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The Utility-Value Intervention


Abstract and Figures

The utility-value intervention is an interactive, classroom-based assignment designed to help students make connections between the content they are learning and their lives. Across numerous randomized field trials, the intervention has increased learning outcomes, including course-specific performance and interest, and longer-term outcomes such as course-taking and persistence in a major. The intervention has proved to be particularly effective for students at risk for poor performance, including students with a history of low performance, less confidence that they will do well in the course, and students from traditionally marginalized groups. In this chapter, we review the origins of the intervention, which is grounded in the expectancy-value framework of achievement motivation and the real-world experience of educators who are trying to increase student motivation and engagement in their courses. We review the seminal studies demonstrating the effectiveness of the intervention, consider variations of the intervention-including versions created with and implemented by teachers, and discuss implications for theory, research, and practice.
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The utility- value intervention is an interactive, classroom- based assignment designed to help
students make connections between the content they are learning and their lives. Across
numerous randomized field trials, the intervention has increased learning outcomes, includ-
ing course- specific performance and interest, and longer- term outcomes, such as course
taking and persistence in a major. The intervention has proved to be particularly effective for
students at risk for poor performance, including students with a history of low per formance,
less confidence that they will do well in the course, and students from traditionally margin-
alized groups. In this chapter, we review the origins of the intervention, which is grounded
in the expectancy- value framework of achievement motivation and the real-world experi-
ence of educators who are trying to increase student motivation and engagement in their
courses. We review the seminal studies demonstrating the effectiveness of the intervention,
consider variations of the intervention— including versions created with and implemented by
teachers— and discuss implications for theory, research, and practice.
In most schools in the United States, educators decide what happens in the classroom.
They control the content, the learning activities, which students are in the classroom,
and how students interact with one another. Although there are many good reasons for
this, including making learning developmentally appropriate and sequenced, instructor-
centric environments can rob students of opportunities to engage in learning that is
meaningful and interesting to them. For example, nearly every student has wondered at
some point, “Why are we learning this?!” Decades of research in educational psychology
have revealed that students are more motivated to engage in learning, persist longer, and
learn more when they find some type of value in what they are learning (Eccles et al.,
1983; Wigfield, Rosenzweig, & Eccles, 2017). One study revealed that 90% of middle
school teachers reported that one of the top barriers for student motivation was a lack
of value for learning (Hulleman & Barron, 2013). This problem might be particularly
The Utility‑Value Intervention
Chris S. Hulleman and Judith M. Harackiewicz
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The Utility‑Value Intervention 101
pronounced for students already at risk of underperforming, whether due to a lack of
confidence, lower levels of prior achievement, or because their cultural backgrounds dif-
fer from the educators who have designed the learning context.
Such was the experience of one of us (Hulleman) during his time as an introduc-
tory statistics graduate teaching assistant. Most of the students were aspiring psychology
majors who could not see why they needed to know statistics to help people. Our intrepid
teaching assistant sought to engage students during his weekly discussion sections. He
drew on his research focusmotivation— to help his students find value in what they
were learning. The expectancy- value framework (Eccles et al., 1983) highlighted three
sources of value that helps motivate students: finding an activity enjoyable (i.e., intrinsic
value); important to one’s identity (i.e., attainment value); and useful, either now or in
the future (i.e., utility value). Within the span of a 15-week semester, Hulleman decided
to focus on helping students find utility value, connecting what they were learning in
the class and their lives. Through the same trial-and-error process that instructors have
employed for decades, he developed a series of activities that encouraged students to con-
nect statistics to their lives. He began by encouraging students to look for examples of
statistics in popular magazines or online media (e.g., Redbook, Sports Illustrated, CNN.
com, He began by setting aside 3–5 minutes each week for students to share
their examples. Students struggled at first to make connections, with their lack of con-
fidence in their statistics skills being exacerbated by a lack of value for statistics. But by
the end of the semester, students were taking up nearly half the class period talking about
the statistics examples they were finding in the popular literature. Students seemed more
engaged, confident, and willing to ask questions. The critical insight of this initial work
was that students needed to make their own connections between what they were study-
ing and their lives, rather than trying to internalize a message delivered by the instructor.
These personally meaningful connections enabled students to find the course content
more relevant to their lives, which would energize their learning.
With the help of his colleagues, including his dissertation advisor (one of us: Harack-
iewicz), these assignments formed the inspiration for what is now known as the utility-
value intervention. The utility- value intervention was first formally studied in the lab,
where undergraduate students (N = 107) learned a new mental math technique (Hul-
leman, Godes, Hendricks, & Harackiewicz, 2010, Study 1). Students were randomly
assigned to generate examples of how the technique applied to their lives (utility- value
condition) or summarized the technique they just learned (control condition). Students
who wrote about the utility value of the new math technique reported more interest in
learning additional mental math techniques, with strongest findings for students who
reported low confidence that they could learn the technique.
We then returned to the classroom to test the intervention in introductory psychology
(N = 318; Hulleman et al., 2010, Study 2). Students either wrote a letter to a significant
other (e.g., friend, relative) about how something they were learning in class was relevant
to the significant other’s life or found an example of how a topic they were studying was
used in popular media. Both activities prompted students to create their own connections
between course material and their lives rather than simply telling them how the course
is useful. Initially low- performing students who completed either the letter or the media
assignment were more interested in psychology at the end of the semester compared to
students in the control condition, who lost interest over the semester (Harackiewicz, Hul-
leman, & Pastor, 2009).
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Utility Value
As outlined in the original (Eccles et al., 1983) expectancy- value framework, perceiving
any type of value in an activity is likely to increase motivation to perform the activity.
Reflecting on personal connections between course content and students’ lives is expected
to increase perceptions of utility value, which subsequently increases the likelihood that
students will engage in course- related tasks like studying for an exam. To instigate that
utility value, students’ responses to the intervention need to have three characteristics.
First, connections need to be personal. Intervention activities are most empowering
when students are able to create their own connections rather than being told about why
they should value material (Canning & Harackiewicz, 2015; Durik & Harackiewicz,
2007; Durik, Schechter, Noh, Rozek, & Harackiewicz, 2015; Hulleman, 2007). Second,
connections need to be specific. Just as specific goals (e.g., “I want to set a detailed bud-
get by June 1”) are more likely to lead to goal attainment than general goals (e.g., “I want
to spend less”; Locke & Latham, 2002), specific connections between course content
and everyday life is more likely to spur motivation and adaptive outcomes. Prior studies
suggest that specific examples in intervention essays partially explain intervention effects
(Harackiewicz, Canning, Tibbetts, Prinski, & Hyde, 2016; Rozek, Hyde, Svoboda, Hul-
leman, & Harackiewicz, 2014). Third, connections need to be context- relevant. If the
goal of utility- value interventions is to support learning in a specific class, then the con-
nections that students make to their lives need to be relevant to current course content.
Figure 4.1 outlines how an exemplar quote is personal, specific, and context- relevant;
these are the types of responses researchers or practitioners would ideally scaffold stu-
dents toward in utility- value interventions.
Figure 4.1
FIGURE 4.1. Exemplar student quote for utility- value- intervention mechanisms. Data from Hul-
leman, Hulleman, et al. (2018).
Intervention Prompt
I would like you to think about how what we have been learning about in this class is
important to your life in some way. What connection can you find bet ween one of the topics
we have been studying and something that is important in your life? Write a few sentences
about that connection below:
Exemplary Quote
It is personal and specific and is context-relevant.
“Playing hockey and friction are connected because in hockey while passing or shooting
the puck it slides on the ice which causes friction, slowing down the puck. Friction could be
important to my life because I can better understand how much force I need to get the
puck to move with the friction moving against it.”
Personal: A personal pronoun is used to reference something specific to the student’s
interest, hobbies, or goals.
Specific: Discusses how friction impacts a specific action in hockey.
Context-relevant: Indicates a linkage to a specific topic in the course in an accurate way.
