Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, Special Issue, 811-817
Published Online October 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 811
Motivational and Cognitive Learning Strategies Used by
First-Year Engineering Undergraduate Students at
Universidad Católica in Chile
María José Anais1, Ana María Hojas1, Angéli ca Bustos 1, Cecilia Letelier1,
María Soledad Zuzulich1, Báltica Cabieses2, Marcela Zubiaguirre1
1Centro de Apoyo al Rendimiento Académico y de Exploración Vocacional, Pontificia Universidad Católica de
Chile, Santiago, Chile
2Faculty of Medicine, Universi dad de l De sar rollo, Santiago, Chile
Received August 31st, 2012; revis ed S e p t e mber 27th, 2012; accepted October 14th, 2012
The learning process is sensitive to the demands from the learning task and the specific subject of study.
This study provides a characterization of the motivational and cognitive learning strategies used by stu-
dents in their first year of an undergraduate Civil Engineering degree course at a prestigious Chilean uni-
versity. The module considered for this study was “Introduction to Calculus”, the first course in Mathe-
matics that these students took at the beginning of their career. A sample of 339 students (73% of the total
students enrolled) attended the last lecture and consented to participate in this study lecture (no student
rejected to participate). They answered the Motivated Strategies Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ). The
MSLQ asked the students about the motivational and cognitive learning strategies that they applied in the
selected module. Mean scores for motivational and cognitive items were categorized into low, medium or
high values. Students reported high motivational strategies, particularly regarding their value of the task
and their control of learning beliefs. These were ranked as “high” level. As for the cognitive learning
strategies, they were also high but slightly lower than the motivational dimensions of the learning experi-
ence. Hence, they were ranked in an upper-middle range, excelling in meta-cognitive self-regulation and
effort regulation. Moreover, motivational and cognitive strategies were interrelated components affecting
the learning outcomes. This study explored self-reported motivational and cognitive learning strategies
applied by first-year undergraduate students of a Civil Engineering degree course in one of the largest
universities in Chile. Our findings suggest that both motivational and cognitive components of learning
process are relevant and interact with each other. These results contribute to a better understanding of the
learning process of engineering students in an early curricular stage. Hence, they provide relevant knowl-
edge that could be applied in teaching and learning practices in higher education.
Keywords: Academic Learning Strategies; Motivational Skills; Undergraduate Students; Chile;
Cross-Sectional Study
The Support Center for Academic Performance and Career
Exploration at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile
(CARA-UC) seeks to promote and develop the wellbeing of
students, emphasizing academic dimensions, as they constitute
a protective factor for mental health (Susperreguy, Flores,
Micin, & Zuzulich, 2007). To meet this end, the Center pro-
vides services at the individual and group level, which are
“learner-centered”, by strengthening students’ academic skills
in order to improve their learning process and related outcomes.
In this center, students are considered to be their own promoters
of a successful learning experience. It is important, therefore, to
understand their cognitive and motivational strategies before
the development of any educational and motivational intervene-
tion. Specifically, the team at CARA-UC constantly seeks to
understand what the cognitive processes used by students are in
a given context, and what aspects of any particular academic
task motivate them to achieve their learning goals. The Center
understands learning achievement as a variable that depends
upon the interaction of multiple and inter-related factors, such
as affect, cognition, resource management, motivation, and
others (Hojas, Anais, Bustos, Letelier, & Zuzulich, 2012). A
better understanding of this learning process, especially at an
early curricular stage, could provide relevant feedback to
CARA-UC and the module lecturers, suggesting what motiva-
tional and cognitive processes could significantly improve their
learning experience and performance.
