Using a self-determination theory approach to understand student perceptions of inquiry-based learning

Fangfang Zhao, Gillian Roehrig, Lorelei Patrick, Chantal Levesque-Bristol, Sehoya H Cotner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Inquiry-based laboratory activities, as a part of science curricula, have been advocated to increase students' learning outcomes and improve students' learning experiences, but students sometimes struggle with open-inquiry activities. This study aims to investigate students' perceptions of inquiry-based learning in a set of laboratory activities, specifically from a psychological (i.e., Self-Determination Theory) perspective. Students' ratings of the level of inquiry in these activities indicate that students' perceptions of inquiry align with the instructor-intended amount of inquiry in each exercise. Students' written responses, explaining their ratings, indicate that students' perceptions of the amount of inquiry in a given lab exercise relate to their feeling of freedom (or autonomy), competence, and relatedness (or support), during the inquiry-based learning activities. The results imply that instructors implementing inquiry-based learning activities should consider student motivation, and Self-Determination Theory can be a useful diagnostic tool during teaching development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberrm5
JournalTeaching and Learning Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant 1540789 and Grant 1432414. The collaboration was forged in part by SEISMIC-Sloan Equity and Inclusion in STEM Introductory Courses. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 University of Calgary. All rights reserved.


  • Inquiry-based learning
  • Laboratory activities
  • Self-Determination Theory (SDT)
  • Student perceptions


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