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The Utility‑Value Intervention 103
Other Psychological Processes
As listed in Figure 4.2, these intervention processes instigate the cascade of psychological
processes, beginning with perceived utility value, that lead to the beneficial effects of the
utility- value intervention. Although utility value was originally hypothesized to be the
key psychological process instigated by utility- value interventions, our recent research
has revealed two related aspects of motivation from expectancy- value theory that utility-
value interventions also affect. First, when students become engaged in a learning activity
in a way that allows them to realize their knowledge of the content, their confidence in
their ability to learn in the course is likely to increase (i.e., success expectancies). Sec-
ond, as students perceive value in a course, particularly a content area that is difficult to
master, their perceptions of the negative consequences of being in the course are likely to
decrease (i.e., perceived costs). Decades of research based in the expectancy- value frame-
work of achievement motivation in education (i.e., Eccles et al., 1983) has revealed that
students’ success expectancies and perceived utility value are positively related to learn-
ing, whereas perceived cost is negatively related to learning (e.g., Barron & Hulleman,
Psychological Mechanisms
Motivation researchers have investigated several psychological processes that could
explain the effects of utility value on motivation: identification, involvement, and interest.
For example, perceiving the relevance of an activity to one’s life or future goals may lead
an individual to identify with the activity (identification), become more actively involved
in learning (involvement), and develop an enduring interest in the topic (e.g., Dewey,
1913; Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Hidi & Renninger, 2006). First, perceiving utility value
in a topic may lead to an increase in the perceived importance of an activity in general,
and eventually to the identification of the activity with the individual’s self- concept (e.g.,
attainment value: Eccles et al., 1983; identified regulation: Deci & Ryan, 1985). For
example, finding an application for an activity (e.g., quadratic equations and engineer-
ing) opens up the possibility of making connections to things that are personally impor-
tant to the individual (e.g., a career as an engineer). Once these connections have been
made, repeated engagement in the activity can lead to the activity becoming incorporated
into the individual’s self-c oncept (i.e., identification). Second, perceiving utility value
in a topic may promote active task engagement. For example, perceiving a connection
between geometry and life may energize an individual to become more actively involved
in geometry class by seeking out learning opportunities, putting forth more effort, and
becoming more engaged. When students are active contributors to the learning process,
then they are more likely to feel in control (deCharms, 1968), self- determined (Deci &
Ryan, 1985), and efficacious (Bandura, 1997). Rather than being passive recipients of
education, students perceive that they are active participants and become absorbed in
the learning process (Harackieiwicz & Sansone, 1991). Third, students are more likely
to engage in activities that they find important, and perceiving utility value in a topic can
increase their willingness to seek out the activity over time. Repeated engagement facili-
tates the acquisition of activity- related skills and knowledge, and enhances the experience
Figure 4.2
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FIGURE 4.2. The utility- value- intervention logic model.
Career Intentions
Intervention Fidelity
Perceived Utility Value
Success Expectancies
Perceived Cost
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The Utility‑Value Intervention 105
of positive affect. Repeatedly working on an enjoyable, self- relevant task that leads to skill
development perfectly defines the necessary antecedent conditions for the development of
interest (Hidi & Renninger, 2006). This triad of psychological processes may be particu-
larly empowering when students generate their own examples and connections, because
they are personal (instead of regurgitated examples from textbooks and teachers; Dewey,
1913; Hulleman, 2007). Discovering how math applies to life may be especially effective
in getting students involved in their learning, and even fostering a sense of identification
with the activity, because it supports their autonomy in the classroom. This process may
be less likely to occur if the usefulness of the activity is simply explained by a teacher or
parent. Furthermore, it’s not just that more direct approaches may be less effective; in
fact, some research finds that direct approaches may even be counterproductive. In one
study, Canning and Harackiewicz (2015) found that experimental utility- value manipu-
lations that emphasized the relevance of a math activity for everyday activities and future
careers undermined the interest of students with low ability perceptions.
Behavioral Mechanisms
Co- occurring with the psychological mechanisms outlined above, students who per-
ceive increased utility value are more likely to demonstrate behavioral engagement and
increased performance in the activity. In the classroom, behavioral engagement includes
things like increased attendance, homework completion, and work quality. Increased
performance includes proximal measures of competence development, such as perfor-
mance on quizzes, tests, and oral presentations. These behavioral mechanisms work in
tandem with the psychological mechanisms. For example, increased attendance can lead
to increased learning, which results in increased positive affect toward school. When
repeated over time, this can lead to the development of interest. Conversely, experiencing
identification with the activity— such as when a student connects learning biology to his
or her interest in becoming a paramedic— can lead to an increased interest in classroom
activities, which enables the student to complete his or her homework at a higher level.
This then leads to better performance on quizzes and tests.
Since the original intervention studies (Hulleman et al., 2010), the utility- value inter-
vention has been replicated across of a variety of high school and college courses. In a
recent meta- analysis of utility- value interventions (Hulleman, Wormington, Tibbetts, &
Phillipoom, 2018), we found 33 field studies where 12,478 participants were random-
ized to a utility- value or control condition. Our meta- analytic results indicated that, on
average, the utility- value intervention boosted learning outcomes— such as exam scores,
end-of- semester course grades and pass rates, and interest in the topic—by a quarter
of a standard deviation (d = 0.24). Table 4.1 presents a representative sample of pub-
lished utility- value intervention studies. For most of these studies, intervention effects
were most pronounced for students most likely to experience adverse learning outcomes,
such as students with histories of lower achievement (e.g., Hulleman, Kosovich, Barron,
Table 4.1
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& Daniel, 2017), lower success expectancies (e.g., Hulleman & Harackiewicz, 2009), or
from traditionally underrepresented groups in higher education (e.g., Harackiewicz et
al., 2016).
Two sets of follow- up studies are important to highlight. In our first follow- up study,
we implemented the intervention in 30 high school science classrooms taught by 10 dif-
ferent teachers (N = 262; Hulleman & Harackiewicz, 2009). The writing activities were
shortened to make them developmentally appropriate and to fit into a 45-minute class
period. Students randomized to the utility- value condition were simply prompted to write
one to two paragraphs about how a topic they were studying in science related to their
lives. Students randomized to the control condition were prompted to write a one- to
two- paragraph summary of a topic they were studying in class. Students completed the
writing activities two to five times per semester depending on the teacher. We found that
the intervention enhanced both course grades and subsequent interest in science for low-
performing students in the utility- value condition compared to the control condition.
For example, less confident students increased their semester grade in the course by over
three- quarters of a grade point on a 4-point scale (d = 0.50).
In a second set of follow- up studies, Harackiewicz and colleagues (2016; Canning
et al., 2018; Priniski et al., 2019; Rosenzweig, Harackiewicz, et al., 2019) implemented
a utility- value intervention within a two- semester introductory biology sequence at a
research- intensive university. The basic paradigm was the same for all four studies. For
each of three units across the semester, students were randomly assigned to receive either
a utility- value writing assignment, in which they explained why course material was
TA BLE 4 .1. Representative Utility-Value Intervention Randomized Field Experiments
Study Sample age
and context Sample
size Student moderators Outcomes
Hulleman & Harackiewicz
(2009) High school
general science 262 Success expectations Grades, interest
Hulleman, Godes, Hendricks,
& Harackiewicz (2010) 4-year college
psychology 318 Initial exam
performance Utility value
Gaspard et al. (2015) High school
math 1, 916 Gender Utility value
Harackiewicz, Canning,
Tibbetts, Priniski, & Hyde
4-year college
biology 1,040 Prior achievement,
success expectations,
group membership
Hulleman, Kosovich, Barron,
& Daniel (2017) 4-year college
psychology 359 Gender, initial exam
performance Final exam scores
Rosenzweig, Wigfield, &
Hulleman (2019) 4-year college
physics 99 Initial exam
performance Grades
Kosovich, Hulleman, Phelps,
& Lee (2019) 2-year college
math 180 Gender Pass rates
Tot al 4,236
Note: For a comprehensive review, see a recent meta-analysis of utility-value interventions (Hulleman, Wormington,
Tibbetts, & Philipoom, 2018).
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AU The total adds up to: 4,174.
Okay to change total to 4174?
