Motivational sources of practical nursing students at risk of dropping out from vocational education and training

Keywords: Dropping out, qualitative content analysis, motivational sources, practical nursing student, vocational education and training


The aim of this study was to contribute to the understanding of the reasons for low or high academic motivation among practical nursing students at risk of dropping out from vocational education and training. The research data consisted of semi-structured interviews with 14 Finnish students, which were analysed by qualitative content analysis. The analysis identified six motivational sources. Two of these sources – Responsible agency and Completing out of necessity – were related to engagement in studying, whereas two other sources – Exhaustion from learning challenges and Tight-roping between competing responsibilities – were related to disengagement from studying. Emotional drive and Social orientation were ambivalent motivation sources, partly pushing towards engagement as well as to disengagement, depending on the circumstances. Overall, the complicated reasons for low or high motivation were found to be heterogeneous and, consequently, the ways to support students may also vary.

Author Biographies

Tanja Vehkakoski, University of Jyväskylä

Department of Education, University of Jyväskylä, Dr of Education

Kaisa Aunola, University of Jyväskylä

Department of Psychology, University of Jyväskylä, Professor 

Sami Määttä

Department of Psychology, University of Jyväskylä, Dr

Leila Kairaluoma

Department of Education, University of Oulu, Dr

Raija Pirttimaa

Department of Education, University of Jyväskylä, Dr


Ahola, S., & Kivelä, S. (2007). ‘Education is important, but…’ Young people outside of schooling and the Finnish policy of education guarantee. Educational Research, 49, 243–258.

Bacca, J., Baldiris, S., Fabfegat, R., & Kinshuk. (2018). Insights into the factors influencing student motivation in augmented reality learning experiences in vocational education and training. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, Article 1486.

Bask, M., & Salmela-Aro, K. (2013). Burned out to drop out: Exploring the relationship between school burnout and school dropout. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 28, 511–528.

Beilmann, M., & Espenberg, K. (2016). The reasons for the interruption of vocational training in Estonian vocational schools. Journal of Vocational Education and training, 68(1), 87–101.

Bulger, M., McGeown, S., & St Clair-Thompson, H. (2016). An investigation of gender and age differences in academic motivation and classroom behavior in adolescents. Educational Psychology, 36(7), 1196–1218.

Caprara, G.V., Fida, R., Vecchione, M., Del Bove, G., Vecchio, G.A., Barbaranelli, C., & Bandura, A. (2008). Longitudinal analysis of the role of perceived self-efficacy for self-regulated learning in academic continuance and achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 525–534.

Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (2012). Motivation, personality and development within embedded social context: An overview of self-determination theory. In R. Deci (Ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Human Motivation (pp. 85–107). UK, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fortin, L., Marcotte, D., Potvin, P., Royer, J., & Joly, J. (2006). Typology of students at risk of dropping out of school: Description by personal, family and school factors. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 21(4), 363–383.

Fuller, C., & Macfayden, T. (2012). ‘What with your grades?’ Students’ motivation for and experiences of vocational courses in further education. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 64(1), 87–101.

Gnambs, T., & Hanfstingl, B. (2016). The decline of academic motivation during adolescence: An accelerated longitudinal cohort analysis on the effect of psychological need satisfaction. Educational Psychology, 36, 1691–1705.

Grund, A., Brassler, N.K., & Fries, S. (2014). Torn between study and leisure: How motivational conflicts relate to students’ academic and social adaptation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(1), 242–257.

Grund, A., & Fries, S. (2012). Motivational interference in study–leisure conflicts: How opportunity costs affect the self-regulation of university students. Educational Psychology, 32(5), 589–612.

Guthrie, J.T., Wigfield, A., & You, W. (2012). Instructional Contexts for engagement and achievement in reading. In S.L. Christenson, A.L. Reschly, & C. Wylie (Eds.) Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 601–634). Boston, MA: Springer.

