Students' goal orientations, perceptions of early clinical experiences and learning outcomes

H. Carrie Chen, Olle ten Cate, Patricia O'Sullivan, Christy Boscardin, Wetona Suzanne Eidson-Ton, Preetha Basaviah, Theresa Woehrle, Arianne Teherani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Context: Workplace learning is optimised when learners engage in the activities of the workplace; learner engagement is influenced by workplace affordances and learner agency. Learner agency can be operationalised through achievement goal theory, which explains that students can have different goal orientations as they enter learning situations: mastery (learn and improve), performance approach (demonstrate competence) or performance-avoid (avoid demonstrating incompetence). Mastery-orientated, compared with performance-orientated, students approach curricular experiences as opportunities for developing rather than demonstrating competence. This study explored the relationships among students' achievement goal orientations, workplace affordances and learning outcomes in the context of early clinical experiences. Methods: Students who completed their preclerkship curricula at four medical schools answered a questionnaire about their personal goal orientation and the perceived goal structure and workplace affordances of their preceptorship experiences. All items used a 5-point scale (1 = strongly disagree/not at all true, 5 = strongly agree/very true). Students were evaluated by their preceptors and completed standardised-patient exams at the end of their pre-clerkship curricula. Analyses included descriptive statistics and mediation analysis. Results: Of 517 students, 296 (57.3%) responded and 253 (85.5%) had linked performance data. Student goal orientation means were: mastery, mean = 4.27 (SD = 0.65); performance-approach, 2.41 (0.76); performance-avoid, 2.84 (0.88). Student goal orientation and performance on preceptor evaluations (PEval) or standardised-patient exams (SPExam) were not significantly related. Perceptions of a mastery-structured curriculum and inviting workplace were associated with higher SPExam (β = 0.28, p = 0.02) and PEval (β = 0.51, p = 0.00) scores, respectively. Student mastery goal orientation was positively associated with perceptions of a mastery-structured curriculum (β = 0.59, p = 0.00) and positive workplace affordances (β = 0.25-0.29, p ≤ 0.01). Conclusions: Students held a predominant mastery goal orientation towards their early clinical experiences. Mastery-orientated students perceived preceptorships as mastery-structured with positive workplace affordances, and those perceiving a mastery-structured or inviting preceptorship performed better. Clinical experiences should be structured to emphasise learning rather than demonstration of skills to promote learning outcomes. Discuss ideas arising from the article at discuss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-213
Number of pages11
JournalMedical Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Education


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