Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Achievement goal orientation and academic motivation

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Achievement goal orientation and academic motivation:
What is the role of achievement goal orientation in students' academic motivation?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure caption goes here.

Educational researchers have been trying to identify students choice of engaging in particular tasks. They have also been focusing on, why some students work harder or out-perform others, why some students employ deep learning strategies and others use only surface learning strategies and why only some students seek help from their teachers. Students’ motivation is considered to play a vital role in the learning process. From a cognitive viewpoint, motivation is described as a goal directed behavior. Research has suggested that students’ motivation may be understood by the types of goals they adopt, their choice of activities, engagement in tasks, persistence and performance (Kaplan & Maehr, 2007; Mattern, 2005). Academic motivation is defined as a student's attitude, effort, and persistence toward academic tasks when the student’s proficiency is measured against performance standards.[source?] It is based on the general concept of effectance motivation which is referred to as a feeling of achievement or being competent and successful in one’s environment (McGrew, 2008). The theory of achievement goal orientation is an important explanatory model of academic motivation in students. It attempts to explain why and how students engage in learning and are trying to achieve success (Kaplan, & Maehr, 2007; Mattern, 2005). This chapter helps to develop a better understanding of how achievement goal orientation influences students’ academic motivation.

What is achievement goal oriented theory?[edit | edit source]

Achievement goal theory is a prominent social cognitive theory within the motivation literature. Achievement goal theory specifies students’ reasons and purposes for engaging and their continuation in various learning activities (Meece, Anderman & Anderman, 2006). According to this theory, goals are very important as they give meaning and purpose to an activity. Researchers have mainly focused on two primary goal orientations (mastery and performance goals) in understanding students’ achievement motivation and self-regulated learning. Students with mastery and performance-oriented goals evaluate success levels differently, have different intentions or purposes for engaging in achievement-oriented behaviour and have a different concept of self, one’s task and its outcomes (Mattern, 2005).Achievement goal theory identifies the kinds of goals that result in achievement-related behaviours.

Mastery-oriented goals[edit | edit source]

Mastery goal orientation is defined in terms of developing competence and mastering the task. Mastery goals orient students on learning, understanding and accomplishing challenging task, developing abilities and skills over time to achieve mastery over a task (Meece et al., 2006). Task-oriented goals leads to greater intrinsic motivation, which results in higher levels of effort and perseverance when challenged with difficult tasks. Students also have greater levels of persistence and interest and a fulfilling sense of achievement when mastering a task (Kaplan, & Maehr, 2007). By mastering a new skill, students experience self-improvement and satisfaction which is also an important part of motivation for action. Mastery goal is further broken into:

  • Mastery-approach goal orientation: describes students who focus on learning as much as possible to achieve competence.
  • Mastery-avoidance goal orientation: refers to students who focus on avoiding situations that have a negative impact on mastering a task to in order to learn as much as possible (Wolters, 2004).

Students with mastery-oriented goals tend to focus more on gaining an understanding of the topic rather than focusing on the outcome, for example, a student may take the time to work through failed math's problems to ensure that they understand the concept, rather than finishing the problems as fast as they can so they can move onto another task.

Performance-oriented goals[edit | edit source]

Performance goal orientation represents a focus on demonstrating competence or high ability relative to others (Kaplan, & Maehr, 2007). Performance goals orient students to focus on their ability and performance by striving to be better than others and self-evaluating one’s performance and abilities with others (Meece et al., 2006). Central to a performance goal is the public recognition that one has done better and out-performed others in a very superior way. Performance-oriented goals leads to extrinsic motivation, which results in unpleasant tension and demonstrating ability. Performance-oriented goal is further broken down to:

  • Performance-approach goal orientation: defines students who demonstrates competence publicly.
  • Performance-avoidance goal orientation: describes students who avoid situations that show oneself as incompetent relative to others (Wolters, 2004)

Students with performance-oriented goals therefore, focus more on outperforming others (Ames, 1992).

