory proposes that optimal performance results from actions motivated by intrinsic interests or by extrinsic values that have become integrated and internalized. Satisfying basic psychosocial needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness promotes such motivation.


    Across all theories, were recurrent themes of competence (with different nuances), value or anticipated result of the task, attributions (links between an observed event or outcome and the personal factors that led to this outcome), ‘cognitive’ (involve unobservable mental processes) and interactions between the learner and other  individuals and the learning context.

    Discussion of implications:

    Other authors have identified practical applications of motivation theory, most often instructional changes that could enhance motivation (see online table) – these authors do not expand on this.

    Consideration for research:  the authors

    • encourage researchers to explicitly identify their theoretical lens, to be precise in defining and operationalizing different motivational constructs, and to conduct a careful review of theory-specific literature early in their study planning.
    • caution that measuring the outcomes of motivation studies is challenging because the selection of which outcomes (psychological constructs) the measurement and the choice of specific instruments to measure the selected outcomes will influence study outcome
    • propose that researchers should test clear, practical applications of motivation theory
    • call for research that builds and extends motivation theory for education generally and health professions education specifically.

Key Conclusions

The authors conclude that researchers must be careful and precise in defining, operationalizing and measuring different motivational constructs. They suggest that motivation research continue to build theory and extend it to health professions domains, identify key outcomes and outcome measures, and test practical  educational applications of the principles.

Spare Keys – other take home points for clinician educators

A great article for the bookshelf.

Reminder in general to use a theoretical foundation when studying med ed.

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