Hakimzadeh, R., Besharat, M-A., Khaleghinezhad, S.A., & Jahromi, R.G. (2016). Peers’perceived support, student engagement and academic activities and life satisfaction: A structural equation modelling approach. School Psychology International, 37(3), 240–254.

Hakkarainen, A.M., Holopainen, L.K., & Savolainen, H.K. (2013). A five-year follow-up on the role of educational support in preventing drop out from upper secondary education in Finland. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 48(4), 408–421.

Hakkarainen, A.M., Holopainen, L.K., & Savolainen, H.K. (2016). The impact of learning difficulties and socioemotional and behavioural problems on transition to postsecondary education or work life in Finland: A five-year follow-up study. European Journal on Special Needs Education, 31(2), 171–186.

Hardre, P.L., & Reeve, J. (2003). A motivational model of rural students’ intentions to persist in, versus drop out of, high school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(2), 347-356.

Hodkinson, P., & Bloomer, M. (2001). Dropping out for further education: complex causes and simplistic policy assumptions. Research Papers in Education, 16(2), 117–140.

Hsieh, H-F., & Shannon, S.E. (2005). Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), 1277–1288.

Juvonen, J., Espinoza, G., & Knifsend, C. (2012). The role of peer relationship in student academic and extracurricular engagement. In S.L. Christenson et al. (Eds.) Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 387–401). Boston, MA: Springer.

Jørgensen, C.H. (2015). Some boys’ problems in education: What is the role of VET? Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 67(1), 62–77.

King, R.B. (2015). Sense of relatedness boosts engagement, achievement, and well-being: A latent growth model study. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 42, 26–38.

Klauda, S.L., & Guthrie, J.T. (2015). Comparing relations of motivation, engagement, and achievement among struggling and advanced adolescent readers. Reading and Writing, 28(2), 239–269.

Koramo, M., & Vehviläinen, J. (2015). Ammatillisen koulutuksen läpäisyn Tehostamisohjelma: Laadullinen ja määrällinen seuranta vuonna 2014. Raportti ja selvitykset 2015:3 [The rationalisation programme of the penetration of vocationaleducation and training: Qualitative and quantitative monitoring in 2014.Report and explanations 2015:3]. Helsinki, Finland: Finnish National Board of Education.

Lazarides, R., Rohowski, S., Ohlemann, S., & Ittel, A. (2015) The role of classroom characteristics for students’ motivation and career exploration. Educational Psychology, 36(5), 992–1008.

Learned, J.E. (2016). “Feeling like I’m slow because I’m in this class”: Secondary school context and the identification and construction of struggling readers. Reading Research Quarterly, 51(4), 367–371.

Lee, V.E., & Burkam, D. T. (2003). Dropping out of high school: The role of school organization and Structure. American Educational Research Journal, 40(2), 353–393.

Legault, L, Green-Demers, I., & Pelletier, L. (2006). Why do high school students lack motivation in the classroom? Toward an understanding of academic amotivation and the role of social support. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(3), 567–582.

Leino, M. (2015). Contemporary issues in post-compulsory education: Dropping out from vocational education in the context of the dimensions of communication. Research in Post-Compulsory Education. 20(4), 500–508.

Litalien, D., Guay, F., & Morin, A.J.S. (2015). Dropout intentions in PhD studies: A comprehensive model based on interpersonal relationships and motivational resources Contemporary Educational Psychology, 41, 218–231.

Montague, M. (2007). Self-regulation and mathematics instruction. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 22(1), 75–83.

Määttä, S., Kiiveri, L., & Kairaluoma, L. (2011). Motivoimaa-hanke ammatillisen nuorisoasteen koulutuksessa [Motivoimaa project in upper secondary vocational education and training]. NMI Bulletin, 21(2), 36–50.

Nielsen, K. (2016). Engagement, conduct of life and dropouts in the Danish vocational education and training (VET) system. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 68(2), 198­–213.

Niittylahti, S., Annala, J., & Mäkinen, M. (2019) Student engagement at the beginning of vocational studies. Nordic Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 9(1), 21–42.