Goal orientation and achievement behaviours[edit | edit source]

A large amount of research has been done on the association between different aspects of achievement goal oriented theory and students’ academic achievement. Evidence suggests that implantation of mastery goals result in effective self-regulated learning among students (Ames,1992). Students’ belief that effort will lead to successful outcomes is central to a mastery goal and this belief pattern preserves the achievement behaviour (Ames, 1992; Kaplan & Maehr, 2007). However, some studies found no relationship between mastery-oriented goals and [what?]performance among younger students (Pintrich, 2000). Studies separating performance approach and performance avoidance goals found that performance approach goal but not the performance avoidance goal to be positively linked to college students’ effort and persistence. Research on students engaged in performance-avoidance goals performed poorly compared to their peers (Wolters, 2004).

Researchers in relation to achievement goal theory of motivation have recognised the influence of classroom and school environments on students’ motivation and learning patterns. Studies have examined how teachers create classroom goal structures by instructions, evaluation and various teaching strategies (Meece et al., 2006). Self-report measures were used in a study to assess the role of goal structures in classroom environment. Students’ perception of mastery goal structures was associated with increased learning strategy use, preference for task challenge and sustained effort. On the other hand, perception of performance goal was linked with ability attribution and less positive attitude toward the class than mastery goal (Ames & Archer,1988). A longitudinal study investigated the relationship between the changes in classroom goal structure and learning pattern of students from 5th grade in primary school to 6th grade in middle school. Students who informed[say what?] increase or no change in the mastery goal structures of their classroom showed higher levels of academic self-efficacy and academic achievement than students with a decreased mastery goal structure (Urdan & Midgley, 2003).

What are goals and how do they affect performance?[edit | edit source]

A goal is referred to as outcomes that an individual strives to accomplish[factual?]. Goals are conceptualized as the motivational concrete of cognition, affect, and behaviour. It helps us to understand the connection between thoughts, feeling and behaviour and how they function as a coordinated system (Reeve, 2009, p211). From a cognitive perspective, studies have shown that achievement goals leads to self-regulatory skills, cognitive and metacognitive learning strategies that help students to plan, learn and achieve their desired goals (Wolters, 2004). Students engaged in mastery goals used cognitive and metacognitive strategies for learning. They also adapted positive outcomes, such as higher level of self-efficacy, self-regulated learning, and positive attitudes and well-being (Wolters, 2004; Ames, 1992). Other investigations have demonstrated that goals are related to affective outcome such as interest, feeling and emotions. Furthermore, an extensive research [Rewrite to improve clarity] has focused on how goal orientations contribute to student’s adaptive and maladaptive attitude towards achievement[factual?]. Performance goal orientation was found to be allied with surface learning, whereas mastery goal was associated with deep learning strategies and help-seeking behaviour (Kaplan, & Maehr, 2007).

Goals are proposed to affect performance and achievement patterns. Given below are four mechanisms by which goals influence performance (Latham & Locke, 2002).

Mechanism Description Example
Direct attention Goals direct people’s attention towards activities that will help in achieving the goal and away from activities that are not relevant to the goals A student, who wishes to get high distinction (HD) in her course, would direct her direction (focus) and effort on studying for long hours
Energise performance Goals have a high energising function which helps in motivating people to expend greater effort in line with difficulties of achieving one’s goal Student who wishes to get HD's would train herself to spend more effort in order to achieve mastery over her subjects
Task persistence Goals allow people to spend more time and persist longer working on tasks to improve the overall performance or achieve one’s goal Student will spend more hours and continue studying to achieve HD's
Effective Strategies In trying to achieve a goal, individual discovers new and improved strategies that will help them achieve better mastery In wanting to get HD’s, student would make use of various learning styles to perform better

Table 1: Goal Mechanisms[factual?]

Goal Setting Theory Conditions[edit | edit source]

Educational researchers have established that goal setting is an important component of student’s motivation, self-regulatory learning and academic achievement. When students set a goal, they may develop a sense of self-efficacy and make a commitment to the goal (Schunk, 1991). The motivational advantages of goal-setting are influenced by its properties such as acceptance, proximity, specificity and difficulty level and feedback (Schunk, D. H, 1991).

