How Does Enhanced Utility Value Affect Students’ Course Performance and Aspirations? An Evaluation of a Field Intervention on Motivational, Affective, and Cognitive Processes in Learning.

  • Servé Huijben

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Dutch Higher Education institutes frequently suffer from student drop-out, switching and study delay. This leads to inefficiency and waste of time of both teachers and students. Intervention studies facilitate our understanding about which interventions are most effective in improving educational outcomes. A growing body of research suggests that interventions helping students discover the usefulness of the course material (utility value) can improve their learning performance. However, various questions remain regarding the parameters for success of this type of these interventions and the mechanisms by which these interventions might impact learning performance.
Using a randomized field experiment, the present study tested the effect of a utility value intervention on motivational, affective, and cognitive processes in learning, and subsequent learning performances and career aspirations. A sample of 99 first year students participated on a volunteer basis. The intervention was delivered online during a 10-week bachelor course of a School of Sports Studies in the Netherlands.
Participants were randomly assigned to the experimental condition (n = 50) or active control condition (n = 49). In the fifth week of the course, the experimental group was provided two example quotations on the personal utility of a specific course topic and, thereafter, were asked to write their own quotation. The participants in the control condition were asked twice to write a short summary of a concept they’ve been learning about in the course recently.
A questionnaire with 1-7 Likert scales was used in the 3rd week and 7th week to measure the following constructs: perceived utility value (Hulleman, Godes, Hendricks & Harackiewicz, 2010), enjoyment (Pekrun, Goetz, Frenzel, Barchfeld, & Perry, 2011), situational interest (Linnenbrink-Garcia et al., 2010), cognitive load (Leppink, Paas, Van der Vleuten, Van Gog & Van Merriënboer, 2013; Klepsch, Schmitz, & Seufert, 2017) and further career aspiration (Schuster & Martiny, 2016). In addition, course performance was measured by the final course grade.
Results show that the control group reported higher perceived utility value at follow-up compared to the experimental group. So, the experimental manipulation was not successful with regard to inducing perceived utility value. Furthermore, the experimental group did not report higher mean on enjoyment, situational interest and career aspirations, and lower mean on intrinsic cognitive load compared to the control condition. However, as expected, students in the experimental condition did report lower extraneous cognitive load, higher germane cognitive load and higher course performance compared to the control condition. Yet, these expected differences were not statistical significant.
The present study did not confirm that a utility value intervention is an effective strategy to improve motivation and study performance during the first months of a higher educational curriculum. The results of the present study suggests that this type of interventions seem to work only under certain conditions. Future studies should pay special attention to aspects like the quality of the intervention material, dosage and timing of the intervention, setting of the study and contextual constraints.

Date of Award20 Sep 2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKate Xu (Supervisor)


  • motivation
  • utility
  • value
  • enjoyment
  • situational interest
  • cognitive load
  • learning performance
  • higher education
  • career aspirations

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