Bearing in mind that the learning process is always sensitive
to the demands from the task and the specific subject of study
(González, Valle, Rodríguez, & Piñeiro, 2002), this study seeks
to understand motivational and learning strategies in the context
of a particular topic, “Introduction to Calculus”, among first
year undergraduate students of the Civil Engineering degree
course. To measure students’ motivational and cognitive learn-
ing strategies we used the Motivated Strategies Learning Ques-
tionnaire (MSLQ) by Pintrich, Smith, Garcia and McKeachie
(1991). This instrument has been widely used in similar studies,
either in its full extent (Chi-Kin Lee, Yin, & Zhang, 2010;
Chiecher, Donolo, & Rinaudo, 2007; Paoloni, 2009; Rinaudo,
Chiecher, & Donolo, 2003) or by specific items only (Rinaudo,
De la Barrera & Donolo, 2006), and it has proven to be a reli-
able instrument to investigate issues in the area of motivation
and use of cognitive learning strategies, in a range of disci-
plines and different types of students (García & McKeachie,
The MSLQ Instrument to Assess Strategies and
Motivation in Learning
The MSLQ considers two key aspects of the learning process:
motivational and cognitive. Each of these is described in the
following paragraphs.
Motivational Dimensio n
Motivated students take advantage of the opportunities they
have to optimize their learning. They are, therefore, more likely
to persist and to find effective ways of dealing with harder tasks
(Chiecher et al., 2007; Schunk & Zimmerman, 2009). This is
probably due to their ability to guide their academic behavior
by framing the task within their existing cognitive resources,
and choosing the type of strategy to use within such cognitive
frame (Rinaudo et al., 2006). In educational settings, Pintrich &
García (1993) suggest three components that would be the basis
for motivation: 1) Value; 2) Expectancy; and 3) Affect.
The Value component refers to the importance attributed by
students to the learning utility and cost involved, in terms of
time, effort or other such costs (Chiecher et al., 2007; Schunk &
Zimmerman, 2009). A greater appreciation of the task would
correlate with greater use of cognitive strategies, leading to
deep processing and better quality learning experiences (Chie-
cher et al., 2007; Schunk & Zimmerman, 2009). Within this
dimension, we can differentiate between the motivational ori-
entation toward intrinsic goals and extrinsic goals. For intrinsic
goals, the student performs an activity due to their own interest,
the experience gained and the learning involved. It has been
suggested that this type of orientation relates to patterns of cog-
nition and motivation that favor learning (Pintrich, 2000; Chie-
cher et al., 2007). For extrinsic goals, the student performs a
task due to the reward or profit associated with it. This would
relate with superficial learning strategies, such as seeking quick
solutions and making external causal attributions of perform-
ance (Rinaudo et al., 2006).
The Expectancy component includes two concepts: self-ef-
ficacy for learning and performance, and control of learning
beliefs. Self-efficacy refers to individuals’ beliefs about being
able to execute the actions required to achieve a desired result
in a course (Pintrich et al., 1991). Students with higher self-
efficacy tend to be more motivated and make better use of ex-
isting learning strategies. They also tend to believe that if they
persist and strive, they will then get a better result from their
performance. The second concept of control of learning beliefs
is also relevant to results (Pintrich & García, 1993). In this
respect, it has been recognized that when students have a
greater perception of internal control, their effort and dedication
is greater.
Finally, in terms of the Affective component, anxiety has
been shown to affect motivation by the emergence of negative
thoughts that create a barrier to the learning process. These tend
to reflect a concern over performance and outcomes (Pintrich et
al., 1991; Chiecher et al., 2007). According to Rinaudo et al.
(2003), this dimension correlates negatively with the use of
effective cognitive learning strategies by students.
Cognitive Dimension
As important as motivation, cognitive processes are devel-
oped throughout the learning process, allowing individuals the
acquisition, processing, integration and retrieval of new and
existing information (Rinaudo, 2003). This dimension includes
two large components: 1) Cognitive and meta-cognitive strate-
gies; and 2) Resource management strategies.