The Utility‑Value Intervention 107
useful to them personally (or wrote a letter to a friend or family member about how the
course material was relevant to them), or a control assignment, in which they summa-
rized course material. These assignments were part of the course curriculum and were
graded for credit by biology graduate students blind to condition. In the first published
study, Harackiewicz et al. found that the utility- value intervention had an overall, small
positive effect on course grades for all students. They also found that the intervention
had a more positive effect for students with a history of lower success expectations in
the course (replicating the effects of Hulleman & Harackiewicz, 2009), and for under-
represented students, specifically students who were both first- generation and members
of underrepresented minority groups.
Effects over Time
Most of the utility- value intervention studies have examined intervention effects in a
single semester. This is because the intervention was designed to promote motivation
and engagement within a specific learning context; therefore, it seems unlikely that the
intervention should have long- lasting direct effects (Harackiewicz & Priniski, 2018).
However, it if promotes performance in foundational courses, it may influence broader
outcomes indirectly, by helping students succeed in these classes. It is also possible that
the intervention might promote identification processes that have implications for subse-
quent academic choices. Only two published studies have looked at results in subsequent
semesters, both in college biology. In the first study (N = 577; Canning et al., 2018), stu-
dents in the utility- value condition earned higher grades in the course, were more likely to
enroll in the second course of the biology sequence, and were less likely to abandon their
science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) major, than students in the control
group. In the second study, Hecht, Harackiewicz, et al. (2019) followed students in the
original Harackiewicz et al. (2016) study for 2 years after the intervention and examined
whether they continued to the next course in the biology sequence and persisted in a bio-
science major. They found that the utility- value intervention promoted persistence in the
biomedical track for students who entered the introductory biology course with higher
levels of confidence in their ability to perform well in the course. In other words, these
researchers found a direct effect on long-term persistence, although the pattern of the
interaction was different from that observed many times on shorter- term outcomes, such
as interest (Hulleman et al., 2010) and course performance (Harackiewicz et al., 2016).
Moreover, this effect was mediated through different processes, showing the complexity
of understanding long-term effects of a task- specific intervention.
In addition to investigating the extent to which utility- value interventions last over
time, and which outcomes are impacted, it is essential to consider how the interven-
tion can have an effect over time. How do the short-term mechanisms translate into
broader effects? We can glean some insight from Harackiewicz and colleagues’ (2016)
college biology intervention. Hecht, Harackiewicz, et al. (2019) found that the process
through which the utility- value intervention influenced persistence was distinct from the
process through which it promoted course grades. Engagement with the course mate-
rial was related to course grades, whereas making personal connections to the mate-
rial was related to persistence in the biology major. These findings suggest that the
utility- value intervention may initiate two distinct processes that align with involvement
and identification, respectively: (1) helping underperforming students to engage with
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course material, thereby improving performance, which had a significant indirect effect
on persistence in the major; and (2) increasing reflection on the personal relevance of
course material, thereby helping confident students see why pursuing that domain may
be important.
At present, the majority of published utility- value intervention studies have found that
the intervention works best for students who are traditionally underrepresented, under-
served, or underprepared in the learning context (e.g., students with lower prior achieve-
ment, first- generation college students, racial/ethnic minorities; see Table 4.1). Our initial
hypothesis was that concerns about academic performance impeded students’ capacity
to perceive value through a narrowing of attention (Durik & Harackiewicz, 2007; Hul-
leman, 2007), and that prompting students to make those connections gave them the
opportunity they needed to make some initial connections. However, our more recent
research demonstrates that for some students, particularly those students who perform
poorly early in the course, the utility- value intervention boosts their success expectan-
cies (Hulleman, Kosovich, et al., 2017; Rosenzweig, Wigfield, & Hulleman, 2020). Stu-
dents who perform poorly initially tend to be more disengaged from the course. As a
result, nudging them to see the value in the course by completing utility- value interven-
tion activities may spark them to reengage with course material. Furthermore, students
whose values are not aligned with those of the learning context might feel disconnected
from the learning context from the beginning (Stephens, Hamedani, & Destin, 2014;
Harackiewicz et al., 2016). For example, students from groups traditionally underrep-
resented in higher education, such as students who belong to a racial/ethnic- minority
group, tend to value interdependent and communal goals more than independent and
agentic goals (Diekman, Brown, Johnston, & Clark, 2010). The utility- value intervention
provides these students an opportunity to identify their own values rather than being told
to connect to goals that are not their own (e.g., more independent than interdependent).
An important reason why moderator effects might vary across learning contexts
is that utility- value interventions provide an opportunity for students to articulate how
their personal goals and values might align with learning in a specific context, rather
than being told to connect to goals that are not their own (e.g., more independent than
interdependent). This aligns with the core aspects of the Eccles et al. (1983) expectancy-
value framework that explicates how student motivation is dependent upon the learning
context. Our current corpus of research makes it difficult to test this context- salient
hypothesis because interventions have been implemented in contexts with very few tra-
ditionally underrepresented students, which makes it difficult to fully examine students’
intersectional identities. For example, Harackiewicz and colleagues (2016) needed to col-
lect data across four semesters to have sufficient numbers of first- generation students
and racial/ethnic- minority students to conduct their analyses. Testing interventions in
new and diverse learning contexts will provide the opportunity to determine whether
the intervention logic model and our hypotheses about intervention moderators hold up.
Second, variation in the social context of learning could influence intervention
effects. One way of looking at this is by institutional context. Although the interven-
tions have been tested across different types of institutions (e.g., high school, community
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The Utility‑Value Intervention 109
college, and research- intensive universities) and subject areas (e.g., math, psychology,
biology), our meta- analytic review of utility- value interventions did not show significant
heterogeneity in intervention effects by context (ds from 0.19 to 0.31). Unfortunately,
large studies that include many different learning contexts in a single study have not
yet been published with the utility- value intervention. Such studies have the potential to
uncover important variations in learning context that could contribute to heterogeneity
in intervention impacts (cf. Yeager et al., 2019).
The utility- value intervention is related to several other social- psychological interven-
tions, each of which focuses on how students make meaning of themselves in school.
First, it draws on the saying- as- believing aspect of many other social- psychological
interventions, including growth mindset (Dweck & Yeager, Chapter 1, this volume), social
belonging (Walton & Brady, Chapter 2, this volume), and values affirmation (Sherman,
Lokhande, Müller, & Cohen, Chapter 3, this volume). The saying- as- believing aspect
of these interventions involves asking students to reflect on the intervention message
without having to explicitly endorse it as their own (Aronson, 1999; Walton & Wilson,
2018). This reduces reactance and increases the likelihood that students might be open to
internalizing some of the intervention message for themselves.
Second, the utility- value intervention is similar to other interventions designed to
help students connect their motives for learning with what they are learning in school.
The communal- value intervention asks students to reflect on how their communal val-
ues, such as helping others, might connect with doing research in biology (Brown, Smith,
Thoman, Allen, & Muragishi, 2015). The prosocial purpose intervention prompts stu-
dents to think about how getting an education will enable them to help other people or
make a difference in the world (Yeager et al., 2014). Instead of focusing on one type of
value, the utility- value intervention allows students to make the choice about how the
course connects to their lives. In this way, the utility- value intervention offers students
more flexibility in terms of what type of utility value they will perceive in the learning
content, whereas the communal and prosocial interventions focus students on those spe-
cific aspects of utility value.
Third, the utility- value intervention inspired us to develop a parent intervention.
We developed materials for parents of high school students that highlighted how STEM
courses were related to the students’ current and future lives, and provided guidance on
how parents could talk to their teens about these connections. This intervention enabled
parents to have more nuanced and supportive conversations with their teen about how
math and science related to his or her current interests and potential future educational
and career pathways, and it increased parents’ positive attitudes about the importance of
STEM, the number of conversations they had with their teen, and most importantly, the
number of STEM courses students took in high school and college (e.g., Harackiewicz,
Rozek, Hulleman, & Hyde, 2012; Rozek, Svoboda, Harackiewicz, Hulleman, & Hyde,
Fourth, the relevance affirmation intervention is a combination of the utility-
value intervention and the value- affirmation intervention (Kizilcec & Cohen, 2017). In
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relevance affirmation, students first affirm their core values (by circling their top values
from a list), and then they write an essay about how their current educational pathway
connects to those core values. The relevance affirmation intervention does not target spe-
cific learning content like the utility- value intervention but instead activates more global
values that serve to affirm a student’s identity, which makes it similar to the prosocial
purpose intervention (Yeager et al., 2014).
