Personal Relevance (PR)
Learning enjoyment is derived from meaningful learning, where students find material applicable and relatable to themselves (Kuh, 2016). This is known as personal relevance, which is defined as the connectedness of a subject with students’ “out-of-school experiences” (Afari et al., 2013). This refers to the extent to which content taught in the classroom is relevant to students’ lives outside of school. Personal relevance encompasses the self-referencing effect which entails relating new information to one’s self or self-schema. Self-referencing effect on academic achievement is demonstrated by Barney(2007), who implemented a constructivist narrative assignment for psychology students. Students were required to write a paper, giving examples on how psychological theories were relevant to their own lives. Students who wrote the assigned papers reported superior writing quality, better grades and higher learning efficiency, thus suggesting that self-referencing produces beneficial learning outcomes.
Furthermore, Kelly et al. (2002) investigated the degree of self-referencing with three conditions – self-relevant vs other-relevant vs case judgment. Participants were required to make judgments about trait adjectives in relation to the self, for e.g. “Does this adjective describe you?”, others e.g. “Does this adjective describe George Bush?” and case judgment e.g. “Is this adjective in uppercase letter?” In essence, they found that participants in the self-relevant condition recalled more trait adjectives than participants in the other and case conditions, thus demonstrating a superiority effect of self-referencing on memory. Biological evidence also supports this reasoning, as fMRI scans revealed higher brain activation in the medial prefrontal cortex, which is preferentially engaged during self-referential judgments. Hence, these findings suggest that self-relevant information is typically learnt better than other-relevant information.
Learning Enjoyment (LE)
However, the direct effect of personal relevance on learning enjoyment has not been extensively studied in existing literature. Learning enjoyment is defined as the positive, activating and pleasurable emotions that one experiences in an activity (Ainley ; Ainley, 2011). Imperatively, the value of learning enjoyment has been documented in both child and adult learners (Lucardie, 2014). Learning enjoyment is crucial in stimulating creativity and interest in young children, resulting in the popularity of games as teaching and learning tools. Similarly, enjoyment in the form of fun and laughter has been found to create conducive environments for adult engagement and deep learning (Lucardie, 2014).
In school contexts, research studies found learning enjoyment to be positively associated with higher motivation and better grades (Villavicencio ; Bernardo, 2013) as it drives sustained interest in a subject (Tin ; SpringerLink, 2016). Learning enjoyment also cultivates a mastery goal orientation, buffering the effects of failure which are inevitable in the learning process. (Tulis ; Ainley, 2011). Students who enjoy the subject more tend to adopt mastery goals and persist in spite of failure, as opposed to students who do not enjoy the subject. Given these benefits, it is essential to examine how learning enjoyment can be further promoted within school environments.
Collectively, some studies have found positive effects of personal relevance on learning enjoyment. For instance, Aldridg, Afari ; Fraser (2013) established direct and indirect pathways of personal relevance on learning enjoyment. Student participants who perceived mathematics as personally relevant e.g. “Maths is applicable to my life outside college” reported greater enjoyment in studying mathematics and being in math class. Incidentally, the same students also reported an increase in academic efficacy (i.e. confidence in academic ability), which predicts positive engagement, leading to increased learning enjoyment.
In addition, Pekrun’s (2006) control-value theory of achievement emotions suggests personal value to be a crucial predictor of enjoyment. Personal value comprises of achievement and domain values which are personally relevant components. Achievement value constitutes beliefs about the importance of achievement (e.g. attaining good grades is important for my future) while domain value consists of beliefs that drive intrinsic learning (e.g. learning philosophy broadens my understanding about life) Control-value theory proposes that perceiving high personal value on study material will elicit greater learning enjoyment in achievement contexts such as examinations. Specifically, individuals who possess high domain value apply studied material to everyday life, and would therefore enjoy learning more than individuals who are low on domain value. Based on this theory, Ainley & Ainley (2011) measured the personal value of science among 15 year old students. They found that personal value positively predicted enjoyment of learning science, thus establishing a relationship between personal relevance and learning enjoyment.
Personal Relevance (PR)