Moral Reasoning of Education Students: The Effects of Direct Instruction in Moral Development Theory and Participation in Moral Dilemma Discussion

Mar. 10, 2010

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 112 Number 3, 2010, p. 621-644.

Results of the few studies that have investigated moral reasoning in education students suggest that such reasoning may be less advanced for them than for college students with non–education majors and that education students do not appear to advance in moral reasoning from freshman to senior year.


The purpose of the present study was to test an educational intervention designed to advance moral reasoning scores of undergraduate elementary and secondary education students.

The study was conducted in undergraduate classrooms at the University of Nevada, Reno, a Western Land Grant institution.


Participants were 94 undergraduate elementary and 98 secondary education majors and 42 undergraduate students majoring in English literature and philosophy.

Research Design
The study was a quasi-experimental design.

Data Collection and Analysis

Undergraduate education students enrolled in four sections of an introduction to educational psychology course received interventions designed to advance moral reasoning. English and philosophy courses were chosen as control groups. Over a period of 5 weeks, students in the intervention groups were taught moral development theories and participated in online dilemma discussion. An additional 3 weeks were devoted to pretesting and posttesting activities.


A 2 ׳ 5 mixed analysis of variance (ANOVA; time by group) with repeated measures on time was conducted to analyze pre- and posttest2 DIT P-scores for all five subgroups. Significant increases in mean DIT P-scores were found for the elementary and secondary intervention groups but not for the control groups.

Gains in both the elementary and secondary groups were maintained at posttest2 at the end of the semester, but there were no significant differences from posttest1 to posttest2. To determine the effectiveness of hypothetical versus real-life dilemma discussion on moral reasoning, a 2 ׳ 3 mixed ANOVA (time by group) was conducted. The ANOVA main effect for time and the interaction were significant, whereas the main effect for group was not significant.


Results of the present study support findings of previous studies providing evidence that principled moral reasoning can be advanced by deliberate educational interventions.
Future studies should investigate whether gains will be maintained over longer periods of time than a single semester and whether mere gains in moral reasoning scores translate to a broader range of moral behaviors.

Updated: May. 25, 2010