What you do is less important than how you do it: the effects of learning environment on student outcomes

Emily M. Bonem*, Heather N. Fedesco, Angelika N. Zissimopoulos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Higher education has seen a shift towards promoting student-centred learning. There has also been a push for identifying the ‘best’ teaching models and an insistence that instructors use these models, despite mixed results regarding their effectiveness. In the current paper, we compare the effects of an autonomy-supportive learning environment on student learning and achievement with those of the specific course features of contact hours and active learning. In a large-scale comprehensive survey with over 14,000 responses from students enrolled in courses constituting various disciplines, course levels and instructors, data across all student outcome variables suggested that those in highly autonomy-supportive learning environments experienced significant increases in satisfaction of students’ basic psychological needs, student motivation, course evaluations and academic performance. These results suggest that what is most important for students is not the specific techniques used by instructors but the quality of student–instructor interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-44
Number of pages18
JournalLearning Environments Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Active learning
  • Contact hours
  • Learning environment
  • Self-determination theory
  • Student motivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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