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Enhancing Faculty Understanding of Students’ Readiness to Learn

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Zachary Q. Young, Utah Valley University

Anton O. Tolman, Utah Valley University

Key Statement: Simple and practical metacognitive surveys can help instructors tailor curriculum to best suit the unique needs of their students and promote learning.

Keywords: Metacognition, readiness stages, effective learning

Are Students Ready To Change?

Several popular methods of student studying (rereading, highlighting, etc.) are relatively ineffective in promoting lasting learning. Unfortunately, effective learning strategies are often counterintuitive (Brown et al., 2014), contributing to lack of student use. While much is known about the effectiveness of different learning strategies, we know significantly less about students’ readiness to change how they learn and their self-perceived capability of achieving lasting change. Simple and practical metacognitive surveys can reveal student attitudes and point towards potential interventions, enabling faculty to navigate previously obscured obstacles. The current study sought to develop new metacognitive instruments and evaluate their utility for and their relationship with previously established instruments.

Image courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels.

The Transtheoretical Model of Change

The Transtheoretical Model of Change (TTM) is a useful heuristic for professors to examine and understand the process of change (Figure 1). Prochaska and DiClemente (1982) created the TTM to understand addiction and enhance treatment outcomes. Subsequent research has shown its utility as a general model of how human beings adopt new behaviors. To date, the TTM has only minimally been applied to education. The TTM describes several stages of readiness to change that are usually cyclical and fluid. People often find themselves progressing and regressing between stages based on several factors (think of New Year’s resolutions). Two of these factors are self-efficacy (SE) and decisional balance (DB). Self-efficacy refers to a specific behavioral domain of confidence, rather than a sweeping general sense of self-confidence (Bandura, 1977). For example, some students may feel confident in their ability to get a good grade in a class while others do not. Decisional balance (Janis & Mann, 1977) contributes to readiness stage depending on the perceived relative balance of the pros and cons of developing and maintaining new behaviors. The stronger the person’s evaluation of the pros over cons of a change, the more likely someone is to progress through the readiness stages of the TTM. Likewise, a regression in TTM stage may result in a blow to someone’s self-efficacy or may result from an increase in the perceived cons of changing (e.g., time involvement, financial expenses, etc.).

Figure 1. Transtheoretical Model of Change.

Novel Scales to Assess Readiness To Change

In our study, we explored the reliability of two new scales measuring student Self-Efficacy (SE) and Decisional Balance (DB). We also evaluated the contribution of SE and DB to students’ TTM readiness stage via the TTM-Learning Survey (TTM-LS) and utilized the Learning Strategies Self-Assessment (LSSA) to investigate their relationship to reported use of effective learning strategies. Finally, we compared students in upper and lower division classes for differences in all scales. All scales were based on self-report and were administered online as optional class assignments.

This study utilized two combined surveys, each containing separate scales (SE & DB, then TTM-LS & LSSA) taken a week apart to prevent testing fatigue. A total of 467 students participated. Participant numbers for demographics questions varied, as they were requested but not mandatory in the surveys. Many students took one combined survey but not the other, resulting in 202 students with complete survey information. The sample was prominently female (68%) and nearly equally split between upper (47%) and lower (53%) division courses; the lower division students were primarily enrolled in an introductory psychology course (83%). Utah Valley University is a nontraditional campus with a higher representation of married and older students than is typical on most U.S. campuses. Psychology is a female-dominated field which also influenced our sample representation.

Results and Applications in the Classroom

Demographic findings were unique to upper and lower division classes. Lower division students familiar with effective learning strategies attempted to implement them, although their LSSA scores showed they overestimated their actual usage. This replicates findings in a previous UVU study (Yerke & Tolman, 2023). In upper division students, those familiar with effective learning strategies were more confident in their abilities. However, their familiarity did not impact their willingness to use them. We believe that by the time a student reaches upper division courses, they might have developed a partially effective study approach. Upper division students working more hours reported lower TTM scores (more resistant), while those with children showed higher TTM scores (more willing to change).

The experimental SE scale showed a strong relationship with students’ readiness stage. Higher levels of SE in either division resulted in a more advanced readiness stage on average. This was more pronounced in upper division classes. Different aspects (subscales) of self-efficacy were more influential to each division. In lower division classes, the more confident students applied effective learning strategies to their work and reported being in a more advanced readiness stage. In upper division classes, their confidence in efficiently managing their study time and maintaining their study habits in the face of unexpected circumstances were the key factors linked to their TTM stage. Interestingly, the SE scale was only linked to the LSSA scale totals in upper division students. In other words, lower division students talk the talk, but upper division students are more likely to walk the walk.

The experimental DB scale was reliable for pros and nearly reliable for the cons but was not related to the other scales. We believe this is not the fault of a DB scale not being applicable, but that it needs additional study for validation. Since each decision carries its own set of pros and cons that shift from readiness stage to readiness stage, DB scales must be carefully created for each specific situation. We created a DB scale without a previous validation study behind it. In the future, a study focused on developing a DB scale with regard to effective learning would be very useful.

Implications for Faculty

Supporting Student Learning

Our findings show that self-efficacy is deeply related to the stages of readiness to change. Though students’ SE values shift over time, those values are relevant throughout education. Lower division students tend to overestimate their competence but benefit much from being introduced to effective strategies for later use. In contrast, upper division students have specific needs of efficiency and persistence that their strategies must fulfill. The instruments in this study prompt students to metacognitively investigate their learning patterns and grant the instructor a snapshot of their students’ attitudes and behaviors. By using these simple and practical tools, an instructor may demonstrate to their students the value of using effective learning strategies (if students lacked a positive evaluation of change), give students instruction and practice using effective learning strategies (if students had low self-efficacy), or show students ways to study in more effective ways (if students were concerned about how long studying took). Though more studies must be done, these findings demonstrate the benefits of these practical metacognitive tools.

Discussion Questions

  1. How could you use the Transtheoretical Model of Change to better understand and evaluate your students’ readiness to change how they learn?

  2. What exercises or assignments could you utilize to enhance the self-efficacy of your students, to help them feel they are capable of developing new learning strategies?

  3. Think about the classes that you have. In what ways could you focus on helping your students based on class level or age that would benefit them the most? Consider how different approaches may be more beneficial for different classes.


Readers who are interested in learning more about the methodology and analysis of this study, please click here to download an Appendix with more information.

Tolman and Young_The Scholarly Teacher_TTM Appendix
Download PDF • 322KB


Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change.

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Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning (1st ed.). Belknap Press.

Janis, I. L., & Mann, L. (1977). Decision making: A psychological analysis of conflict,

choice, and commitment. Free Press.

Prochaska, J. O., & DiClemente, C. C. (1982) Transtheoretical therapy: Toward a

more integrative model of change. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and

Practice 19(3), 276–289.

Yerke, N. L., & Tolman, A.O. (2023). Evaluating student readiness to change,

achievement emotions, and classroom engagement in introductory

psychology [Manuscript currently in revision]. Department of Behavioral

Science, Utah Valley University.

About the Authors

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