Studies have shown that increased student engagement is correlated with improved learning outcomes and overall positive results for students. While engagement can be viewed as a precursor to other outcomes, it should also be examined as an outcome itself. To increase student engagement and improve the learning experience for students, we must understand which factors can facilitate engagement and how educators can positively affect these factors. This research explored the influence of three proposed facilitators of engagement: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Self-determination theory, a theory of motivation, posits that these are three innate psychological needs that must be fulfilled to experience the highest level of motivation, for which engagement has been used as a proxy. In the format of a multiple-article dissertation, I present three articles. The first article reviewed the literature concerning self-determination theory and student engagement in both K-12 and higher education settings. It answered the following research question: What has been found regarding the influence of autonomy, competence, and relatedness on student engagement? The second article built upon findings from the first article and outlined the process to create and validate an instrument to measure autonomy, competence, relatedness with peers, relatedness with professors, and emotional engagement. Data were collected from university students through an online survey (n = 340). Confirmatory factor analysis results showed that survey items performed well and measured the intended constructs. Structural equation modeling was then used to identify the best fitting model for the data collected. Results showed that sense of competence had the largest predicted effect on emotional engagement. The third article employed the validated survey discussed in the second article. It was administered to students in an online higher education program (n = 3092). Confirmatory factor analysis and structural equation modeling were conducted on the sample. Students sense of autonomy was found to have the greatest effect on emotional engagement.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Instructional Psychology and Technology

Date Submitted


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self-determination theory, student engagement, structural equation modeling, confirmatory factor analysis, higher education