Proximal goals[edit | edit source]

Research shows that proximal goal lead to higher motivation than distant goals as students are able to make judgments of how they are progressing towards the proximal goal than towards the distant goal (Schunk, 1991). A study by Bandura and Schunk (1981) found that proximal goal setting increased motivation, self-efficacy and mastery over task better than distant goal.

Goal Difficulty[edit | edit source]

Goal difficulty refers to how hard a goal is to accomplish. Studies support the fact that difficult goals lead to higher levels of effort and performance. More difficult a goal is, the more it energizes people as it leads them to exert more effort than for easy goals (Reeve, 2009). Also better learning strategies may be implemented when tasks are challenging leading to high performance (Schunk, 1991).

Goal specificity[edit | edit source]

Goal specificity refers to the degree to which goals are specified and exactly tells the person what he or she is to do (Reeve, 2009). When a performer is given a vague goal such as ‘do you best’ makes poor referent standards and harder to measure once own performance. Vague goals are ambiguous in evaluating progress and often produce little effect on motivation (Klein, Whitener, & Ilgen, 1990). Goal specificity is therefore considered important as it reduces ambiguity and draws one’s attention to precise actions and behaviours leading to goal achievement (Reeve, 2009). In one study, students working on eye-hand coordination showed that goal specificity reduced the discrepancy between that of goal and performance. However some other studies have showed that goal that are not specifically defined leads to higher learning outcomes than specifically defined goals. Nonspecific goals seemed to reduce the cognitive load of the students and increased their learning outcomes by expending less effort (Wirth, Künsting, & Leutner, 2009).

Feedback: how do students know if they are making progress toward their goals?[edit | edit source]

Goals that are difficult, specific and close at hand increases performance as motivation is higher. It energises people, leads to expend effort and increased persistence. Form a motivational perspective, feedback is reflected as an incentive for successful completion of tasks, goal attainment, and self-regulatory learning process and learning efforts (Hoska, 1993). Feedback is another important condition of goal setting that is necessary in invoking motivation and letting people know their progress towards the goal. Goal setting leads to increased performance when timely feedback is provided. It allows the performer know how far they have reached in achieving their goal and in addition, also provides information on how much more one needs to work in future to accomplish their goal.Feedback and knowledge is considered to have learning effects on performance and allows in keeping track of any progress towards the desired goal. (Locke, Shaw, Saari & Latham, 1981). When a given feedback shows that one is performing above the goal level, they may feel satisfied and competent to achieve an even difficult goal. On the other hand when the feedback shows that they are performing below the goal level, then the person feels dissatisfied and may increase their effort to achieve their goal (Reeve, 2009). For example a student receiving poor feedback about his marks may change his study habits or spend more time studying to achieve a desired outcome. Therefore feedback is useful in academic settings, as it influences students’ motivation and their future effort which in turn will help them to achieve best learning outcomes. Although feedback is considered to have a strong influence on learning and achievement behaviour, students’ response to feedback varies. A meta-analysis on the effect of feedback among school students showed various influence on student achievement (Hattie, & Timperley, 2007).

Interested in learning more about feedback and its role in motivating people to learn? Feedback for learning motivation.

Goal acceptance/ Goal Commitment[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Accepting and committing to the goal is very important in the goal setting process to accomplish the task

Goal acceptance is important for goals to be effective in invoking motivation. Goal acceptance is a person’s decision on either to accept or reject the goal. A person accepts a goal based on the perceived difficulty. [source?] Goals that are easy to accomplish are generally accepted whereas difficult goals are rejected. Another factor that affects goal acceptance is participation. Participation refers to the extent which the performer has in the goal or is to pursue the goal. Generally a goal that is not self-set but forcefully imposed by others, is rejected (Reeve, 2009, p217). Goal commitment is the process by which a person is determined and set to achieve the accepted goal. For example a student who wishes to score high, will commit herself to spend more time studying in order to get high marks. Research shows that when students make a greater commitment, they engage in tasks such as persistent determination, and expend a lot of time and effort in trying to attain their goal (Pajares & Urdan, 2002; Klein, Wesson, Hollenbeck, & Alge, 1999).

