Goal Theory of Motivation Essay Sample

Goal Theory of Motivation Pages
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   Goal-theory of motivation states that motivation can be internally or externally influenced (Urdan, 1997).  Mastery and performance learner orientations are two different sets of learner goal directed outcomes that may be influenced driven internally or have the potential to be influenced through external variables.  Intrinsic motivation, which is what drives mastery learner and produces the effective long-term outcomes, is compared to performance learner-orientations with implications for educational contexts.
Goal Theory of Motivation:

Explanation, Relevant Research, and Implications for Student Motivation in Engagement and Related Aspects for Achievement in Learning Activities within Educational Contexts

     Goal theory of motivation states that the goals that are set by the learner whether innately or with the influence of the teacher are key factors in influencing intrinsic motivation (Urdan, 1997). The idea is that learning is itself a goal oriented process and students usually have different goals that fuel their drive to learn content material. Some students want to learn in order to get good grades and experience certain rewards that are set by their parents. Others would want to learn because they believe that doing well in school is an essential factor to succeeding in life. Goal theory frames the reasons behind learning as well as the criteria used in fulfilling such reasons (Urdan, 1997). However, it is apparent that some of the goals that motivate learners may not be directly related to learning.

For example, some students whose goal is just to pass the subject might think that actually studying hard for a subject is not a prerequisite to passing it since there are ways to gain extra credit. In the prevalence of such cases, educators have sought to determine more direct goals to learning that can be instilled to students.  Ames (1992a) presented that mastery orientation is one goal that is directly related to learning.  Mastery orientation in goal theory refers to the goal of becoming an expert at a particular subject matter. For this goal, the satisfaction does not come from actually getting good grades but more so from realizing the acquisition of a certain level of proficiency. It is further argued that students who are motivated towards a goal of mastery have a deeper engagement with the subject matter and the tasks involved in learning it. Hence, they will develop stronger perseverance in facing setbacks (Ames, 1992a).

     Types of goals related to learning and motivational processes that have been identified are: learning and performance goals (Dweck, 1986; Dweck & Legget, 1988); task and ego-involvement goals (Maehr & Nicholls, 1980; Nicholls, 1984a); mastery and performance goals (Ames & Archer, 1987, 1988; Ames, 1992a).  This review focuses on goals, which have direct implications for motivation on student learning in educational contexts.  Two of the aforementioned goals as identified by Ames (1992a) have different conceptualizations related to achievement motivation (Ames, 1992a); different learner rationales behind approaches towards tasks and engagements in tasks and activities (Nicholls, Patasnick, Cheung, Thorkildsen, & Lauer, 1989); and different cognitive reflective processes regarding the self, task and actions required to accomplish the task (Butler, 1987, 1988; Rohrkemper & Corno, 1985; Nicholls, 1984; Ames, 1992a).  The two goals central to Ames (1992a) research and focus, which can be directly linked, to goal theory in terms of motivation and learner outcomes are mastery and performance goals.

     Inherent in master-goal directed learners are a core set of learner beliefs, self-directed behaviors, and cognitive processes directed towards the approach, duration, and completion of activities.  Ames (1992a) describes mastery-goal directed learners as having an “attribute belief pattern” which is based on the ideal that “belief and effort” will contribute to success when they persevere and apply themselves.  Students who are mastery-goal directed learners have a different type of motivation as Ames (1992a) attributes the characteristics of this type of learner as being consistent with Brophy’s (1993) idea of individual “motivation to learn.”  They are self-directed learners who direct themselves towards acquiring new skills, trying to understand what they are learning (content and processes), focus on improvement, and desire competence within the area in which they are applying themselves (Ames, 1992a).  The positive affects of this type of motivation within a student are visible in numerous areas that impact positive academic success.  Among the areas which benefit a learner who has mastery-goal directed motivational learning approach are:  increased time on-task (Butler, 1987); persistence (Elliot & Dweck, 1988); enhanced quality of engagement in cognitive learning process and activity (Ames, 1992a); use of self-regulatory and self-monitoring strategies (Ames, 1992a); and strategic thinking skills utilization, development, and enhancement (Covington, 1985).