Nurmi, J-E. (2012). Students’ characteristics and teacher-child relationships in instruction: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 7, 177–197.

OECD (2015). Youth employment and unemployment. Retrieved 15. May, 2018, from:

Official Statistics of Finland (OSF). (2012a). Progress of studies [e-publication]. Helsinki: Statistics Finland. Retrieved 20. August, 2019, from:

Official Statistics of Finland (OSF). (2012b). Discontinuation of education [e-publication]. Helsinki: Statistics Finland. Retrieved 20. August, 2019, from:

Oriol, X., Amutio, A., Mendoza, M., Da Costa, S., & Miranda, R. (2016). Emotional creativity as a predictor of intrinsic motivation and academic engagement in university students: The mediating role of positive emotions. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1–9.

Otis, N., Grouzet, F.M.E., & Pelletier, L.C. (2005). Latent motivational change in an academic setting: A 3-year longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(2), 170-183.

Patton, M.Q. (2015). Qualitative research & evaluation methods (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Peetsma, T., & Van der Veen, I. (2015). Influencing young adolescents’ motivation in the lowest level of secondary education. Educational Review, 67(1), 97–120.

Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78.

Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Scheel, M.J., Madabhushi, S., & Backhaus A. (2009). The academic motivation of at-risk students in a counselling prevention program. The Counselling Psychologist, 37(8), 1147–1178.

Smit, K., de Brabander, C.J., & Martens, R.L. (2014). Student-centered and teacher-centered learning environment in pre-vocational secondary education: Psychological needs, and motivation. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 58(6), 695–712.

Studsrød, I, & Bru, E. (2011). Upper secondary school students’ perceptions of teacher socialization practices and reposts of school adjustment. School Psychology International, 33(3), 308–324.

Utvær, B.K.S. (2013). Staying in or dropping out? A study of factors and critical incident of importance for health and social care students in upper secondary school in Norway. SerieDoktoravhandlinger ved NTNU, 1503-8181; 2013:331.Trondheim: Norges teknisk-naturvitenskapelige universitet.

Utvær, B.K.S. (2014). Explaining health and social care students’ experiences ofmeaningfulness in vocational education: The importance of life goals, learning support, perceived competence, and autonomous motivation. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 58(6), 639–658.

Van Bragt, C.A.C., Bakx, A.W.E.A., Teune, P.J., Bergen, T.C.M., & Croon, M.A. (2011). Why students withdraw or continue their educational careers: A closer look at differences in study approaches and personal reasons. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 63(2), 217–233.

Van Petegem, K., Aelterman, A., Rosseel, Y., & Creemers, B. (2007). Student perception as moderator for student wellbeing. Social Indicators Research, 83(3), 447–463.

Wahlgren, B., Aarkrog, V., Mariager-Anderson, K., Gottlieb, S., & Larsen, C.H. (2018). Unge voksnes beslutningsprocesser i relation til frafald: En empirisk undersøgelse blandt unge voksne i erhvervs- og almen voksenuddannelse [Young adults’ decision processes in relation to drop out: An empirical study among young adults in vocational education and training and basic general adult education]. Nordic Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 8(1), 98–113.

Wubbels, T., Brekelmans, M., den Brok, P., & van Tartwijk, J. (2006). An interpersonal perspective on classroom management in secondary classrooms in the Netherlands. In C.M. Evertson, & C.S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 1161–1192). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Zimmerman, B.J. (2000). Self-efficacy: An essential motive to learn. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 82–91.

Zvoch, K. (2006). Freshman year dropouts: Interactions between students and school characteristics and student dropout status. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 11(1), 97–117.

How to Cite
Salmi, E., Vehkakoski, T., Aunola, K., Määttä, S., Kairaluoma, L., & Pirttimaa, R. (2019). Motivational sources of practical nursing students at risk of dropping out from vocational education and training. Nordic Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 9(2), 112-131.
Peer-reviewed research articles