Learning of Research Methods in Psychology: The Influence of Affective, Behavioural and Cognitive Factors

Leino, R. 2021. Learning of Research Methods in Psychology: The Influence of Affective, Behavioural and Cognitive Factors. PhD thesis University of Westminster College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

TitleLearning of Research Methods in Psychology: The Influence of Affective, Behavioural and Cognitive Factors
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsLeino, R.

A major part of learning in psychology concerns research methods. Research methods provide a basis to the vast majority of both transferable and subject-specific skills required in a psychology degree, and research methods core modules are required in all British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited psychology courses in the UK. Existing literature acknowledges that university students find courses in research methods particularly challenging. However, most of the research to date has focused on evaluating the outcomes of research methods learning, with few studies addressing the development of research methods learning. In a series of three studies, this thesis applied a holistic approach to explore how affective, behavioural and cognitive components shape students' research methods learning journeys. As little research has explored the role of affect in the learning of research methods, a particular emphasis on emotions was placed, with the control-value theory of achievement emotions (Pekrun, 2019) being at the core of the thesis. Study 1 was a mixed-methods study consisting of two surveys (N=106) and two focus groups (N=7) exploring students' expectations, experiences, and feelings towards research methods at the beginning of their journey. The results suggested that learning approaches, motivations, self-efficacy, and a range of emotions can have important influences on students' learning processes and supported the need to explore these components together. Study 2 built on these findings and explored students' learning journeys through the research methods curriculum longitudinally across
three-time points within two academic years. Drawing on both observational (N=239) and self-reported (N=158) data from the same learning experience, this study examined the influence
and development of achievement emotions, learning approaches, motivations, self-regulation, self-efficacy, activity in Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and attendance on the learning of research methods. The findings supported the application of the control-value theory, with emotions seen as crucial to learning and deactivating negative emotions (boredom and hopelessness) appearing especially detrimental to students' research methods learning trajectories. The study highlighted the usefulness of VLEs as a learning tool with online engagement explaining 13% of the variance in research methods grades. Lastly, Study 3 provided deeper qualitative insights into students' learning by interviewing 15 students at the end of their journey, with three learning typologies identified: (1) Learning by interest and understanding, (2) Learning by guidelines and practice, (3) Apprehensive Learning Attitude. This study's results indicated both differences and similarities in psychology students' learning journeys, with students differing in their approach and attitudes while sharing similar struggles. Taken together, this research showed that many affective, cognitive and behavioural variables influence research methods learning journeys. The influence of emotions is highlighted as especially crucial to learning, with the predictive role of VLE engagement and activities also emphasised. This thesis offers proposals on how the literature on achievement emotions and the emerging field of learning analytics (Siemens, 2013) could be combined and applied in higher education. Further recommendations apply to the design of teaching and learning environments that combat specifically deactivating negative emotions and incorporate active learning tools and technologies.

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Publication dates
PublishedSep 2021

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