Research Project – AT2 Outcome – Nguyễn Thuỳ Linh (SACE khoá 4)

Research Question: How do student-centred learning environments affect academic motivation among Vietnamese students?

I. Introduction

In recent years, Vietnam has attempted to implement student-centred learning environments as a replacement for traditional approaches such as lectures. The value of active learning is well reported in global literature, nevertheless, such research is limited in Vietnam. This report aims to enrich the literature by evaluating the effect of student-centred environments on academic motivation among Vietnamese students. The report utilizes primary research including a survey completed by 27 Vietnamese high school students and an interview with a professional education researcher. The additional focus group was also conducted to gain deeper insight into why certain effects on motivation occur. Secondary research that was used to support the research key findings includes a variety of journal articles and books such as the ‘Encyclopedia of the Science of Learning’.

II. Literature review

The Self-Determination Theory (SDT) has been used as an effective paradigm to research motivation in various settings, including educational contexts (Baeten, Dochy, and Struyven, 2012).  While motivation has traditionally been seen as a ‘unitary concept that differs in amount’ (Ryan and Deci, 2014), SDT differs itself by categorizing motivation into Intrinsic, Extrinsic, and Amotivation. Due to its distinctive feature, SDT implies that a high amount of motivation does not necessarily correlate with having beneficial outcomes; rather, it depends on the quality of motivation (Vansteenkiste et al., 2009).

Figure 1 illustrates the SDT continuum from left to right. Amotivation, which appears at the far left, is the state where people lack the intention to act (Ryan and Deci, 2000) due to not believing in the value of the task or not feeling competent to do it (Ryan, 1995). Next to amotivation is Extrinsic motivation including (1) External regulation where people feel pressured, coerced to do something to get external rewards or avoid punishment (Vansteenkiste, Lens and Deci, 2006) (2) Introjection illustrates behaviours to enhance ego or to avoid guilt (3) Identified regulation occurs when people realize the value of an activity and thus accept it as his or her own (Ryan and Deci, 2000). At the end of the figure is Intrinsic motivation. People are intrinsically motivated when they behave with willingness and choice such as doing activities volitionally due to enjoyment (Deci and Ryan, 2014). Autonomous motivation is considered most valuable given it produces many desirable results such as higher educational achievement (Wijsman et al., 2018) or better wellbeing (Deci and Ryan, 2002).

Students in learner-centred environments are believed to have higher autonomous motivation (Norman & Schmidt 1992; Tiwari et al., 2006) as they learn actively, in contrast to those in a traditional environment (e.g: lectures) who passively receive knowledge (Cheang, 2009). In student-centred classrooms, students ‘can and have to act as a controller’ (Loyens, Rikers, and Schmidt, 2007) and teacher as facilitators rather than a lecturer. This way encourages students to ‘do more discovering’, learn from and with other students  (Sharkey and Weimer, 2003).

III. Vietnam background

The appearance of Confucian philosophy as a consequence of a thousand years under Chinese rule (Park, 2000) combined with the Soviet top-down approach (Le, 2012) has strongly shaped the teacher-centred education system in Vietnam. The teacher is seen as the ultimate source of knowledge and is believed to always give the ‘correct answer’ (Burns, 1991; Pham, 2010). Therefore, Vietnamese students often passively absorb the knowledge and lack the skills to study independently (Go and Mok, 1995). 

The Confucian Heritage Culture is also the culture of ‘saving face’ (Truong, Hallinger, and Sanga, 2016) in which one should not stand out from the crowd and ask questions as it will be considered disrespecting and challenging the teachers (Le, 2012), and thus make the teacher ‘losing face’ (Pham, 2010). Such beliefs are also expressed through Vietnamese old proverbs such as “One does not dare step on teacher’s shadow.”, reinforcing the notion that students have to respect teachers no matter what (Pham, 2010). Since losing face is considered ‘unbearable in Vietnam’ (Borton and Ryder, 2000), students are unmotivated to question and seek knowledge beyond teachers (Tran, 2012).

