Motivational climate

What can I do?

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  • Provide students with choices and opportunities to self-direct their own learning and behaviours [1]
  • Provide opportunities for students to master knowledge and skills and give competence-based feedback along the way [1]
  • Show empathy and concern for students when they are struggling and praise efforts when they are doing well [1]

What is this about?

In a health setting, an autonomy-supportive environment is one in which the educator promotes the independence and self-determination of the student. This can be achieved in a number of ways, including:

  • Giving students choice and control over their learning experience, such as allowing them to choose their own learning goals and materials, or to work at their own pace
  • Providing students with clear goals and expectations, but also allowing them to explore and inquire on their own
  • Encouraging students to take ownership of their learning and to set their own learning objectives
  • Offering students constructive feedback and support, rather than simply evaluating or grading their performance
  • Providing students with resources and support to help them take charge of their own learning, such as access to online materials or mentorship programs

An autonomy-supportive environment can foster a sense of independence and self-determination in the student, which can enhance motivation and learning. It can also help students to develop important self-regulation skills, such as the ability to set goals, monitor progress, and evaluate their own learning.

What's the evidence say?

The evidence [1] shows that providing a healthy motivational climate has a strong, positive effect on engagement, effort, and well-being (all ➕➕➕➕➕), and a strong, negative effect on distress (➖➖➖➖➖). However, this connection is not direct. The motivational climate leaders provide determines the extent to which individuals’ basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) are nurtured. The more these needs are nurtured, the more autonomous motivation individuals are likely to have. It is this autonomous motivation that directly influences the aforementioned behavioural and psychological outcomes. Other high-level evidence (albeit not a meta-analysis) aligns with these findings [2].

What's the underlying theory?

Self-determination theory is a psychological theory that focuses on the role of personal motivation in driving human behavior and learning. According to the theory, people are more likely to engage in activities and learn effectively when they feel a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. In the context of clinical practice, self-determination theory can be used to help students develop intrinsic motivation and a sense of purpose, which can in turn support more engaged and meaningful learning. By fostering a sense of autonomy and competence, and by promoting social connections and a sense of belonging, educators can create a supportive learning environment that encourages self-directed learning and personal growth.

Where does the evidence come from?

One meta-analysis [1] informs this evidence summary and two systematic reviews [2,3] are provided as further support for the conclusions. The meta-analysis is a high-quality study (➕➕➕➕). The study included experimental, longitudinal, and cross-sectional primary research. It also included a large number (k = 72) of primary studies from across various workplace settings, not just healthcare. Finally, the authors reported that heterogeneity and the likelihood of publication bias was small.


  1. Slemp, G. R., Kern, M. L., Patrick, K. J., & Ryan, R. M. (2018). Leader autonomy support in the workplace: A meta-analytic review. Motivation and Emotion, 42(5), 706-724.
  2. Orsini, C., Binnie, V. I., & Wilson, S. L. (2016). Determinants and outcomes of motivation in health professions education: a systematic review based on self-determination theory. jeehp, 13(0), 19-10.
  3. Orsini, C., Evans, P., & Jerez, O. (2015). How to encourage intrinsic motivation in the clinical teaching environment?: a systematic review from the self-determination theory. jeehp, 12(0), 8-0.

Additional Resources