Problem-based learning (PBL) and student interest in STEM careers: The roles of motivation and ability beliefs

Melanie Laforce*, Elizabeth Noble, Courtney Blackwell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Amid growing concerns about the future of the U.S. economy and workforce, educators and policymakers alike have increasingly emphasized the need to expand the number of students interested in, qualified for and actually pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The current study draws on survey responses from a sample of 3852 high school students at inclusive STEM schools across the U.S. to investigate how project-and problem-based learning (PBL) may work to address this need. Multivariate regression results indicate that student ratings of PBL are associated with interest in pursuing a career in STEM, as well as with intrinsic motivation for science and students’ ability beliefs for both science and math. Further, mediation analysis using Hayes’ (2014) MEDIATE macro suggests that science intrinsic motivation and ability beliefs mediate the relationship between perceived PBL experiences and student interest in a future STEM career (IFSC). Our results highlight the important potential of PBL for increasing student STEM attitudes and interest in future STEM careers. As one of the only large-scale quantitative analyses of its kind, this study provides critical information for educators, school administrators and policymakers as they continue to seek effective ways of encouraging students to pursue STEM careers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number92
JournalEducation Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • Ability beliefs
  • Motivation
  • Problem-based learning
  • STEM education
  • STEM schools

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Public Administration


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