Within the cognitive and meta-cognitive strategies, the sim-
plest possible strategy is “rehearsal”. This is based on review,
repetition or recitation techniques to facilitate the processes of
attention, coding and retention of information at superficial
memory levels. Rehearsal is useful for simple tasks and for the
activation of the working memory (Pintrich et al., 1991). How-
ever, Nuñez, have pointed out how important it is that students
take a deeper approach to learning, such as through forming
relationships, applying content, or verifying theories. Such
deeper approaches allude to more complex cognitive strategies
such as those of “Elaboration” and “Critical Thinking” (Nuñez,
1995; Rinaudo et al., 2006). Elaboration allows students to
build relationships between different learning points. It is clas-
sified as an intermediate-level strategy because it establishes
relationships in the learning content, facilitating commitment to
long-term memory. On a deeper level, Organization strategies
allows further processing of information, as it includes the se-
lection of the main interrelated ideas and organizes them into
different categories. Organization involves modification of in-
formation and restructuring of knowledge through diagrams,
classifications or comparisons (Pintrich et al., 1991). The stra-
tegy that allows individuals to achieve deeper understanding is
Critical Thinking (Rinaudo et al., 2003). It establishes relation-
ships between prior and new knowledge, leading to the ability
to solve problems, make decisions and evaluations, and develop
argumentative and reflective capacities (Pintrich & García,
1993). Finally, meta-cognitive strategies include self-regulating
and self-monitoring dimensions, such as attention, understand-
ing, and action planning aimed at learning control. In this sense,
self-regulated students would be active participants in their own
learning process (Chiecher et al., 2007).
The Resource management component refers to the strategic
management and regulation of resources that are relevant to
achieve an effective learning experience. Examples of such
resources are the time and the environment of study. Regulating
these involves planning strategies that are based on achieving
goals within an environment that facilitates mental focus and
concentration. But along with this, strategic students regulate
their effort and perseverance, which are very relevant for the
fulfillment of goals, even when they are difficult or boring.
Resource management also includes peer learning and help
seeking, which are valuable skills for managing the support
required from others.
Purpose of This Study
This study was developed by CARA-UC, in partnership with
the Faculty of Engineering of the University. Its aim was to
characterize first year undergraduate Engineering students, in
terms of self-reported motivational and cognitive learning
strategies used for the Introduction to Calculus module. These
students are representative of high achieving early career un-
dergraduates who have obtained the highest scores at the na-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
tional-A-level equivalent in the UK or SATs in the US-tests for
the entire country. Understanding how these young students
learn (through both motivational and cognitive processes) could
serve as a significant input to enrich programmes and services
aimed at strengthening educational interventions.
All students attending the Introduction to Calculus module in
2011 were considered as the sampling universe. A sample of
339 students undertaking this module consented to participate
and answered the Motivated Strategies Learning Questionnaire
(MSLQ) at the end the module. The sample included every
student attending the final lecture of the module (73% of the
total students enrolled). No student rejected participation. This
module was taught in 4 parallel sections of about 80 students
each. At the time this study was conducted, the rate of students
successfully approving the module’s exams was 77%.
We used the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire,
MSLQ (Pintrich, Smith, García, & McKeachie, 1991), trans-
lated to Spanish by Letelier, Lissi, Flores, & Assef (2007), and
adjusted by the research team at CARA-UC. The MSLQ is a
self-report questionnaire that assesses motivational orientations
and cognitive learning strategies of students in a specific course
(Pintrich et al., 1991). Thus, from a cognitive social learning
viewpoint it considers aspects that are both dynamic and con-
textually determined, with variations depending on the course
and nature of the academic task under observation (García &
McKeachie, 2005).
This instrument has two sections of 31 items each. All ques-
tions offer a Likert scale type of response of 7 points, from 1
(not true) to 7 (very true). The application of the instrument
takes, on average, 15 minutes. The Motivation section has six
sub-scales and the Strategic Learning section has nine. To fa-
cilitate responses to the questionnaire in the context of this
particular module, the research team added the following
phrase at the beginning: “When the question refers to ‘reading’,
it may be interpreted as relating to practicing and rehearsing
mathematics exercises and mathematical study”.
The questionnaire was answered during the final lecture.
Students were invited to participate and to sign an informed
consent form, in which it was outlined that their participation
was voluntary and that their responses would be confidential.
All students attending that last lecture accepted to participate.
Data Analysis
Continuous variables are shown as means and standard de-
viations, while categorical variables as the number of cases and
percentages. Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient was used
to assess the linear relationship between two ordinal and/or
numerical variables.
Cronbach’s Alpha coefficient was used as a measure of in-
ternal consistency and reliability of the questionnaire. This was
then compared to the original study from the US.
All p values were two-tailed, and a value of <0.05 was con-
sidered to be statistically significant. Data processing and sta-
tistical analyses were done with the SPSS statistical software
package version 15.0 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA).