Vietnam has received massive criticism about teacher-centred learning (Tran, 2012) due to it producing only obedient workers with no creativity (Tran, 2013). The changing demand from the labour market has created an impetus for Vietnam to prepare students for work (Ta and Winter, 2010). Facing lots of pressure, many government policies were applied to shift lecture learning to active learning (Nguyen, Haworth and Hansen, 2019), the education minister even once stressed that:

Learning by rote needs to be eliminated from all school levels and replaced with student-centred learning…Any teachers found failing to change their teaching style would be listed and provided with video-tapes showing new teaching techniques. If they still failed to improve, they would be sent for intensive training. (Pham, 2010, p. 25)

IV. Current studies in Vietnam 

The student-centred approach has been introduced to Vietnam since the start of the 21st century (Pham, 2010), yet it is still a ‘new teaching method’ (Chi, 2018). Research papers for such subjects are rare and most of them focus on how Vietnam adopts the method (Pham, 2010; Le, 2012), rather than how it affects students’ motivation. 

Looking to the international literature, many studies on the relationship between student-centred learning and motivation can be found (Cheang, 2009; Mullamaa, 2017; Baeten, Dochy and Struyven, 2012), yet, it is obscure whether these findings can be applied in the Vietnamese context.

V. Research Methodology 

5.1. Participants

The participants (n=27) consist of 12 students (44.4%) from private high schools (student-centered learning) and 15 students (55.6%) from public schools (teacher-centered learning) in Hanoi, Vietnam. Participants are from the age of 15 to 18 and currently study biology at school. 

5.2. Instrument

The instrument used in this research is the English version of the Academic Motivation Scale (AMS) (Vallerand et al., 1989). AMS is one of the most reliable and common measurements to evaluate motivation (Alivernini, 2012). There are 7 subscales include 3 intrinsic motivation, 3 extrinsic motivation, and 1 amotivation. Each subscale contains 4 items, thus the questionnaire consists of 28 items. Originally, the AMS was not designed to measure the motivation of a specific subject (Hayamizu, 1997). However, narrowing to biology subjects will help students complete the survey easier compared to vague questions. Therefore, the adoption version of AMS taking reference from Aydın et al., (2014) was used in this research. Students rate on a 7-point Likert Scale ranging from 1 (does not correspond at all) to 7 (corresponds exactly). The questionnaire was translated to Vietnamese given not all participants are excellent in English.

A focus group with 6 students and an interview with a professional education researcher were also conducted. These interviews were only used to explain the AMS survey result and to give insight into the Vietnamese education system.

VI. Result

Generally, Intrinsic motivation increased considerably. Intrinsic motivation (1) to know increases from 4.36 to 4.97 (2) toward accomplishment scores 5.56 (3) to experience stimulation score 5.25. The identified regulation alter from 3.76 to 4.97. Introjected regulation grew to 5.11. While external regulation slightly decreases to 4.55, Amotivation decreases the most from 3.27 to 2.02.

VII. Discussion 

Generally, intrinsic motivation increases significantly in student-centred environments. The most desirable scenario is Intrinsic motivation – to know having the highest mean as it produces the most positive outcomes (Vallerand et al., 1993). However, compared to other intrinsic motivation types, it appeared to be the lowest. A grade 10 student revealed in a focus group discussion that “In class, although the teachers told us to ask questions, I still feel like asking too many questions annoyed both teachers and classmates. That’s why I often prefer researching myself”. Many researchers have found the relationship between support and self-determined motivation and the subsequent outcome (need for support → satisfied → motivation → outcome) (Chang et al., 2016). Thus, when the need for support is not satisfied, it can not produce motivation. A grade 11 student confirmed, “Anytime I can’t ask anyone my question, I got stuck and my passion for learning new things faded”. This explains why intrinsic motivation – to know is low in Vietnam.

The data suggests that identified regulation is considerably high in student-centred learning. The reason was revealed to be the education system. As Vietnamese public schools (lecture-based learning) don’t allow students to choose subjects, many students learn biology without realizing the value of it. Whereas student-centred classrooms allow students to study subjects they like, meaning those who choose biology acknowledge its value for their life goals. One student verified that “I want to become a doctor, so biology will help me prepare for my dream job”. Thus it is concluded that Identified regulation has a highly positive correlation with intrinsic motivation. This is in agreement with Boiché et al., 2008.