Fifth, the utility- value intervention is similar to interventions that personalize the
learning context. In these context- personalization interventions (Cordova & Lepper,
1996), the learning content and tasks are customized for the individual student by using
personal details, such as the student’s name, or preferences, such as the student’s favorite
music group. Context- personalization interventions do not provide students the oppor-
tunity to actively make connections but instead makes the connection for the student by
imbuing the learning context with customized personal details and preferences.
Basic Writing Prompt
The original version of the intervention (see Figure 4.3) involved a simple prompt for
students to select a topic they are currently studying and write about how it connects
to something in their lives (Hulleman et al., 2010, Study 1; Hulleman & Harackiewicz,
2009). This version clearly puts the student perspective as the driver of making con-
nections that are personal and specific to that student. The challenge is that, for many
students, making strong connections is difficult without appropriate scaffolds, which is
why additional variants of the intervention have been developed. As presented in Figure
4.4, a modified version of the basic prompt was developed for college biology students
(Harackiewicz et al., 2016).
As described previously, the letter version prompts students to write a letter to a sig-
nificant other— parent, sibling, friend— about how what the student is learning in class
could be relevant to his or her significant other’s life (i.e., self–other overlap; Aron, Aron,
Tudor, & Nelson, 1991). This allows students to endorse a utility value for the material
without having to completely endorse it for themselves. It also offers the students an
opportunity to become a benefactor of a message intended to help others, instead of being
passive recipients of information.
Gaspard and colleagues (2015) developed the first version of the utility- value inter-
vention that provided sample quotes from students who had already taken the course.
Instead of the instructor explicating the potential value of math, quotations from near-
age peers provide a scaffold for students to find their own value. Since their first version
Figure 4.3
Figure 4.4
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The Utility‑Value Intervention 111
of quotations was implemented with ninth-grade math students in Germany, Hulleman,
Kosovich, and colleagues (2017) have developed quotation interventions for numerous
learning contexts, including high school biology, algebra, and geometry, and community
college math. Generally, students read four to six quotations, and then rate the quota-
tions for personal relevance and interest. The major difference between these approaches
is that the German version had an additional component where students first participated
in an interactive discussion with a researcher about the relevance of math in their lives
before engaging with the intervention materials individually. Figure 4.5 presents some
sample intervention quotes from a community college math intervention (Kosovich, Hul-
leman, Phelps, & Lee, 2019).
Figure 4.5
FIGURE 4.3. The basic utility- value- intervention prompt for high school science. From Hulle-
man and Harackiewicz (2009). Reprinted with permission from the American Association for the
Advancement of Science.
Reflecting on Your Purpose for Learning
Now that we have reviewed the main topics and concepts from this unit, it is time to reflect on one
specific topic or concept.
Part A: Pick one of the topics or concepts that we have covered in this unit and briefly summarize the
main parts.
Part B: Apply this topic/concept to your life, or to the life of someone you know. How might the
information be useful to you, or a friend/relative, in daily life? How does learning about this topic apply to
your future plans?
You can either: 1) write about it in at least 5 sentences, 2) draw a concept map with a description, or 3)
draw a sketch with a description. If you do a concept map or a sketch, be sure to describe it well enough
so that the reader can understand it.
For example, if you were studying nutrition, you could choose a topic such as how food is digested.
Briefly summarize the digestive process – how foods are broken down in the mouth, stomach, and
intestines to make energy. Then you could write about how this applies to your own life. For example,
eating healthy foods helps your body produce energy to play your favorite sport or study for exams.
You could also draw a concept map of how your knowledge of digestion applies to your life. An example
is provided below. Remember that you would also need to add a brief written description with a concept
map or diagram.
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FIGURE 4.4. The basic writing prompt for college biology. From Harackiewicz, Canning, Tib-
betts, Priniski, and Hyde (2016).
Writing Assignment #1
Objective: Writing about scientific principles and phenomena is an increasingly important skill in
the 21st century. This assignment is designed to help you understand a major concept covered in
this unit while also helping you develop your science writing skills. One key to effective science
writing is explaining how science can be used in everyday life. You’ll do this in a 500- 600 word
paper. You should:
1) Formulate and answer a question Sample questions
Select a concept that was covered in lecture
and formulate a question. Use this question as
the title of your essay.
What is gene expression and how is it
applied in medical research?
What are mutagens and why are they
potentially harmful to DNA?
2) Explain how this applies to your life Examples of applications
Write a 500-600 word essay answering this
question, and discuss how the information
could be useful to you in your own life. Be
sure to include some concrete information that
was covered in this unit, explaining why the
information is relevant to your life and useful
for you. Be sure to explain how the information
applies to you personally and give examples.
Medical researchers study gene expression
patterns to diagnose and treat conditions
caused by genetic variants. In your own
life, you will have access to more effective
treatments for any serious illnesses you
develop, thanks to these advances.
Farmers use artificial selection to produce
plants and animals with the most desirable
traits, which can make crops more resilient.
Access to cheaper and more abundant crops
can save you money on groceries in your
own life.
UV light is a mutagen that damages DNA
by causing thymine mutations, which can
lead to cancer. You can reduce the chances
of damaging your DNA in your own life, by
applying sunscreen when in the sun.
3) Structure your essay as suggested below
State your question in the title.
1st section: Give an overview of the answer to your question.
2nd section: Provide the scientific details of the answer to your question. Be sure to select the
relevant information from class notes and the textbook.
3rd section: Make it personal. Explain why this information is relevant to your life or useful for
you and give examples.
Since you will be writing about science from a personal perspective, you can use personal
pronouns (I, we, you, etc.).
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The Utility‑Value Intervention 113
FIGURE 4.5. Sample utility- value- intervention quotations for community college math, high
school geometry, and high school biology. Data from Kosovich, Hulleman, Phelps, and Lee (2019);
Rosenzweig, Hulleman, Barron, Kosovich, and Wigfield (2019); and Hulleman, Kosovich, Barron,
and Daniel (2017).
Community College Math
“As a firefighter/paramedic I use algebra
almost every work day. Be it for a patient’s
weight and drug calculations, or weights
when it comes to building materials. For any
job that deals with medicine, you need math
to save lives! I 've had to apologize to all my
math teachers for complaining that I would
never use this stuff!” —Robin, 22, Firefighter/
“My major is computer ar ts animation
so it requires a considerable amount of
mathematics. I use algebra to show the way
that an object is rotated and shifted and
made larger and smaller—all major actions
in animation. For example, let’s say you want
your Fortnite character to move naturally and
realistically. You would have to use a simple
set of equations to work out how the character
moves in relation to the background and
other characters in the game. —Dylan, 19,
Computer Arts Animation Major
High School Geometry
“I used to think Geometr y was sort of useless outside of math class, because I want to be a
graphic designer and definitely not go into any job where you use a lot of math. But, when I work
for a long time on a painting and realize that the whole thing won’t fit on the canvas, it really
messes up the whole day. Geometry is actually really important for art or graphic design because
it can help scale dif ferent shapes to avoid making things that are too big.” —Omar, 18, high
school senior
High School Biology
“As a high school athlete I knew that lifting
weights and eating right would help my
performance, but why? I would lift weights
without knowing what was actually happening
to my muscles. Learning about what my
muscles need to get stronger really helped
me. I started eating the right food like spinach
and broccoli. It made me feel healthier and
improved my performance.” —Rick, 20
“During August of last year, I suffered an injury
in my right eye. If I didn’t go to the doctor, I
would have lost my vision. After my surgery,
my parents and I went to many doctor visits.
Having learned about vision and the anatomy
of the eye helped me a lot. I was able to better
understand what happened to my eye and
how the surgery helped me. I was even able to
explain to my parents what exactly happened
to me. They seemed really confused, and it felt
good to be able to help them understand!”
Sarah, 19
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FIGURE 4.6. The Build Connections intervention exercise for middle school and high school
teachers. From Character Lab (2019). Reprinted with permission.