Results regarding the reliability of the MSLQ full question-
naire and its subscales and items appear in Table 1. It is noted
that, with the exception of some small differences, the reliabil-
ity of the MLSQ questionnaire in this study is very similar to
that found in the original 1990 study, with 380 students of
various subjects in Midwestern College (Pintrich et al., 1991).
Motivational and Lear ni ng Strategies Use d by
Students of Introducti o n to Calculus Module
We describe the results maintaining the distinction between
sections of Motivation and Cognitive Learning Strategies, by
analyzing the sub-scale scores according to the grouping of
scales proposed by the authors (Pintrich et al., 1991). Whenever
appropriate, specific reference is made to certain items that
Table 1.
Reliability of the MSLQ questionnaire, by subscales.
Motivation scales
Subscale N items
Reliability this
study applicatio n,
Íntrinsic goal orientation4 0.74 0.76
Extrinsic goal orientation4 0.62 0.52
Task value 6 0.90 0.88
Control beliefs 4 0.68 0.74
Self-efficacy for learning
and performance 8 0.93 0.91
Test for anxiet y 5 0.80 0.68
Learning strategies scale
Rehearsal 4 0.69 0.69
Elaboration 6 0.76 0.74
Organization 4 0.64 0.73
Critical thinking 5 0.80 0.74
Self-regulation 12 0.79 0.79
Time and study
environment 8 0.76 0.78
Effort regulation 4 0.69 0.61
Peer lea r nin g 3 0.76 0.63
Help seeki ng 4 0.52 0.45
Note: *(Pintrich et al., 1991).
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 813
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
reflect interesting aspects of this group. In order to locate the
observed group averages within expected minimum and maxi-
mum scores, three intervals were constructed for this study:
high, medium and low ranks. As noted below, these students
scored high on the sub-scale of Motivation (Tables 2 and 3).
Motivational Dimensio n
By characterizing the motivational profile of this group (Ta-
ble 2) the highest mean values were in learning control beliefs
(M = 5.84, SD = 0.93) and task value (M = 5.83, SD = 0.96).
There was a lower mean for the extrinsic motivation component
(M = 4.68, SD = 1.07). Thus, it is possible to indicate that this
group of students valued and/or perceived the Introduction to
Calculus module as a useful subject. They also perceived that
their efforts could lead them to positive results. Their learning
process appeared to motivate them more than grades or other
results, although the latter was still important to them. Findings
for each component of the motivational dimension are ex-
plained in detail in the following paragraphs.
Value component
Regarding the Task Value, over 80% of the students chose
alternatives close to “very true” in virtually all items of this
subscale. Specifically, 94.7% of students thought that it was
important to learn the course material, and this item gave the
highest mean to the motivation section as a whole (M = 6.33,
SD = 0.92). In addition, 87.6% of students considered that they
could apply what they have learnt in this course to other
courses. As for the reasons for performing the tasks of this
course, this appeared to be slightly more determined by intrin-
sic goals (M = 5.1, SD = 1.07) than extrinsic ones (M = 4.68,
SD = 1.07). There was satisfaction in them “trying to under-
stand the content as thoroughly as possible” (M = 5.5, SD =
1.31) and they preferred it when the class material was chal-
lenging, in that they could learn new things (M = 5.36, SD =
1.28). However, this interest decreased when the activity did
not guarantee a good grade in the module (M = 4.47, SD =
1.49); 22% of students said they would prefer not to choose this
type of activity that does not guarantee a good grade at the end.
The extrinsic motivation subscale showed the lowest scores,
even when 61% of the group agreed that the most important
thing for them was to finish the semester with a good grade (M
= 4.84, SD = 1.48).
Expectancy component
In the Control Beliefs subscale, 94% agreed with the state-
ment that if they study the subject appropriately (M = 6.30, SD =
1.01) and put enough effort into it (M = 6.19, SD = 1. 02) then
they would learn the course material. However, a lower level of
agreement was observed when they were asked whether it was
their fault if they did not learn the course material adequately
(M = 5.41, SD = 1.47) or whether a lower degree of understanding
of the subject was due to them not trying hard enough to learn
the material (M = 5.51, SD = 1.40). The Self-Efficacy subscale
for Learning and Performance showed a greater variation in student
Table 2.
