Choosing Your Own Learning Adventure: Does Autonomy Facilitate Academic Achievement?

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Abigail McCarthy
Emily Winia
Heidi Kloos


By Abigail McCarthy, Psychology ; Emily Winia, Psychology

Advisor: Heidi Kloos

Awards: Project Advisor Award: Excellence in Research Mentoring

Presentation ID: 242

Abstract: Autonomy is a key component of one of the largest theories of motivation, Self-Determination Theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Self-Determination Theory has become increasingly relevant in explaining motivation, especially in academic settings. Highly structured and strictly organized learning criteria for schools have the potential to limit student choices and reduce feelings of autonomy. This literature review seeks to understand how adding autonomy to classrooms relates to academic success and functioning in students. Peer reviewed journal articles were chosen from the UC libraries database PsycINFO during the Spring 2021 semester. Articles that examined autonomy's links to parenting styles or autonomy in nontraditional academic classrooms were excluded. We were specifically interested in elementary, middle, and high school aged students, so we excluded any studies that examined prekindergarten and undergraduate students. 351 articles were generated by the initial literature search and further narrowed down based on these parameters. Literature was selected by choosing articles with relevant titles and keywords such as (autonomy, autonomy support, personal autonomy, autonomous goal setting, self-directed learning, intrinsic motivation, self-guided learning, self-determination, self-determination theory, academic achievement, academic success, children's learning, student engagement, school engagement). The present literature concludes that autonomy supportive environments are linked to academic success, engagement, and improved need satisfaction in students. Further implications are discussed and future research regarding mediating or moderating factors of autonomy in the classroom may be beneficial.

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Teaching and Learning