Self-efficacy – a predictor of Academic motivation and learning[edit | edit source]

Self–efficacy is defined as one’s judgment of his or her capabilities to perform particular tasks. In simple words, self-efficacy is what a person believes she can accomplish using her skills in a given situation (Zimmerman, 2000). Academic motivation is often addressed in connection with self-efficacy. Research shows that self-efficacy has become an exceedingly efficacious predictor of student’s motivation and learning (Zimmerman, 2000). Students having high self-efficacy participate relatively more than others, put forth more effort and persist longer when faced with difficulties (Schunk, 1991). Self-efficacious students are ready to take on or involve in challenging task than do in-efficacious students. In one study, students’ self-efficacy of subtraction problems made them to participate in mathematical tasks. Students with higher self-efficacy showed greater involvement in arithmetic activity (Bandura and Schunk 1981).

Researches[spelling?] have shown how self-efficacy operates in academic setting. In the initial stage, students engage in an activity with different belief in one’s [grammar?] own capabilities to mastery or accomplish a task. Self-efficacy at the start varies by skills, attitudes and previous experience. Goal setting properties and process then influences students learning. It helps them in understanding how well they are progressing toward their goal and also how much more effort they have to put to achieve their goal. Motivation is boosted when students see they are making progress to their goal. Consecutively students work towards their goal, become competent and develop a sense of self-efficacy for performing well (Schunk, 1991).

What[spelling?] to know more about self-efficacy and how it can enhance motivation? Take a look at the book chapter Self-efficacy and Motivation.

Self-regulated learning and academic motivation[edit | edit source]

Researchers have recently identified the role of self- regulation in students’ academic motivation. Self –regulated learning is referred to the use of cognitive and metacognitive strategies (such as recalling information, problem solving, planning and monitoring) by students to influence and regulate their learning (Pintrich, 1999).Students who actively participate in self-regulatory learning set mastery oriented goals rather than performance goals to gain mastery over the task. They approach academic tasks with assurance, determination, and persist in learning. They are often attentive of their strategies and learning process, and seek help from others to optimise their learning. When tackled with difficulties or challenges, these students discover ways to get to be successful and take greater responsibilities for achieving outcomes. Self-regulated learners are found to initiate activities themselves such as self-observation, self-judgement and self-improvement leading them in various learning strategies such as training sessions etc. Their high levels of motivation will hep them to continue in a particular task and set higher goals for themselves (Schunk, 1990; Zimmerman,1990). Thus, self-regulated strategies are beneficial as students develop goals and skills that will help improve their academic performance and achievement behaviour.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

This chapter has demonstrated a number of theories in line with achievement goal orientation and its role on academic motivation. We can see from this chapter the prominence of goal orientations in academic settings. Goal orientation theory helps us understand the reasons and purpose of students’ engagement in a particular task and their achievement motivation. Two main orientations namely, mastery and performance goal orientations explain students’ engagement in academic activities. Self-efficacy and self-regulation are important predictors of academic motivation and learning. Hopefully, this chapter has helped you to develop an understanding on achievement goal orientations and motivation, particularly how important and productive goal orientations can be in our day-to-day life. The take home message from this chapter is that goal orientation focuses mainly on accomplishing the end result. People with goal orientation may have higher levels of motivation and often often move forward in attaining their goal. Goal oriented people often engage in a task with greater confidence and direct their paths to their goal. Therefore goals orientations are important as it influences our behaviour and performance.