Descriptive statistics of the motivational component.
Component. Subscale N Mean SD Variance Range
Intrinsic goal orientation 339 5.1 1.07 1.16 High
Extrinsic goal orientation 339 4.68 1.07 1.16 High
Value component
Task value 339 5.83 0.96 0.93 High
Control beliefs 339 5.84 0.93 0.87 High
Expectancy component Self-efficacy for learning and performance 339 5.01 1.07 1.14 High
Affective component Test anxiety 339 3.81 1.12 1.25 Medium
Table 3.
Descriptive statistics of cognitive strategies.
Component Subscale N Mean SD Variance Range
Rehearsal 339 3.95 1.24 1.54 Medium
Elaboration 339 4.6 1.1 1.22 Medium
Organization 339 4.17 1.38 1.9 Medium
Critical thinking 339 4.51 1.1 1.2 Medium
Cognitive and meta -co gn itive
strategies component
Meta-cognitive self-regulation339 4.85 0.84 0.71 High
Time and stu dy enviro nment 339 4.75 1.04 1.08 High
Effort regulation 339 5.21 1.05 1.11 High
Peer lea r nin g 339 4.39 1.29 1.66 Medium
Resource management strategies
Help seeking 339 4.4 1.06 1.12 Medi um
responses. For example, they felt confident that they could
learn the most basic elements of the course (M = 6.03, SD =
1.18), but this confidence dropped when the content was a more
complex one (M = 5.11, SD = 1.48). Interestingly, 48.4% of
students disagreed with the statement that they can get a good
grade in this course.
Affective dimension
Students obtained the lowest mean score of the questionnaire
in the Anxiety subscale (M = 3.81, SD = 1.12), indicating that
they did not show large amounts of concern on their perform-
ance. Yet 38% of the students thought that their performance on
course activities was poor when compared to their peers (M =
3.69, SD = 1.78) and 38.7% reported feeling uneasy during
exams (M =4.02, SD = 1.662).
We also assessed if there was any correlation between the
subscales of the instrument. There were significant positive
correlations between the Motivation subscales. The Intrinsic
Goal Orientation correlates with the Task Value subscale (r
(339) = 0.606, p = 0.01) and with the Self-Efficacy of Learning
and Performance subscale (r (339) = 0.597, p = 0.01). In turn,
the latter was positively related to the Control of Learning Be-
liefs subscale (r (339) = 0.589, p = 0.01).
Strategic Learning
By characterizing this group in terms of their cognitive
strategies when studying the first-year Introduction to Calculus
module (Table 3), we observed that the effort regulation strate-
gies played an important role (M = 5.2, SD = 1.05). Thus, stu-
dents perceived their ability to control attention and effort posi-
tively. Rehearsal strategies and activation to a more basic level
of information was perceived as less relevant to their learning
process (M = 3.95, SD = 1.24).
Cognitive and Meta-Cognitive Strategies
In the Meta-Cognitive Self-Regulation subscale, students
demonstrated awareness at the lack of understanding of content.
Thus, 93.8% reported they would go back in the module’s con-
tents when they identified some confusion or doubt, and a further
81.4% were able to identify concepts that were not clear to
them during the learning process. This was particularly relevant
when considering that 38.9% of them reported that they did not
understand some of the content that had been covered by this
Regarding the Elaborative strategies, which were located in
the middle range of complexity for this group, students consider-
ed relevant making relationships within the course material;
either with prior knowledge (M = 5.27, SD = 1.5) or by relating
the concepts of the different lectures of the module (M = 5.12,
SD = 1.47). About 70% of them reported using this strategy
with both existing and new knowledge. In relation to Critical
Thinking, also in the middle range, one of the most used strate-
gies by the sample was to think about their own ideas in rela-
tion to the learning of the module (M = 5.05, SD = 1.419). Re-
garding Organization, 81% of the students said that one of the
most used strategies was to reviewing content and identifying
important ideas (M = 5.66, SD = 1.42). In contrast, making
diagrams or charts was the least used strategy (M = 4.51, SD =
1.62). Finally, although this group used Rehearsal strategies less,
about half of the stud ents r eport ed read ing th eir no tes several times
(M = 4.51, SD = 1.62).