Instructor Version: Build Connections
We designed the Build Connections activity so that teachers could have an activity that
they could lead and be engaged in that would instigate similar psychological processes as
the original utility- value intervention. This allows teachers to be the scaffold for learn-
ing, and to leverage the social dynamics of the classroom. The Build Connections mate-
rials and support guide are freely available online, (
build- connections- for- classrooms) and Figure 4.6 presents an example completed Build
Connections worksheet. By putting student interests and goals as the first activity, the
Build Connections activity is driven by instructors developing deeper relationships with
students. Once they get to know student interests better, and how students are trying to
make connections to the material, then instructors can be better equipped to support
students in connection making as new material is introduced.
Implementation Factors
There are five important implementation factors for utility- value intervention that have
received some level of empirical support in the research literature: participant responsive-
ness, timing, dosage, length, and choice/variety. However, each of these factors is in need
of additional testing across different contexts and student groups.
Figure 4.6
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The Utility‑Value Intervention 115
Participant Responsiveness
Several studies show that how responsive students are to the intervention prompts is
related to student outcomes. Hulleman and Cordray (2009) found that high school sci-
ence and college psychology students who made more specific, personal connections in
their writing reported more utility value in the course than either students in the utility-
value condition who made fewer specific and personal connections, or those in the control
group. Nagengast et al. (2018) replicated this finding in their sample of ninth-grade math
students in Germany who were randomized to a utility- value or control condition. Har-
ackiewicz et al. (2016) found similar results in their introductory biology sample, such
that students who wrote longer essays benefited more from the intervention. Not only did
they find that students who made more personal and specific connections were likely to
perform better in the course but they also found that students who were more engaged
in the activity (as measured by the number of words written) benefited more from the
intervention. In addition, two studies (Gaspard et al., 2019; Hulleman & Cordray, 2009)
found that teacher engagement in the intervention also influences intervention outcomes.
The original thinking was that the utility- value intervention is best delivered at the mid-
way point of the course and beyond. Because not all topics are equally relevant or easy
to connect to students lives, waiting until midsemester allows students to have learned
enough course content so that they can make personally meaningful connections. How-
ever, we have subsequently learned that waiting that long has drawbacks, as some stu-
dents begin to disengage from the learning context early in the semester. In college
biology, early assignments are particularly effective for students with a history of poor
performance (Canning, Priniski, & Harackiewicz, 2019). As a result, we now implement
the intervention as early as the second or third week of the semester.
The utility- value intervention is not a one-shot intervention. Rather, it can take repeated
experiences for students to appreciate the utility value of course material. Hulleman and
Cordray (2009) found that high school science teachers who offered the intervention
more times during the semester had better intervention outcomes than teachers who
offered it fewer times in the semester. In college science courses, it can be difficult for stu-
dents to write personal essays because the norms of scientific writing discourage the use
of personal pronouns, and multiple assignments provide opportunities for feedback and
practice reflecting on connections. For example, Canning et al. (2018) found that three
utility- value assignments were more effective than a single assignment. Anecdotally, we
have seen teachers try to implement a brief utility- value reflection once a week, with the
result that students quickly grew tired of the exercise.
The amount of time one intervention implementation takes students varies based on a
host of student factors, including age and reading and writing skills, as well as design
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constraints of the classroom context. Interventions have ranged from brief homework
assignments that take as little as 5 minutes (average of 7 minutes in an online math class-
room in Rosenzweig, Hulleman, Barron, Kosovich, & Wigfield, 2019), 15- to 20-min-
ute in-class assignments (e.g., Kosovich et al., 2019), 90-minute sessions that include
a 45-minute lesson by an instructor followed by completion of an individual activity
(Gaspard et al., 2015), or homework assignments that take several days or weeks to com-
plete (Harackiewicz et al., 2016; Hulleman et al., 2010; Hulleman, Thoman, Dicke, &
Harackiewicz, 2017).
Choice and variety are known to have powerful effects on motivation and performance
(Patall, Cooper, & Wynn, 2010), but these features have only recently been tested in the
utility- value intervention paradigm. Utility- value assignments have differed in terms of
assignment type (i.e., essay, letter, quotes), but they can also differ in terms of assignment
structure (e.g., whether students are exposed to a variety of assignments, whether stu-
dents are given choices about which assignments to complete). These issues are relevant
to consider when there are multiple assignments across a semester. Of course, the utility-
value interventions are imbued with choice— students decide what topic to write about
and what connections to draw—but the experience of choice can be further enhanced
by giving students choices among assignment types. Indeed, many early studies gave stu-
dents choices (e.g., Hulleman & Harackiewicz, 2009). In the college biology context, we
found that higher levels of choice had positive effects on perceived utility value, interest,
and performance (Priniski et al., 2019; Rosenzweig, Harackiewicz, et al., 2019), and that
having a variety of utility- value assignments enhanced course performance (Priniski et
al., 2019).
Teach It, Don’t Preach It
Helping students perceive utility value, and therefore benefit from the intervention, is
about allowing students the opportunity to discover the connections between what they
are learning and their lives that is most meaningful to them. Instead of forcing students
to see specific ways in which course material might be useful in some students’ lives, they
need to be given the opportunity to see it for themselves. This means that instructors
should think about the intervention as providing just enough scaffolding for students to
make their own personal and specific connections, and no more.
Content Matters
If we want students to be motivated within a specific learning context, then the connec-
tions students make need to be specific to the topics they are learning in that context.
This means the intervention needs to activate content that is being learned. This usu-
ally requires work with instructors to decide on the proper scaffolds, such as sample
quotes, and timing the intervention so that there has been enough content learned to
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The Utility‑Value Intervention 117
make informed connections. College students and students who are more advanced in
the content area may need different scaffolds— and even less scaffolding— than students
who are younger and less skilled.
It’s Not a Stand-Alone Exercise
Unlike some other social- psychological interventions, this intervention needs to be
explicitly connected to the learning objectives of the course. Ideally, students will receive
some type of course credit to complete it, and the instructor will provide a rationale
for why the utility- value activity is being completed. Example rationales include offer-
ing students an opportunity to think more deeply about the course, and the assignment
being a part of the instructor’s ongoing interest in improving the classroom experience
for students. Without providing a compelling rationale for engaging in the activity, stu-
dents are likely to disengage and/or not complete the activity. For college classes in
particular, the assignments need to be on the syllabus and part of the curriculum. It’s
critical that they be perceived as an integral component of their curriculum. As one math
instructor commented:
“You need to come in with the attitude that this is not a superfluous activity. If you
don’t buy in, then your students won’t buy in. You have to value it and make it
important. At the beginning, I wasn’t as sure what the [utility- value intervention]
was. I administered it as extra credit in my classes at first. But with a better under-
standing of the activities, I made it more of a mandatory part of the course. Now
every year, it’s just built into my grading.”
The effectiveness of the utility- value intervention suggests that educational contexts
can become better contexts for learning by increasing the potential for students to see
personal value in what they are learning. In essence, such interventions are a promis-
sory note that if instructors can make substantive, structural, and pedagogical changes
to classrooms, then motivation and learning will increase. Here are some key supports
instructors will need to make those changes.
Instructor Support
Online Materials
If instructors want to change what they do to help students make more connections, then
we need to provide them with ideas and activities that can help. The Build Connections
activity is one such activity that is designed for instructors to use with their students, and
is freely available online (Character Lab, 2019). There is also supporting documentation,
including implementation dos and don’ts (see Figure 4.7). If instructors are interested in
providing sample quotations for students, where will they get the quotes? One important
resource would be to build a repository of quotations with the help of practitioners, and
share them widely.
Figure 4.7
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We can make utility- value intervention materials available to instructors, but how will
they know what kinds of scaffolds their students need? Should they use the writing version,
the quotes version, or a combination? We need to offer online and in- person training on
how to make the design decisions needed to develop effective interventions, and meaning-
fully integrating activities into the curriculum without overburdening either instructors
or students. Ultimately, instructors will need to change some of their practicesbeyond
simply implementing a utility- value intervention— in order to best help their students find
personal value and meaning in learning. Figure 4.8 shares some reflections of middle
school teachers after implementing the Build Connections activity with their students.
