The current educational system puts great emphasis on avoiding study delay and students are encouraged to invest all the available time in their studies. No more committee memberships, borrow rather than take a part-time job… anything to complete your degree as quickly as possible. But there’s another way, Lilian Eggens has discovered. ‘Investing in good motivation is much more effective’. Eggens will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 3 March.
Eggens investigated the influence of the personalities of students in higher education on their personal networks and the way that they compare themselves to others. She also investigated the influence of personality and the personal network on study progress and marks.
A relatively wide social network turns out to have a positive influence on study results. Eggens: ‘You might think that maintaining all those contacts would cost time and energy at the expense of studying. In practice, however, the size of the network turns out to have a positive effect. The bigger the network, the smaller the chances of study delay. The network probably functions as a safety net, gives you good connections and is a buffer against the negative consequences of stress’. This positive effect does not apply to students with a relatively old network. In other words, a network whose members on average are older. Eggens: ‘That’s probably because the various members of the network are in a different phase of life. That can result in role conflicts that can influence study behaviour.’
Eggens investigated various personality traits among students using the so-called ‘Big Five’ theory. This theory states that personality is formed by five elements: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and autonomy. Personality can influence performance, but not directly. For example, conscientious students are usually more motivated than students who score highly on one of the other traits. In their turn, motivated students achieve better results. ‘So conscientiousness turns out to be a good predictor of study success’, according to Eggens.
Students’ motivation to perform well has an important influence on their study results. Eggens: ‘The intrinsic motivation is not the only thing to play a role, there’s also how important the student thinks it is to perform well in comparison to other students.’ Eggens examined which elements predict study success. Among them were performance motivation, the degree to which students spend time on matters outside the degree programme, the tendency to postpone things and procrastination behaviour. Of these, only motivation predicts study success. Motivated students earn higher marks and incur less study delay. Maintaining a busy social life thus does not appear to negatively affect study performance. Eggens: ‘In fact, I think that students who do a lot alongside their studies are better able to cope with the pressure.’
One remarkable result from Eggens’s research is that emotionally stable students are usually less motivated than emotionally unstable students. ‘It's perfectly possible that emotionally unstable students have a greater fear of failure. They are uncertain and nervous about their performance and compensate by working hard and putting in more effort so that they do perform well. Their motivation to succeed is thus greater.’
Interventions to prevent delay or dropout among students should thus be directed at student motivation, states Eggens. Performance motivation influences study success, the tendency to postpone things and procrastination behaviour. Eggens also thinks that her results will interest students themselves. ‘It would be a good idea for them to become aware that elements other than “studying hard” play a role in study success, for example motivation and making sure that you finish everything in time. The social context of the learning process also influences how well they do.’
Lilian Eggens (Sleen, 1978) studied Educational Sciences at the University of Groningen and conducted her PhD research at GION, the Groningen Institute for Educational Research. Her supervisors at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences were Prof. M.P.C. van der Werf and Prof. R.J. Bosker. The title of her thesis is 'The student X-Factor. Social and psychological determinants of students' attainment in higher education’. She currently works as a researcher at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen in the Department of Excellence in Higher Education and Society and as a lecturer in Practice-related Research at the Academy of Social Sciences.
Information: Lilian Eggens, lilian.eggens gmail.com
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