Resource Management
Within the Resource Management subscale, a group of the
students scored higher on the subscale of Effort regulation.
About 78% persisted in the learning of contents considered
difficult or boring. Referring to Time and Study Environment,
it was also in a high range since virtually all students (92.8%)
attended the lectures and 75% answered “very true” to that
particular statement. However, more than half the group ( 58.6%)
said it was difficult to successfully achieve a study schedule.
Regarding the search of help through peer learning, this group
was located in the middle range. When facing difficulties in
understanding the module’s material, 80.3% of the students
sought help from a peer, while 26.2% resorted to the teacher. In
the subscale of Peer Learning, 67% studied with classmates for
this particular module.
When exploring correlations, it appeared that within the
Strategy section, the Meta-cognitive Self-Regulation subscale
correlated with several of the subscales of the section, such as
the Elaboration subscale (r (339) = 0.698, p = 0.01), the Or-
ganization subscale (r (339) = 0.525, p = 0.01), and the Critical
Thinking subscale (r (339) = 0.561, p = 0.01). It was also cor-
related with Effort Regulation (r (339) = 0.560, p = 0.01) and
the Time and Study Environment subscale (r (339) = 0.500, p =
0.01). It should be mentioned that several of the subscales that
correlate with Meta-cognitive self-regulation were interrelated.
In addition, the Peer Learning subscale correlated positively
with the Help Seeking subscale (r (339) = 0.517, p = 0.01).
Finally, it is important to note that the only significant correla-
tions between subscales of different sections of the question-
naire were observed between the subscales of Intrinsic Goal
Orientation and Critical Thinking (r (339) = 0.525, p = 0.01).
The study sought to characterize the motivational and cogni-
tive learning strategies of first-year undergraduate students
from the Civil Engineering degree course at UC, as seen
through those who undertook the module of Introduction to
Calculus during the first semester of 2011. They were a group
of students that faced challenges associated with the transition
from secondary school to university-level higher education
(Susperreguy et al., 2007), which made this group particularly
interesting for research purposes. According to the findings of
this study, students showed higher scores on motivational than
cognitive dimensions associated with their learning experience
of this module.
By characterizing this group as to their motivational profile
in particular, it was found that students engaged in learning
tasks of the course and learning challenges involved, rather than
the single assessment or grade. Learning was almost as impor-
tant for them as the results, although the latter was to a lesser
extent. In this sense, students did not separate the two in their
learning and valuing of the module, which according to Romero
& Perez (2009) would positively affect their motivation and the
quality of their learning experience and outcomes. These find-
ings could be used in the future for advancing the current
teaching style of the module and other aspects of the Engineer-
ing curriculum.
An interesting aspect was that most students perceived this
module as an important and useful tool. In addition, they hoped
that their efforts (rather than external variables) could positively
affect their learning outcomes, showing that they recognized
their role and opportunities to intervene. This was very relevant
given that they were novice students in their first curricular year
and they needed to match expectations with actual performance.
Aspects like giving value and meaning to the tasks of the module,
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 815
and feeling that their efforts were not meaningless were sig-
nificant dimensions. Moreover, according to their strategies for
studying Introduction to Calculus, this group would stand to
regulate their efforts and focus on the study by monitoring the
concentration and strategies employed. They were aware of
their learning process and were also able to monitor it and to be
conscious of their comprehension and understanding. Findings
from this study suggest that these students are highly self-
regulated and proactive in their learning process (Zimmerman,
In their study process, they used more strategies of Elabora-
tion or Organization than that of Rehearsal. Thus, they prefer to
use strategies related to association and integration of informa-
tion, especially such strategies which are most relevant. Hence,
they used more active and complex strategies in their learning.
By managing their time and their learning environment, these
students cared for their attendance to the lectures and also the
environment where the learning process took place. However
they also had some difficulty with organizing their time. Re-
garding their learning resource management, although about
half of them studied with peers, this was more often reported
when they were experiencing difficulties with their learning
process, and not as part of their learning routine. Very few of
them reported asking the module’s leader or other lecturers for
help when needed.