Other Institutional Opportunities
Although the utility- value intervention was designed to be used by classroom teachers,
there are other educators who could make use of the intervention or its variants. For
example, academic advisors could use a version of the intervention to learn more about
how students are thinking about the connection between the courses they are taking in
a semester and their major or career interests. College access counselors could use a ver-
sion of the intervention to help students make connections between the colleges they are
interested in and their future goals. We already have evidence that the Build Connections
activity is being used in both of these ways in high schools and community colleges.
Figure 4.8
FIGURE 4.7. Implementation tips for helping students find utility value in learning.
Acknowledge feelings of frustration or boredom with school.
Affirm that students might not find every moment of school relevant, interesting, or
Create an autonomy-supportive environment.
Help students explore and think about how school connects to their life instead of the
teacher’s life. Avoid telling them why they “must learn this.” Instead, encourage them to
consider how it might connect to different aspects of their life (classroom, family, daily
life, careers, helping others).
Provide examples of possible connections.
Students may need help initiating examples, so be ready with some ideas of your own
connections, or share connections made by other students.
Ask follow-up questions.
Students may start with vague connections (“Learning this will help me in the future.”).
Be prepared to ask questions that encourage students to be specific (“Tell me about the
skills needed for your hobby.” “What else do you know about this topic?” “Do you know of
any examples of anyone else using this in their life?”).
Provide knowledge of the topic.
Students need to have enough exposure to and information about a topic in order to
make high quality connections. Allow students to refer to materials they have used or
created in class (study guides, notes, etc.) to help them think more deeply about the
topic and spark ideas.
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The Utility‑Value Intervention 119
Providing students with a variety of opportunities to find value at different points of
their educational journey increases the possibility that they can leverage their education
in ways that maximize their motivation and learning outcomes.
For the field of psychology, the utility- value intervention serves as an example of the
importance of taking a theoretical construct— one found to be predictive of learning out-
comes in many longitudinal, correlational studiesand building an intervention based
on that construct that is then tested in an applied context. Despite decades of research
on the role of motivation in education (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000), our ini-
tial studies (Hulleman et al., 2010; Hulleman & Harackiewicz, 2009) provided the first
experimental tests of an educational intervention designed to leverage perceptions of util-
ity value to increase student learning outcomes. Although many educators have based
practice on the tenets of expectancy- value theory, the lack of rigorously tested applica-
tions of the central constructs is distressing, particularly given the press for researchers
to provide explicit recommendations for practitioners based on their findings. In the
case of utility- value interventions, one implication of the correlational research was that
FIGURE 4.8. Teacher feedback on using Build Connections. Data from Hulleman, Hulleman,
et al. (2018).
Build Connections Helped Teachers Make More Meaningful Connections
I think I acknowledge more mathematical connections in my everyday life and in turn discuss
these connections with my students. Additionally, I do not just discuss connections at the
beginning or end of a unit. I try to incorporate connections throughout each unit and then spiral
back to these connections throughout the year.” – 7th grade math teacher
Prior to this, I did try to point out connections to the students’ lives, but I wasn’t trying to get them
to make the connection. Now, I like to ask them about what they are interested in, or what new
show they are watching, or new game they are playing, etc. and see if there is a connection. Some
topics are way harder than others to find something they can personally relate to, and sometimes
I have to da lit tle research of my own to learn about what the kids are doing to help them find a
connection.” – 7th grade science teacher
Build Connections Helped Teachers Understand Their Students’ Interests
I was surprised about some of the interests of my students and things that they are involved in.
Seeing the things they are involved in helped me form more conversations and interests with
students.” – 7th grade science teacher
I usually connect skills of reading and writing to what they’ll be doing in future EDUCATION
classes. This is a good reminder to link it to things they’re interested in and will do for the rest of
their life.” – 9th grade civics teacher
Build Connections Helped Teachers Make More Meaningful Connections
My teaching has changed in that I am more intentional in looking for the opportunities to draw
connections with content materials and its real-life implication. There are times in which the
content materials have pretty clear real-life relevance. There are other times when I feel myself
struggling to find real-life connections.” – Middle school resource teacher
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AU: Will
this to
"do a"
instructors needed to emphasize the relevance of the learning content to students’ lives.
However, our early research demonstrated that communicating utility value directly can
lead to unintended negative consequences for some students (Durik, Hulleman, & Har-
ackiewicz, 2015), and that allowing students to generate their own connections is likely
to be much more effective, particularly for students at risk of academic underperfor-
mance. If psychology is to achieve its potential to positively impact society, researchers
will need to increasingly conduct applied tests of their theories in the real-world contexts
that they desire to improve so that their recommendations are based on causal evidence
rather than identifying psychological phenomena that merely co-occur with desired out-
comes (Hulleman & Barron, 2016).
Second, the original insight of the utility- value intervention is that students need to
discover value in the learning material that matters to them. This led to structuring the
intervention so that individual students have a choice about what aspects of the course
content to connect to their lives, and which aspects of their lives to connect to the course
content. This autonomy- supportive approach to operationalizing the construct of utility
value has led to the development of variations of the intervention intended to provide
more and different scaffolding so that students can make the most personal and specific
connection possible. This work has deepened the definition of what it means to find
learning content useful, and how perceiving utility value can lead to increased learning
outcomes. The original conceptualization of utility value was considered to be closer to
extrinsic motivation, whereas the operationalization of utility value in our intervention
is more autonomous. In this way, this operationalization of the utility- value intervention
has instigated a theoretical question about whether or not utility value needs to be identi-
fied as internal to an individual’s self- definition, or if utility value can be related to more
external motivations, such as wanting to obtain rewards or avoid punishments.
First, although the original intent of the intervention was to boost learning outcomes
for students in a specific course, due to the demonstrated efficacy of the intervention
it is now imperative to consider how these effects might translate into broader changes
in students’ educational pathways. However, this leads to the question of how do we
get from the perception of value in a very specific context to broader change? It is not
clear that we would necessarily expect an intervention that is so context specific to have
continued effects beyond that context unless further prompting occurred in the future.
Instead, it is more likely that the broader effects of the intervention occur by changing
immediate course outcomes— such as performance and interest— which then translate
into additional course taking and better performance in those courses. Indeed, many of
the intervention studies to date have found significant effects on performance in gateway
courses. Improved performance in these foundational courses may initiate recursive pro-
cesses through which students develop confidence and/or identification with the domain,
and then continue to perform better in other courses in the discipline (Cohen & Sherman,
2009; Hecht, Harackiewicz, et al., 2019). In addition, improved course performance
may open up new possibilities, such as research experiences and admission to advanced
courses that continue to foster engagement, performance, and persistence in the field
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The Utility‑Value Intervention 121
(Hecht, Priniski, & Harackiewicz, 2019; Goyer et al., 2017). Although we reviewed some
of our initial insight into the pathway of broader effects in the “Empirical Evidence” sec-
tion, much work remains to follow students in intervention studies as they move through
their education pathways. We may gain insights that help us design variants of the utility-
value intervention that leverage initial reflections on utility value so that they have the
potential to carry over beyond the initial learning context.
Second, as we continue to learn about the role that perceptions of value play in moti-
vating students, emerging findings demonstrate that some types of value are more moti-
vating for some students than others (Diekman et al., 2010; Thoman, Brown, Mason,
Harmsen, & Smith, 2015), and that different learning contexts differentially provide the
opportunity to find different types of value. For example, Thoman and colleagues have
found that research labs in the biomedical sciences tend to highlight individual achieve-
ment and accomplishment as the goals of the work, which represent more independent and
agentic types of values. In contrast, students from traditionally underrepresented groups
in higher education tend to be motivated by careers that highlight more interdependent
and prosocial values, like helping others. Thoman et al. have found that this value mis-
match partially explains the reasons why students from underrepresented groups choose
not to persist in STEM majors, even when controlling for academic performance. These
findings encourage us to consider whether utility- value interventions might be more effec-
tive for underrepresented students if they were structured in a way so that students were
encouraged to make connections between the course content and their interdependent
goals (e.g., Yeager et al., 2014; Tibbetts, Harackiewicz, Priniski, & Canning, 2016), or if
having the choice would be more effective. In our ongoing community college math work,
we have developed interventions prompts that provide sample quotations from students
that emphasize both independent and interdependent motives, and we are examining
whether students’ backgrounds influence the type of connections they make.