     Performance-goal motivational oriented learners approach to task is in striking contrast to that of mastery-goal directed learners.  The difference of focus on leaning for self and out-performance of others, which relies heavily upon inadequate learning strategies and processes, perpetuates this motivational style.  Students who are performance-goal oriented tend to think about their ability and self-worth (Covington, 1984; Dweck, 1986; Nichols, 1984b), strive on competition and doing better than others and/or enjoy success with minimum effort (Ames, 1994b; Covington, 1984).

Their view of learning is one of a way to achieve a desired goal as opposed to mastery learners who are self-motivated for learning purposes directed by their own goals for self-mastery and improvement through engagement in the learning process (Ames, 1992a; Brophy, 1983; Meece, Blumefield, & Hoyle,1988; Nicholls, 1989).  Performance-motivated oriented learners do not deal well with failure and this approach to learning has poor affects upon learners, yet unfortunately it tends to be rewarded in schools and society.  Disadvantages of this approach include but are not limited to the following:  performance-goal directed students do not handle failure well (Dweck, 1986; Dweck & Legget, 1988; Elliot & Dweck, 1988); the approach negatively affects self-perception following failure, students attribute failure to themselves (Meece, et. al., 1988; Nolen, 1988; Ryan & Grolnick, 1986); and students use poor learning strategies such as rehearsal and short-term memorization (Meece, et. al., 1988; Nolen, 1988; Ryan & Grolnick, 1986).

     The classroom-learning environment can be designed to facilitate master learning orientation.  Ames (1992a) suggests that changes must be incorporated into not only task structure but also classroom structures and underlying curriculum.  Principles, strategies, and practices must be identified and mapped into the structures and implemented into the curriculum in all aspects of a “day-to-day classroom routine” (Ames, 1992a).  Central to the successful implementation of mastery goals into the structure of the classroom environment is the alignment of this approach with teachers’ own goals (Ames & Ames 1984; Dweck, 1986); finding illustrate that preservice teacher who were given “instructions to orient them towards mastery goals, . . . endorsed a wide range of instructional strategies that were consistent with these with their goal orientation” (Ames et al., 1989; Ames, 1992a).

In designing the classroom structure it must be noted that careful attention must be taken not to place value on extrinsic rewards as traditionally used in reinforcement programs that tend to communicate different values to students when the goal of mastery learning is to teach students to place value on intrinsic motivation (Ames, 1992a).  Lepper and Hodell (1989) reinforce the point that tangible reward communicate to students to complete tasks and activities to earn the reward or recognition for completion of the task.  This is contrary to the goal of mastery orientation.  Furthermore, there is often lack of transfer or generalization from token-economy systems (Lepper & Hoddel, 1989).  Essentially, classroom structures to facilitate goal achievement in students and teacher goals must match in order to be successfully implemented (Ames, 1992a; Dweck, 1986).  The goal of mastery-orientation is to enhance motivation which “enhances children’s valuing of effort and commitment based strategies” (Ames, 1992a) and this is achieved through the design of “mastery-oriented classroom structures” strongly affected by the alignment of teacher beliefs with goals and effective strategies and practices embedded into the curriculum and daily classroom routine to support the mastery-goal orientation.


   Ames, C. (1992a).  Classrooms: Goals, structures and student motivation.  Journal of Educational Psychology. 84, 261 – 272.

   Ames, C. (1992b).  Achievement attributions and self-instructions under competitive and individualistic goal structures. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 478-487.

   Ames, C. (1992c).  Achievement goals and classroom motivational climate.  In J. Meece & D. Schunk (Eds.), Students’ perceptions in the classroom (pp. 327-348).  Hillsdale, NJ:  Erlbaum.