Although sections of the Motivation and Strategies were
analyzed separately, it was difficult to separate both aspects in
the learning process. This was particularly true when consider-
ing the role of motivation in higher levels of effort associated
with a more autonomous learning process (Romero & Pérez,
2009). The correlations found reinforce the strong interrela-
tionship between these components. For example, there was a
significant correlation between Intrinsic Motivation and Critical
Thinking, both of which typically involve active learning pro-
cesses. Critical thinking involves cognitive tasks like using
information for solving problems or making critical evaluation
with respect to standards of excellence (Pintrich et al., 1991).
Probably implies participating in the task because of intrinsic
goals such as the challenge implied in it. That is why the corre-
lation observed between this sub scales is so interesting, as it
reinforces the importance of being an active learner from both
motivational and cognitive dimensions of the learning process.
A second example was the important role of Meta-cognitive
self-regulation. As it increased, more complex strategies like
active learning and better management of resources were ob-
The fact that these students valued the learning process
without neglecting their results, poses significant challenges
with respect to the teaching-learning process. This is not only in
terms of supporting them when expected positive results, such
as high grades, are not achieved, but also in enhancing their
motivation for learning new material, and developing new
strategies that might be more effective in their learning experi-
ence and performance.
The literature indicates that self-regulation in learning is not
a static trait, but rather a process of adaptation to academic
tasks (Zimmerman, 2002). Moreover, it has been suggested that
the context and environment in which the learning process
takes place should be further investigated (González et al.,
2002). For example, this study could be replicated in subse-
quent academic years for the same sample of students. Future
studies could also consider further aspects, such as assessing
changes in the motivations of students and variations in the
strategies employed to study, both over time and between sub-
jects. This studies should, specially consider the interrelation of
variables implied in the study (Hojas et al., 2012), and the rela-
tion between motivational and cognitive aspects, as we found in
this study. Qualitative studies could also expand the findings of
this study, exploring the learning experience in more detail, as
seen through both students and teachers.
This study faces some challenges and limitations. The in-
strument was applied in one of the last sessions of the semester
in a lecture that had voluntary attendance. Although the results
indicate that in this group class attendance was highly valued, it
is possible that those who participated in the study were pre-
cisely the students who value the attendance higher. Therefore,
there is the risk of selection bias in this study, which should be
further investigated in the future using different sampling and
recruiting techniques. Interestingly, the MSLQ questionnaire
behaved similarly as when it has been used for its original ap-
plication. This was observed after the estimation of the reliabil-
ity test. Despite its challenges and limitations, this study has
contributed relevant knowledge on first-year Civil Engineering
undergraduate students’ approach to learning. Our findings
highlight the significance that motivation and cognitive learn-
ing strategies have in these early-career students, and the close
relationship that exists between the two of them. Both motiva-
tional and cognitive learning strategies affect the learning ex-
perience in the university context and later learning outcomes
and, therefore, should be taken into account when developing
and assessing modules and broader curricular aspects in higher
The learning process is sensitive to the demands from the
task and the specific subject of study. This study provides a
characterization of the motivational and cognitive learning
strategies used by students in their first year of undergraduate
Civil Engineering degree course at a prestigious Chilean uni-
versity. The module considered for this study was Introduction
to Calculus, which corresponds to the very first course in
Mathematics these students undertake at university. Our find-
ings indicated that students reported high motivational strate-
gies, particularly regarding their value of the task and their
control of learning beliefs. These were ranked as “high” level.
As for the cognitive learning strategies, they were also high but
slightly lower than the motivational dimensions of the learning
experience. Hence, they were ranked in an upper-middle range,
excelling in meta-cognitive self-regulation and regulation of
their effort. Moreover, motivational and cognitive strategies
were interrelated components affecting the learning outcomes,
as perceived by the students included in this study. These resu lts
contribute to a better understanding of the learning process of
Civil Engineer students in an early curricular stage, thereby
providing relevant information that could be applied in other
teaching and learning practices in higher education.
We acknowledge the support of the School of Engineering at
the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile. We are particu-
larly grateful to the lecturers of the Introduction to Calculus
module, for their commitment to this study. We also thank Dr.
Luis Villarroel del Pino, for his valuable contribution to the
data analysis, and Dr. Christo Albor for his valuable review to
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 817
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