Kaur & Noman (2020): A study applying self-determination theory on Students as Partners

I love using self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000) as a framework against which I check all teaching I develop. Is it even possible for students to feel competence, autonomy, relatedness in the environment I am building, or what can I tweak to create conditions in which these contritions for feeling intrinsically motivated are more easily met? Recently, I have taken on a Students as Partners (SaP) approach, and then came across the article by Kaur & Noman (2020) that looks at SaP through the lens of self-determination theory.

The authors take the three categories and divide them into six themes: Autonomy is described as both agency (as having the real chance of contributing and shaping the learning process) and choice; competence is about gaining confidence and thus acting more confidently, as well as being challenged and rising to the challenge. Relatedness is then about both the environment which is inviting and without anxiety, and meaningful, frequent, friendly and open interactions. They say that as a result of the intrinsic motivation that is made possible by meeting these conditions, student engagement will increase.

Looking at the data from two previous studies, the authors find that more than 3/4 of the students reported experiencing agency, which they linked very closely to agency and accountability beliefs of students. 2/3rds of the students also mention choice as very important: they had control of their learning and felt as if they were “the initiators of their learning”. For the category of competence, the results aren’t as strong: less than half of the students reports feeling confident, and less than a third felt challenged. On relatedness, 3/4 of the students report feeling connected and in a warm environment, and almost half of the students felt that they had more meaningful interactions with their teachers.

So what does this mean, and how does it help us? I was most curious about seeing how the authors brought self-determination theory and students as partners together. The numbers themselves are interesting in so far that they tell us something about the two specific courses, but whether or not students feel, for example, appropriately challenged will depend on a lot more factors than on whether or not they are learning as partners, like on the subject, their level of previous knowledge, the actual tasks they are working on, etc.. Just because someone uses students as partners as their framework doesn’t mean that it is implemented perfectly (as with any other framework or method, actually). Also we don’t have anything to compare this to — maybe that’s how students feel about any course, regardless of whether they are partners or not? But I think thinking about self-determination theory in more detail, i.e. what are the different aspects that could contribute to feeling competence, autonomy, and relatedness, and what could help or hinter them, and which of these are more important than others, is useful for improving my teaching practice.


Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist, 55(1), 68.

Kaur, A., & Noman, M. (2020). Investigating students’ experiences of Students as Partners (SaP) for basic need fulfilment: A self-determination theory perspective. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 17(1), 8.

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