The increase in introjected regulation was caused by group work activities. It may seem absurd since teamwork has been substantiated to be beneficial to both individuals and class management (Jones, 2007). However, the group discussion disclosed that studying in teams creates students’ needs to get peers’ approval to maintain their ego and pride. When students have external goals, in which they study what peers expected them to study, they face higher introjected regulation. It is also not a rare circumstance that implementing teamwork can be counterproductive, pre-existing papers had reported the same increase in introjected regulation (Wijnia, Loyens and Derous, 2010). From the data, it can be concluded that introjected regulation is more correlated with intrinsic motivation than extrinsic motivation although it is part of the extrinsic scale. This is in agreement with (Wormington, Corpus, and Anderson, 2012).


Global literature generally expected that student-centred learning will reduce external regulation (Wijnia, Loyens and Derous, 2010). Interestingly, Vietnam indicated an opposite pattern where there was no significant difference found between environments. A reason behind this phenomenon is the Vietnamese belief in punishment as ‘an effective way of educating children’ (, 2018). Group discussion unveiled that students from both learning environments experience punishments such as take away phones, cut pocket money when they perform badly in school. As having the same pressure, external regulation in both student-centred and teacher-centred classrooms is equally high.

With regards to the data, it can be concluded that the implementation of student-centred learning significantly decreases amotivation. This is in accordance with the study by Jeno et al., in 2017. The nature of active learning is to create meaningful learning activities and requires students to reflect on their learning purpose (Prince, 2004) which is the opposite of amotivation (Ryan, 1995). Therefore, it can be concluded that amotivation has a negative correlation with intrinsic motivation. This conforms with the study of Pelletier, Tuson, and Haddad, 1997.

However, it should be noted that although the benefits of student-centred learning environments in Vietnam are recognized in terms of students’ motivation, limited evidence has been found regarding their benefits for students’ knowledge and performance. In fact, a paper reported that students in a ‘traditional approach’ learned more than in a student-centred environment, although student-directed learning promotes higher academic motivation (Sturm and Bogner, 2008). 

VIII. Implication 

The discussion section has discovered that the cause behind low intrinsic motivation – to know in Vietnamese classrooms is students avoid asking questions. Hence, further exploration into why they are afraid to speak out may spark an idea of the solutions.

Mrs Nguyen Ngoc Anh – a professional researcher working in Vietnam National Institute of Educational Science, explained that Vietnamese culture is deeply rooted in Confucian philosophy and that the modern student-centred approach has conflicted with many of its core principles. For example, student-centred encourages individuality but Confucian culture values social conformity, thus Vietnamese students often avoid questioning since it draws attention. She also stated that “the reform to student-centred environments will be really difficult for students” as educators expected them to change without providing enough guidelines during transition processes. This is in agreement with a study from Pham (2010).


The data and the interview implies that Vietnamese educators should take slower steps toward active learning, as sudden change might overwhelm students. Indeed, the method of providing students with direct guidance first, and gradually changing to student-centred has been proved to boost autonomous motivation and students’ achievement (Baeten, Dochy, and Struyven, 2012). This approach is also especially essential in science classrooms like biology (Moreno, 2004; Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark, 2006).

Mrs Nguyen explained that the implementation of student-centred learning requires modern infrastructure which is still a barrier for Vietnamese public schools. Hence, “It’s still a long way before the Vietnamese education system can fully adopt active learning” she added. 

IX. Conclusion

This paper has evaluated the effect of student-centred learning by using a variety of primary and secondary sources. In particular, student-centred classrooms were found to increase intrinsic motivation but also their extrinsic motivation. Interestingly, only a slight decrease was seen in external regulation. Amotivation proves to have the most negative correlation with intrinsic motivation. In addition, this report suggests Vietnam’s education system should gradually implement student-centred learning instead of sudden changes.

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