Third, there are a variety of implementation factors that we have identified as impact-
ing the effectiveness of the utility- value intervention, including timing, dosage, length,
choice, and variety, among others. We have also reviewed different types and structures
of utility- value interventions that have evidence of effectiveness, including writing- and
quotations- based versions. However, very few studies have been designed as experiments
where participants are randomly assigned to different implementation factors or design
features of the utility- value intervention (cf. Priniski et al., 2019). Future studies also
need to examine whether any of these factors vary as a function of level of education,
student demographic characteristics, or other aspects of the learning context. How much
customization is necessary in order to implement an effective utility- value intervention in
a new context?
Fourth, as we transition the implementation of the utility- value intervention from
researchers to instructors and other educational practitioners, how do we adapt and test
these utility- value practices while still instigating the targeted psychological processes?
For example, although Build Connections was designed based on the efficacy evidence
from the utility- value intervention, we still need to test whether this variation works,
and whether it works without direct researcher involvement. Clearly, collaborating with
practitioners from beginning to end of the translation process will be essential, both to
provide supports for implementation and to capture learnings on what does and does not
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... However, utility value intervention is a way to address this inappropriate motivational situation that is derived from expectancy-value theory (Wigfield and Eccles, 2000). In utility value interventions, learners perceive the usefulness of a learning content (Hulleman and Harackiewicz, 2021). Meta-analyses of utility value interventions show an effect size of d = 0.24 (Hulleman and Harackiewicz, 2021). ...
... In utility value interventions, learners perceive the usefulness of a learning content (Hulleman and Harackiewicz, 2021). Meta-analyses of utility value interventions show an effect size of d = 0.24 (Hulleman and Harackiewicz, 2021). According to expectancy-value theory (Wigfield and Eccles, 2000), value has three sources: intrinsic value, attainment value and utility value (Rosenzweig et al., 2019). ...
... Similarly, utility value can be fostered with different contents. Students can be asked to write a short essay or letter about the connection between a certain topic and their lives or to rate quotations for relevance and interest (Hulleman and Harackiewicz, 2021). ...
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Educational sciences are a major component of German teacher education. However, student teachers often do not consider educational sciences in university courses (a profession-specific combination of educational psychology, pedagogy and sociology) as helpful for the practice of teaching. To prepare future teachers for evidence-based practice, this is a disadvantageous motivational starting point, because educational sciences offer a large amount of current and relevant findings that can have a positive impact on educational practice. Thus, it would be beneficial for student teachers to see the utility value of educational sciences. The present study attempts to encourage student teachers to perceive the utility value of educational sciences with a utility value short intervention. Utility value interventions contribute to connecting the learning content with one’s own life to foster the motivation to use scientific knowledge. A 2 × 2 quasi-experiment was conducted. Two of the four groups received a utility value short intervention about educational sciences (Factor 1). In addition, a second factor was analyzed that takes up two patterns of educational reasoning in teacher education (Factor 2): Reasoning was either exemplified with an instruction to reflect on the usefulness of educational sciences (like in reflection-oriented educational reasoning) or with exemplary empirical findings from educational sciences (like in evidence-based educational reasoning). These two kinds of reasoning are objectives of teacher education and therefore could influence the effect of a utility value short intervention. Since epistemic goals influence engagement with educational sciences, they are also taken into account. The results showed that all four variants of the treatment increased the students’ assessment of the utility value of educational sciences; the utility value intervention had no additional effect. This is discussed with recourse to motivational theories and concepts of teacher education.
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Assessing students on-the-fly is an important but challenging task for teachers. In initial teacher education, a call has been made to better prepare pre-service teachers for this complex task. Advances in technology allow this training to be done through authentic learning environments, such as video-based simulations. To understand the learning process in such simulations, it is necessary to determine how cognitive and motivational learner characteristics influence situative learning experiences, such as the perception of authenticity, cognitive load, and situational motivation, during the simulation and how they affect aspects of performance. In the present study, N = 150 pre-service teachers from German universities voluntarily participated in a validated online video-based simulation targeting on-the-fly student assessments. We identified three profiles of learner characteristics: one with above average knowledge, one with above average motivational-affective traits, and one with below average knowledge and motivational-affective traits. These profiles do not differ in the perception of the authenticity of the simulation. Furthermore, the results indicate that the profiled learners navigate differently through the simulation. The knowledgeable learners tended to outperform learners of the other two profiles by using more learning time for the assessment process, also resulting in higher judgment accuracy. The study highlights how learner characteristics and processes interact, which helps to better understand individual learning processes in simulations. Thus, the findings may be used as a basis for future simulation research with a focus on adaptive and individual support.
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In my doctoral dissertation I report about experimental field studies implementing interventions based on Self-Determination Theory in teacher training. Aiming to support students' motivation to learn about data-based decision-making and their readiness to apply these skills as future teachers, I implemented a relevance-intervention and autonomy-supportive feedback into the higher education curriculum at large German unversity.
Research suggests that undergraduates' learning and performance-approach goals initiate distinct pathways to course achievement through different task values. However, few studies were longitudinal or controlled for initial task values. It therefore remains unclear whether task values mediate the relation between initial achievement goals and final grades beyond initial task values. The present study examined these pathways in two year-long college courses (N = 175). When initial task values were not controlled, the hypothesized pathways emerged: Semester 1 learning goals predicted year-end course grades via Semester 2 intrinsic value whereas Semester 1 performance-approach goals predicted course grades via Semester 2 attainment value. When Semester 1 values were controlled, however, achievement goals generally did not predict task values, although Semester 2 intrinsic and attainment value remained independent predictors of grades. These findings help to clarify and reconcile previous research findings and underscore the importance of accounting for construct stability to elucidate motivational processes.
Classroom utility value (UV) interventions have attracted growing attention for their power to increase students’ STEM motivation. However, their delayed effects and the mechanisms through which they bolster students’ STEM motivation have not been investigated thoroughly. We followed 416 Korean 5th and 6th graders who participated in a science UV intervention program in the previous academic semester. The immediate motivational benefit of the intervention for these young learners in the form of increases in mean scores largely dissipated six months after the intervention. Nonetheless, enhanced recognition of science UV for personal and communal goals predicted students’ participation/career intentions and behaviors assessed six months later both directly and indirectly via science interest and appreciation.
Relevance interventions have shown a great potential to foster motivation and achievement (Lazowski & Hulleman, 2016). Yet, further research is warranted to test how such interventions can be successfully implemented in practice. We conducted a cluster-randomized trial in ninth-grade mathematics classrooms to test the effectiveness of a relevance intervention, which was previously shown to be efficacious when implemented by researchers. A total of 78 classrooms (N = 1,744 students) were randomly assigned to one of two intervention conditions or a waitlist control condition. The intervention was implemented by master’s students or the regular math teachers. Intervention effects were evaluated using self-reports, teacher ratings, and achievement tests 4 weeks and 3 months after the intervention, controlling for the initial levels of the outcomes. Compared with the control condition, both intervention conditions showed similar positive effects on utility value. Unexpectedly, students in both intervention conditions also reported higher perceived cost compared with students in the control condition after the intervention. When the intervention was implemented by master’s students, additional effects on students’ growth mindsets and a standardized achievement test could be observed. Only small differences in effectiveness were observed between the intervention conditions, although master’s students showed a higher level of adherence to the intervention script. In both intervention conditions, higher levels of adherence and lower levels of discipline problems were associated with more positive changes in utility value. Overall, the intervention thus showed mixed effects. Future research should therefore continue to examine the conditions under which relevance interventions work in practice.
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A global priority for the behavioural sciences is to develop cost-effective, scalable interventions that could improve the academic outcomes of adolescents at a population level, but no such interventions have so far been evaluated in a population-generalizable sample. Here we show that a short (less than one hour), online growth mindset intervention—which teaches that intellectual abilities can be developed—improved grades among lower-achieving students and increased overall enrolment to advanced mathematics courses in a nationally representative sample of students in secondary education in the United States. Notably, the study identified school contexts that sustained the effects of the growth mindset intervention: the intervention changed grades when peer norms aligned with the messages of the intervention. Confidence in the conclusions of this study comes from independent data collection and processing, pre-registration of analyses, and corroboration of results by a blinded Bayesian analysis.
