Academic success and obtaining good grades are among the main goals in all levels of education while having positive outcomes both for the learners and educational systems. Therefore, identifying the factors influencing the students’ academic success has ever been one the most important concerns of the researchers and educational psychologists (1), and also one of the challenges faced by medical schools (2, 3). To this end, researchers have focused on recognition of the role of motivation, learning strategies, and academic emotions in the students’ learning and performance (4-7).
However, most of the researches have been conducted using correlation analysis (6), qualitative methods (4), and experimental approaches (8); they have revealed a positive and simple relationship between these variables and academic performance (9) and have not shown direct and indirect effect of these variables on each other. Moreover, most of these studies have been carried out in the field of psychology, social sciences, and education(10, 11), and the results of these studies cannot be generalized to the medical context. Since the nature of the academic field is supposed to affect the students’ learning strategies (12), there may be a difference between medical students’ learning approaches in comparison with those of other students in higher education (13). Moreover, students in different academic settings and environments have revealed to experience different emotions. By implication, emotions might be different across these contexts(5). As Artino et al. noted, these emotional factors had almost been neglected in medical education literature. Instead, medical education literature tends to focus mostly on cognitive factors such as prior academic achievement, which do not explain much of the variance in academic outcomes (2). Yet, a large body of medical literature on emotions indicates that many medical students experience stressful situations during their education resulting in depression and anxiety. There has been very little attempt to look at how these emotions influence the students’ self-regulating learning(SRL) (2). As to the Iranian context, since the physicians have a very high income, most students are eagerly competing to be admitted in this major, so the smartest students with the highest potential get accepted to continue their studies in this major.
On the one hand, there is still limited knowledge about the effect of motivation and emotions on the students’ academic outcomes both in the classroom and clinical settings (2, 14). On the other hand, most of the studies have been conducted in western countries (15), and generalizing their findings to other countries, especially developing ones, has been criticized (16). Therefore, this study was conducted to investigate the effect of self-efficacy, learning-related emotions, and metacognitive learning strategies on medical students’ academic performance. More specifically, it was attempted to determine how metacognitive learning strategies can mediate the relationship between self-efficacy and positive learning-related emotions and academic performance.
The Effect of Positive Academic Emotions on Academic Performance
Emotion is a subjective status accompanied by physiological reactions and responses to some conditions, actions, and events. Pekrun (2006) defines academic emotions as those which are directly related to achievements, activities, and outcomes (17). This term was first used by Pekrun et al. (2002) in the field of education (4) classified into positive (enjoyment, pride, hope); negative (boredom, anger, anxiety); activating (joy, pride, anger); and deactivating (shame) emotions (5, 17). Emotions have complex associations with cognitive, motivational, and behavioral processes, especially in the classroom and educational settings (4, 5, 14, 17, 18), in all educational situations (before, during, and after attending the classroom, studying and testing)(4, 10), and in clinical settings (2, 14), as experienced by the students.
Moreover, some researchers have considered emotions as a significant factor directly or indirectly associated with learners’ achievements; satisfaction; physical and mental health; motivation; learning strategies; cognitive sources; self-directed learning; quality of teacher-learner interactions; class education; concentration; information processing, storing, retrieving, and learning; and consequently academic achievement (1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 17, 19, 20). Pekrun (2006) indicated that pleasant positive emotions like enjoyment positively influences on academic achievement. On the contrary, unpleasant deactivating emotions like boredom can reduce our motivation and disturb data processing, showing the negative effect of such emotions on academic achievement(17).
Chin et al. (2017) found a significant relationship between the students’ positive emotions and their performance (21). Pekrun et al. (2009) revealed that positive activating emotions like enjoyment, hope, and pride have a significant relationship with the students’ midterm exam scores (10). Generally, previous research showed that positive emotions such as enjoyment, hope, and pride are predictors of academic achievement (4, 5).
The Effect of Academic Self-Efficacy on Academic Performance
Academic self-efficacy is one of the important factors influencing academic performance. Academic self-efficacy refers to the students’ beliefs and attitudes toward their capabilities to achieve academic success, as well as belief in their ability to fulfill academic tasks and the successful learning of the materials (22, 23).
Self-efficacy beliefs lead to the individuals’ excellent performance through increasing commitment, endeavor, and perseverance(24). The learners with high levels of self-efficacy attribute their failures to lower attempts rather than lower ability, while those with low self-efficacy attribute their failure to their low abilities (25). Therefore, self-efficacy can influence the choice of tasks and perseverance while doing them. In other words, students with low self-efficacy are more likely to be afraid of doing their tasks, avoiding, postponing, and give them up soon (22, 23).
In contrast, those with high levels of self-efficacy are more likely to rely on themselves when faced with complex issues to find a solution to the problem, as well as being patient during the process, making more efforts, and persisting longer to overcome the challenges (9, 23, 26). Therefore, it seems that self-efficacy is one of the most important factors in the students’ academic success. For example, Chemers and Garcia found that the students’ self-efficacy in the first year of university is a strong predictor of their future performance (27).
Alyami et al. (2017) conducted a study on 214 university students and revealed that academic self-efficacy has a positive and significant effect on their academic performance(28). Other studies have shown that academic self-efficacy has a considerable effect on the students’ learning, motivation, and academic performance (9, 18, 29-31).