   Ames, C. (1984).  Competitive, cooperative, and individualistic goal structures:  a motivational analysis.  In  R. Ames & C. Ames (Eds.), Research on motivation in education Vol. 1, (pp. 177-207).  Sand Diego, CA:  Academic Press

   Ames, C. & Archer, J. (1987).  Mothers’ beliefs about the role of ability and effort in school learning.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 79, 409-414.

   Brophy, J.E. (1983).  Fostering student learning and motivation in the elementary school classroom.  In S. Paris, G. Olson, & H. Stevenson (Eds.), Learning and motivation in the classroom, (pp. 283-305).  Hillsdale, NJ:  Erlbaum

   Covington, M.V. (1984).  The motive for self-worth.  In R. Ames & C. Ames (Eds.), Research on motivation in education Vol. 1,  (pp. 177-207).  Sand Diego, CA:  Academic Press

   Covington, M.V. (1985).  Strategic thinking and the fear of failure.  In J.W. Segal, S. F. Chipman, & R. Glasser (Eds.), Thinking and learning skills, pp. 389-416, Erlbaum:  Hillsdale, NJ

   Dweck, C.S. (1986).  Motivational processes affecting learning.  American Psychologist, 41, 1040-1048.

   Dweck, C.S., & Leggett, E.L. (1988).  A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality.  Psychological Review, 95, 256-273.

   Elliot, E.S. & Dweck, C.S. (1988).  Goals:  an approach to motivation and achievement.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 5-12.

   Harackiewicz, J.M., Barron, K.E., Pintrich, P.R., Elliot, A.J., & Thrash, T.M.  (2002).  Revision of achievement goal theory:  necessary and illuminating.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 84, 261-272.

   Lepper, M.R. & Hodell, M. (1989).  Intrinsic motivation in the classroom.  In research motivation in education, (pp. 73-105), San Diego, CA: Academic Press

   Patrick, H., Anderman, I., Ryan, A., Edelin, K., & Midgely, C.  (2001).  Teachers communication of goal orientation in four fifth grade classrooms.  Elementary School Journal, 102, 35, 35-58.

   Maehr, M.L. & Nicholls, J.G. (1980).  Culture and achievement motivation:  A second look.  In N. Warren (Ed.), Studies in cross cultural psychology.  Academic Press: San Diego, CA

   Meece, J.L., Blumenfeld, P.C., & Hoyle, R.H. (1988).  Students’ goal orientations and cognitive engagement in classroom activities.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 514-523.

   Nicholls, J.G.  (1984a).  Achievement motivation:  Conceptions of ability, subjective experience, task choice, and performance.  Psychological Review, 91, 328-346.

   Nicholls, J.G. (1984b).  Conceptions of ability achievement motivation.  In R. Ames & C. Ames (Eds.), Research on motivation in education Vol. 1,  (pp. 177-207).   San Diego, CA:

 Academic Press

   Nicholls, J.G. (1989).  The competitive ethos and democratic education.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press

   Nicholls, J.G., Cheung, P.C., Lauer, J., Patashnick, M. (189).  Individual differences in academic motivation:  perceived ability, goals, beliefs, and values.  Learning and Individual Differences,  1, 63-84.

   Nolen, S.B. (1988).  Reasons for studying:  motivational orientations and study strategies.  Cognition and Instruction, 5, 269-287.

Rohrkemper, M.  & Corno, L.  91988)  Success and failure on classroom tasks:  adaptive learning and classroom teaching.  Elementary School Journal, 88, 297-312.

   Ryan, R.M. & Grolnick, W.S. (1986.  Origins and pawns in the classroom:  self-report and projective assessments of individual differences in children’s perceptions.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 550-558.

   Urdan, T. (1997).  Achievement goal theory: Past results, future directions.  In: M. L. Maehr and P. R. Pintrich, Editors, Advances in motivation and achievement, JAI Press: Greenwich pp. 99–141.

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