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This study compared two expectancy-value-theory-based interventions designed to promote college students’ motivation and performance in introductory college physics. The utility value intervention was adapted from prior research and focused on helping students relate course material to their lives in order to perceive the material as more useful. The cost reduction intervention was novel and aimed to help students perceive the challenges of their physics course as less psychologically costly to them. Students (n = 148) were randomly assigned to the utility value intervention, cost reduction intervention, or a control condition. Participants completed intervention or control activities online at two points during the semester. Their motivational beliefs and values were measured twice, once immediately after the intervention or control activities ended and again at the end of the semester. Both interventions improved students’ grades and exam scores relative to the control group (d’s from 0.24-0.30), with stronger effects for students with lower initial course exam scores (d’s from 0.72-0.90). Unexpectedly, both interventions effects were explained in part by initially lower performing students reporting higher competence-related beliefs and lower cost immediately after they received either intervention, compared with lower performing students in the control condition. Results suggest that cost reduction and utility value interventions are both useful tools for improving students’ STEM course performance.
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A wide range of occupations require science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills, yet almost half of students who intend to pursue a postsecondary STEM education abandon these plans before graduating from college. This attrition is especially pronounced among underrepresented groups (i.e., racial/ ethnic minorities and first-generation college students). We conducted a 2-year follow-up of a utility-value intervention that had been implemented in an introductory biology course. This intervention was previously shown to improve performance in the course, on average and especially among underrepresented students, reducing the achievement gap. The goal of the present study was to examine whether the intervention also impacted persistence in the biomedical track throughout college. The intervention had a more positive impact on long-term persistence for students who were more confident that they could succeed at the beginning of the course, and this effect was partially driven by the extent to which students reflected on the personal relevance of biological topics in their essays. This mechanism was distinct from the process that had been found to underlie intervention effects on performance-engagement with course material-suggesting that utility-value interventions may affect different academic outcomes by initiating distinct psychological processes. Although we did not find that the intervention was differentially effective for underrepresented students in terms of persistence, we found that positive effects on performance were associated with increased persistence for these students. Results suggest that utility-value interventions in an introductory course can be an effective strategy to promote persistence in the biomedical sciences throughout college.
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As intervention science develops, researchers are increasingly attending to the long-term effects of interventions in academic settings. Currently, however, there is no common taxonomy for understanding the complex processes through which interventions can produce long-lasting effects. The lack of a common framework results in a number of challenges that limit the ability of intervention scientists to effectively work toward their goal of preparing students to effectively navigate a changing and uncertain world. A comprehensive framework is presented to aid understanding of how interventions that target motivational processes in education produce downstream effects years after implementation. This framework distinguishes between three types of processes through which interventions may produce long-term effects: recursive processes (feedback loops by which positive effects can build on themselves over time), nonrecursive chains of effects (“domino effects” in which proximal outcomes affect distinct distal outcomes), and latent intrapersonal effects (changed habits, knowledge, or perceptions that affect how students respond in different situations in the future). The framework is applied to intervention research that has reported long-term effects of motivation interventions, evidence for the processes described in this framework is evaluated, and suggestions are presented for how researchers can use the framework to improve intervention design. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how the application of this framework can help intervention scientists to achieve their goal of positively influencing students’ lifelong trajectories, especially in times of change and uncertainty. © 2019 by Emerald Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.
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A growing body of research suggests that interventions promoting students’ utility value for an academic subject can improve their academic outcomes. However, numerous questions remain regarding how much to adapt prior intervention materials to promote utility value in new educational contexts, and how implementation constraints of an educational context may impact the success of these interventions. In this study, using a design-based process we developed and tested three different utility value interventions in a new educational context (online high school math). We found that one of the interventions increased utility value compared to control conditions, but we also encountered constraints on intervention implementation that limited the effectiveness of our intervention and the conclusions we could draw from this work. We use our experience as a case study to illustrate the costs and benefits of making certain implementation choices when partnering with practitioners to administer utility value interventions in new contexts.
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Pass rates in community college front-door math courses are a national crisis. The current study adapted a utility value intervention from Hulleman and Harackiewicz (2009) to facilitate student success in community college math. In a double-blind experimental study (n = 180), we found a significant effect of the intervention on student pass rates. Further analysis revealed the intervention primarily improved men’s passing rates by 13% (d = .54), but did not affect women’s (d = -.15). The current study demonstrates that the utility value intervention can boost community college math outcomes. Intervention fidelity, practice, theory, and study limitations are discussed.
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Long-standing social problems such as poor achievement, personal and intergroup conflict, bad health, and unhappiness can seem like permanent features of the social landscape. We describe an approach to such problems rooted in basic theory and research in social psychology. This approach emphasizes subjective meaning-making—working hypotheses people draw about themselves, other people, and social situations; how deleterious meanings can arise from social and cultural contexts; how interventions to change meanings can help people flourish; and how initial change can become embedded to alter the course of people’s lives. We further describe how this approach relates to and complements other prominent approaches to social reform, which emphasize not subjective meaning-making but objective change in situations or in the habits and skills of individuals. In so doing, we provide a comprehensive theoretical review and organization of a psychologically informed approach to social problems, one that encompasses a wide-range of interventions and applies to diverse problem areas.
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Utility-value interventions, in which students are asked to make connections between course material and their lives, are useful for improving students’ academic outcomes in science courses. These interventions are thought to be successful in part because the intervention activities afford students autonomy while they complete them, but no research has explored directly whether interventions that include more support for autonomy are more effective. In this study, the degree of choice incorporated in a utility-value intervention was systematically varied in order to test this possibility. We assigned college biology students ( n = 406) to a high-choice utility-value intervention condition (choose between two formats- essay or letter- for each of 3 writing assignments), one of two low-choice intervention conditions (complete either an essay and then a letter, or vice versa, and choose a format for the third assignment), or a control condition (summarize course material 3 times). Students in the high-choice condition reported significantly higher perceived utility value and interest for biology course content compared to students in the low-choice conditions. There were also significant, but small, indirect effects of choice on students’ final course grades and enrollment in the next course in the biology sequence, via perceived utility value and interest. Results suggest that social-psychological interventions which include more choices are likely to be more effective than those which include fewer choices.
Utility-value (UV) writing interventions help students find the personal relevance of course material to promote interest and performance. However, little is known about how best to frame the intervention, particularly in the 2-year college context where students have more varied backgrounds than the samples previously studied. Using a randomized field experiment, we tested two ways of framing a UV writing intervention (student-framed vs. instructor-framed examples of UV), against a control assignment. Contrary to previous research, we found that students struggling in the course became less interested and perceived less utility value overall in UV conditions, compared to the control. The student-framed UV intervention made the course more interesting for students who were doing well in the course, but decreased grades for students struggling in the course, compared to the instructor-framed UV intervention. We examine psychological (e.g., confidence, engagement) and cognitive (linguistic indicators of cognitive processing) variables as mechanisms.
Utility-value (UV) interventions, in which students complete writing assignments about the personal usefulness of course material, show great promise for promoting interest and performance in introductory college science courses, as well as persistence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. As researchers move toward scaling up this intervention, it's important to understand which features are key to its effectiveness. For example, prior studies have used different types of UV assignments (i.e., self-focused essays and other-focused letters) and different assignment structures (i.e., over time, researchers provided a variety of tasks or choices between tasks), without comparing them. It is not known whether these assignment features are incidental details or key aspects of the intervention that impact its effectiveness. In the current study, we systematically compared different UV assignments, as well as ways of combining them, in a randomized controlled trial in an introductory college biology course (N = 590). Specifically, we compared different versions of the intervention in terms of their relative effectiveness for promoting course performance and the motivational mechanisms through which they operated. The intervention was most effective when students had opportunities to write about utility for both the self and others. Grades were higher in conditions in which students were either assigned a variety of self-focused and other-focused assignments or given the choice between the two. Among students with low performance expectations, grades were higher when students were assigned a specific combination: a self-focused assignment followed by other-focused assignments. Results suggest that different versions of the intervention may work through different mechanisms.