Distance learning in higher education during COVID-19: The role of basic psychological needs and intrinsic motivation for persistence and procrastination–a multi-country study

Elisabeth R. Pelikan, Selma Korlat, Julia Reiter, Julia Holzer, Martin Mayerhofer, Barbara Schober, Christiane Spiel, Oriola Hamzallari, Ana Uka, Jiarui Chen, Maritta Välimäki, Zrinka Puharić, Kelechi Evans Anusionwu, Angela Nkem Okocha, Anastassia Zabrodskaja, Katariina Salmela-Aro, Udo Käser, Anja Schultze-Krumbholz, Sebastian Wachs, Finnur FriðrikssonHermína Gunnþórsdóttir, Yvonne Höller, Ikuko Aoyama, Akihiko Ieshima, Yuichi Toda, Jon Konjufca, Njomza Llullaku, Reda Gedutienė, Glorianne Borg Axisa, Irena Avirovic Bundalevska, Angelka Keskinova, Makedonka Radulovic, Aleksandra Lewandowska-Walter, Justyna Michałek-Kwiecień, Piotr Plichta, Jacek Pyżalski, Natalia Walter, Cristina Cautisanu, Ana Iolanda Voda, Shang Gao, Sirajul Islam, Kai Wistrand, Michelle F. Wright, Marko Lüftenegger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, higher educational institutions worldwide switched to emergency distance learning in early 2020. The less structured environment of distance learning forced students to regulate their learning and motivation more independently. According to self-determination theory (SDT), satisfaction of the three basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence and social relatedness affects intrinsic motivation, which in turn relates to more active or passive learning behavior. As the social context plays a major role for basic need satisfaction, distance learning may impair basic need satisfaction and thus intrinsic motivation and learning behavior. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between basic need satisfaction and procrastination and persistence in the context of emergency distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic in a cross-sectional study. We also investigated the mediating role of intrinsic motivation in this relationship. Furthermore, to test the universal importance of SDT for intrinsic motivation and learning behavior under these circumstances in different countries, we collected data in Europe, Asia and North America. A total of N = 15,462 participants from Albania, Austria, China, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Kosovo, Lithuania, Poland, Malta, North Macedonia, Romania, Sweden, and the US answered questions regarding perceived competence, autonomy, social relatedness, intrinsic motivation, procrastination, persistence, and sociodemographic background. Our results support SDT’s claim of universality regarding the relation between basic psychological need fulfilment, intrinsic motivation, procrastination, and persistence. However, whereas perceived competence had the highest direct effect on procrastination and persistence, social relatedness was mainly influential via intrinsic motivation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0257346
JournalPloS one
Issue number10 October
StatePublished - Oct 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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