Behind the times: A brief history of motivation discourse in problem-based learning

Lisette Wijnia*, VFC (Ginie) Servant - Miklos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
23 Downloads (Pure)


That idea that problem-based learning (PBL) is more motivating that traditional education
has been prevalent since the inception of PBL at McMaster University in the late 1960s.
Evidencing this through empirical research, however, has proven to be a lot more problematic. This paper retraces how the discourse on motivation started from a laymen’s conception in the early days of PBL, and slowly evolved into a feld of scientifc inquiry in the
1980s and 1990s. However, looking at the evolution of motivation theory over the same
period, we show that motivation discourse in the burgeoning literature on motivation and
PBL remained largely wedded to the laymen’s approach, and failed to catch up with the
new achievement-goal theory and self-determination theory approaches. This paper proceeds to analyse the explosion of studies on PBL and motivation after 2000, acknowledging eforts to move away from anecdotal accounts and provide theoretical grounding to
the research. However, once again, we show that the majority of the research employed
outdated motivational measures that do not fully grasp the complexity of contemporary
motivation theory. The paper concludes on the observation that single-course and curriculum-wide research interventions have yielded no conclusive results on the efect of PBL on
intrinsic motivation, and that future research should therefore seek to use up-to-date motivational constructs in more targeted interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)915-929
Number of pages929
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2019


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