Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date




Publication Title

2019 Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association



Conference Name

2019 Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association, April 8, 2019, Toronto, Canada


Researchers acknowledge that students’ learning and achievement requires both effective cognition and the motivation to apply it. In addition, both cognition and motivation are multidimensional, each involving different processes that may be less or more salient in different contexts. However, most basic research and intervention studies focus on either cognition OR motivation, and commonly only target a single process. We designed an intervention to investigate the role of different combinations of cognitive and motivational supports in first-year undergraduate introductory biology courses. We sought an online delivery approach with minimal burden on the instructor that can accompany any such course. Building on prior research, we selected four types of cognitive supports and three types of motivational supports. Cognitive supports: Priming Prior Knowledge, Demonstrating Worked Examples, Instructing Study Strategies and Scaffolding Organization of Lectures. Motivational supports: Self-Efficacy Promoting Feedback, Value Enhancement Through Relevance Writing, and Perceived Cost Alleviation Through Persuasion. The intervention study was designed to test the effects of different combinations of these cognition and motivation supports. Initial development began in 2015-2016 with post-iterative experiments in 2017. Overall, there were 3,092 undergraduate student participants, tested in 10 studies at 3 universities over 4 years. Students were randomly assigned to either a no-treatment control condition or one of 17 combinations of cognition and motivation intervention modules delivered via the Internet, each over the course of a semester. A meta-analysis of the overall effect of all interventions on grades across the 10 studies was positive (g = .30), with significant moderation of fidelity (i.e., students’ access; g = .24) and research phase (stronger effect in later administrations; g = .26). Moreover, certain combinations had little effect across administrations (e.g., any combination with Priming Prior Knowledge). However, the development and testing process also pointed to contextual and situational factors that influenced the effect of mostly effective interventions. For example, in one institution, Scaffolding Organization of Lectures through thematically segmenting lecture videos had the unintended consequence of students stopping lecture attendance. Or, in one institution but not in others, students “crammed” on the supports, which undermined the effect and required modifying the intervention in order to regulate timely access in that institution. Additionally, for yet to be explored reasons, successful combinations of modules were more effective in certain administrations in some institutions than in others. Finally, in certain administrations, there were unanticipated direct effects of motivational modules on cognitive biological reasoning, and cognitive modules on motivational beliefs The current study demonstrated that, when aggregated across context, time, and participants, a “hands-off” administration of a combination of certain cognitive and motivational supports can meaningfully improve undergraduate students’ motivation, biological reasoning, and course grades, with a stronger effect than a cognitive or motivation intervention alone. In addition, however, the findings point to important contextual as well as potentially unpredictable factors as moderating the effect of such interventions. “Evidence-based practice” might need to be considered a “first-step” in a systematic design process of catering any intervention to the particular educational context.


© 2019 The Authors.

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Original Publication Citation

Kaplan, A., Cromley, J., Perez, T., Dai, T., Mara, K., & Balsai, M. (2019) Combining different motivation and cognitive supports in undergraduate biology in different contexts: Lessons learned. Paper presented at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (1-31). American Educational Research Association.


0000-0002-2008-2555 (Perez)