The Effect of Metacognitive Learning Strategies on Academic Performance
In the recent years, self-regulated learning and especially metacognitive learning strategies (32) have received a great deal of attention, and many studies are being conducted in this field (33). Predominantly, metacognitive strategies are among the key components of self-regulated learning, enabling learners to plan, monitor, and regulate their cognition (34, 35). Today, it is believed that learners using more metacognitive learning strategies effectively have better study plans, more efficiently monitor and evaluate their learning and perception of the materials, are more responsible, find and solve their problems, and try hard to learn deeply (36, 37). They certainly succeed more than their peers with no skills in the use of such strategies(38). In this regard, it has been confirmed that metacognitive learning strategies have a main role in academic success, as shown by the theories and researches (1, 4, 23, 24, 35, 38).
Conceptual Framework and Hypotheses
The control- value theory of achievement emotions is a comprehensive framework for analysis of the effects of emotions on the students’ academic performance. As hypothesized by Pekrun, in this theory, positive emotions influence the students’ achievement indirectly through the mediating role of cognitive, metacognitive, and self-regulating behaviors (17, 19).
Generally speaking, emotions can influence the students' achievement through two main pathways of cognitive and motivational and four mechanisms. In the cognitive pathway, emotions can influence one’s performance through three mechanisms, including mood-dependent memory, and cognitive and metacognitive learning strategies, and the use of cognitive sources(14, 39).
In contrast, positive emotions resulting from the use of deep, flexible, and complex learning strategies and self-regulation facilitate the individuals’ learning(4), so that the students who experience positive emotions utilize deeper strategies and more metacognitive processing (4, 40), that, in turn, enhances the students’ achievement. Therefore, the effect of emotions on academic performance can be mediated by the use of metacognitive learning strategies.
Based on Pekrun’s control-value theory (17, 40), cognitive assessment is supposed to be one of the significant antecedents of academic emotions categorized into control assessments (perceived control) and value assessments (perceived value). Control assessments are related to the individuals’ perception of the controllability of achievement activities and their consequences. These assessments are shown through our expectations and perception of competence, such as self-efficacy. Therefore, academic self-efficacy (as a cognitive assessment) can influence academic emotions (1, 4, 14). On the other hand, many researchers have investigated the role of self-efficacy in academic achievement since the introduction of the concept of self-efficacy by Bandura (1977) (9, 18, 30, 31). Bandura’s (1977) social cognitive theory discusses self-efficacy as the main construct, which affects both performance and motivation (26).
Some researchers believe that a part of the relationship between self-efficacy and academic achievement can be attributed to metacognitive learning strategies (35, 41). More specifically speaking, evidence shows that students with higher self-efficacy (as an expectancy component) show more endeavor and perseverance when faced with challenging situations (23). Despite the positive effect of self-efficacy on the amount of attempt, evidence shows that the quality of the efforts of self-efficacious students is different as well; such students use various deeper cognitive and metacognitive processing strategies compared to their peers with lower self-efficacy. This leads to better learning and academic achievement (35, 38). On the contrary, students with low self-efficacy seek easier tasks to avoid failure and use superficial strategies while disregarding deep learning (6).
Therefore, as shown in other studies, self-efficacy and metacognitive learning strategies are closely related (35, 42). As stated by Pintrich, self-efficacy becomes a key determinant of whether learners adopt these strategies or not. According to self-regulated learning theories, apart from being aware of the cognitive and metacognitive strategies, students should be motivated to enthusiastically use these strategies to succeed (35). In this respect, the general expectancy-value theory of motivation (35, 43) suggests that there are three motivational components that might be associated with the components of self-regulated learning like metacognitive strategies: (a) an affective component, which involves emotional reactions of students to the task (pride, anger, etc.), (b) an expectancy component, including the students' beliefs about their capability to do a task (self-efficacy), and (c) a value component, including the students' goals and beliefs about the importance and interest of the task. Prior research reveals that the expectancy, value, and affective components are positively associated with the self-regulated learning components (35, 44).
In short, the studies conducted in this field have shown a positive association between self-efficacy and metacognitive learning strategies (35, 36, 42, 45). On the other hand, many studies have indicated that metacognitive learning strategies are one of the most important predictors of the students’ academic success (4, 9, 24, 35, 38, 46). Therefore, as shown in some studies, metacognitive learning strategies mediate the effect of self-efficacy on academic performance (47). There has been some progress in research in this area. According to the review of the literature, although many studies have been conducted on direct effect of variables as academic emotions, academic self-efficacy, metacognitive learning strategies and their roles in academic achievement, few studies have focused on direct and indirect relationship among these variables and investigated the role of emotions, self-efficacy, and metacognitive learning strategies together as predictors of academic achievement in a structural equation model. Previous studies have either investigated the effect of the above-mentioned variables on each other separately (2, 36, 42, 48), or they have focused on fields other than medical education (1, 4, 10, 28, 32, 46). Therefore, according to the control-value theory (40), the expectancy-value theory of motivation(43), the social cognitive theory and review of the literature, the present study was designed to test the following research hypotheses and conceptual model (see Fig. 1):
Insert Figs. 1 here
H1: Academic self-efficacy has a direct effect on academic performance.
H2: Positive academic emotions have a direct effect on academic performance.
H3: Metacognitive learning strategies have a direct effect on academic performance.
H4: Academic self-efficacy has a direct effect on positive academic emotions.
H5: Academic self-efficacy has a direct effect on metacognitive learning strategies.
H6: Positive academic emotions have a direct effect on metacognitive learning strategies.
H7: Metacognitive learning strategies mediate the relationship between academic self-efficacy and academic performance.
H8: Metacognitive learning strategies mediate the relationship between positive academic emotions and academic performance.
H9: Positive academic emotions mediate the relationship between academic self-efficacy and academic performance.