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Abstract

Self-determination theory assumes that the basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are associated with motivational regulation. As these basic psychological needs may have been affected by the shift to distance learning, students’ motivational regulation and vitality may have suffered as well. The purpose of this study was to examine the motivational regulation, satisfaction, or frustration of the basic psychological needs and vitality of university students before and after the transition to forced distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic: Two student samples from Austria and Germany were studied: One was surveyed before the conversion to distance learning (N=1,139) and the other at the beginning of forced distance learning (N=1,835). The instruments used were the Scales for the Measurement of Motivational Regulation for Learning in University Students (SMR-L), the German version of the Basic Psychological Needs Satisfaction and Frustration Scale, a scale developed by the authors to differentiate the assessment of social relatedness, and the German version of the Subjective Vitality Scale. The results show that the satisfaction of basic psychological needs was significantly lower and the frustration thereof substantially higher during the distance learning period than before the pandemic. Intrinsic motivation and identified regulation were significantly lower during the forced distance learning period, and more controlled forms of motivation were higher than before the pandemic. Structural equation models showed that 42% of the students’ vitality can be explained by motivational regulation and the satisfaction and frustration of their basic needs. Motivational regulation styles functioned (differentiated according to the degree of autonomy) as mediating variables between basic needs and vitality. In terms of theoretical implications, the distinction between approach and avoidance components of introjected regulation was shown to be adequate and necessary, as they explain the outcome vitality differently. The support and avoidance of frustration of basic psychological needs should be considered in distance learning to promote the quality of motivation and students’ vitality.