Higher Learning Research Communications

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Objectives: The primary objective of this study was to explore the interplay of psychological conditions that influenced personal engagement among university students. As a theoretical lens through which to investigate this, the study used the job demands-resources model, the study demands-resources model, and the leader–member exchange theory. This study further aimed to explore outcomes that supported students in becoming lifelong learners (i.e., deep-learning approach).

Method: Participants were undergraduate students registered at a South African university. We used a purposive, non-probability sampling strategy and employed a cross-sectional survey research design. This study used Mplus version 8.6 for the statistical analyses.

Results: Results showed that the psychological conditions of meaningfulness (study resources), availability (burnout risk), and safety (student–leader–member exchange) influenced student engagement. In addition, the results showed that study demands were positively associated with student engagement, although this association can be regarded as small. Furthermore, study resources and student engagement were associated with a deep approach to learning.

Conclusions: Findings from the present study demonstrated that Kahn’s theory carried implications beyond the workplace and held true in a student learning environment. Further, an exploration of the psychological conditions that led to engagement showed that the job demands-resources model and the study demands-resources model could be used to operationalise study resources as psychological meaningfulness and burnout risk as availability. Similarly, in the context of exploring the student-lecturer relationship, student leader–member exchange could be operationalised as psychological safety.

Implication for Practice: Leaders in higher education are encouraged to focus not only on ensuring that students receive adequate support in terms of structures and physical resources during periods of uncertainty, such as the global COVID-19 pandemic, but to adopt a holistic approach that includes considering all the psychological conditions that encourage and promote students’ engagement.