Test yourself[edit | edit source]

Quiz[edit | edit source]


1 Which of the following goal orientation describe students who focus on increasing their competence levels?

Mastery-avoidance goal orientation
Mastery-approach goal orientation

2 Self-efficacy is One’s belief that they are able to perform or achieve a task?


3 Which of the following goal mechanism/s affect performance?

Goals direct attention toward goal-related behaviours.
Goals function as energiser
Goals lead to task persistence.
Goals activate new learning strategies.
All of the above

4 Is performance goal defined in terms of developing competence and mastering the task?


See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Ames, C., & Archer, J. (1988). Achievement goals in the classroom: Students' learning strategies and motivation processes. Journal of educational psychology, 80(3), 260. Doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.80.3.260

Ames, C. (1992). Classrooms: Goals, structures, and student motivation.Journal of educational psychology, 84(3), 261. Doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.84.3.261

Bandura, A., & Schunk, D. H. (1981). Cultivating competence, self-efficacy, and intrinsic interest through proximal self-motivation. Journal of personality and social psychology, 41(3), 586. Doi:10.1037/0022-3514.41.3.586

Hoska, D. M. (1993). Motivating learners through CBI feedback: Developing a positive learner perspective. Interactive instruction and feedback, 105-132.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of educational research, 77(1), 81-112. DOI: 10.3102/003465430298487

Kaplan, A., & Maehr, M. L. (2007). The contributions and prospects of goal orientation theory. Educational Psychology Review, 19(2), 141-184.

Klein, H. J., Wesson, M. J., Hollenbeck, J. R., & Alge, B. J. (1999). Goal commitment and the goal-setting process: conceptual clarification and empirical synthesis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(6), 885. DOI:10.1037/0021-9010.84.6.885

Latham, G., & Locke, E. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705-717. Doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.57.9.705

Locke, E. A., Shaw, K. N., Saari, L. M., & Latham, G. P. (1981). Goal setting and task performance: 1969–1980. Psychological bulletin, 90(1), 125.

Mattern, R. A. (2005). College students’ goal orientations and achievement.International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 17(1), 27-32. Retrieved from

McGrew, K. (2008). Beyond IQ: A model of academic competence & motivation (MACM). Retrieved March, 12, 2011. Retreived from

Meece, J. L., Anderman, E. M., & Anderman, L. H. (2006). Classroom goal structure, student motivation, and academic achievement. Annu. Rev. Psychol.,57, 487-503. DOI:10.1146/annurev.psych.56.091103.070258

Pajares, F., & Urdan, T. C. (Eds.). (2002). Academic motivation of adolescents(Vol. 2). IAP

Pintrich, P. R. (1999). The role of motivation in promoting and sustaining self-regulated learning. International journal of educational research, 31(6), 459-470. DOI: 10.1016/S0883-0355(99)00015-4

Reeve, J. (2009) Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.) USA: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Schunk, D. H. (1991). Self-efficacy and academic motivation. Educational psychologist, 26(3-4), 207-231. DOI: 10.1080/00461520.1991.9653133

Schunk, D. H. (1990). Goal setting and self-efficacy during self-regulated learning. Educational psychologist, 25(1), 71-86. DOI: 10.1207/s15326985ep2501_6

Urdan, T., & Midgley, C. (2003). Changes in the perceived classroom goal structure and pattern of adaptive learning during early adolescence.Contemporary Educational Psychology, 28(4),524-551. doi:10.1016/S0361-476X(02)00060-7

Wirth, J., Künsting, J., & Leutner, D. (2009). The impact of goal specificity and goal type on learning outcome and cognitive load. Computers in Human Behavior, 25(2), 299-305. DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2008.12.004

Wolters, C. A. (2004). Advancing Achievement Goal Theory: Using Goal Structures and Goal Orientations to Predict Students' Motivation, Cognition, and Achievement. Journal of educational psychology, 96(2), 236. DOI: 10.1037/0022-0663.96.2.236

Zimmerman, B. J. (1990). Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: An overview. Educational psychologist, 25(1), 3-17. Retrieved from

External links[edit | edit source]

Goal setting, Achievement Orientation and Intrinsic Motivation: A Mediatonal Analysis