Thinking About Goals and Motivation

Learning scientists identify several types of goals. Students whose goals are based on mastering the curriculum, being able to use it independently are intrinsically motivated; they are likely to develop deeper learning. If learners are not motivated by mastery, their goals are based in performance which indicates extrinsic motivation.

Motivation is also affected by the purposes one defines (consciously or unconsciously) for learning. The research defines mastery goals (focused on developing expertise), performance goals (both approaching and avoiding), and normative goals (performance compared to others). In addition to seeking multiple goals at one time, learners can be motivated by goals they define for themselves and goals that arise from teachers’ expectations.

Perhaps the most important goals for many students are those related to future identity. Consider the community college student who enrolls in a program that will require two years of study. The learner may be motivated by his or her goals related to who he or she will be once the program is completed. Interest is grounded in curiosity and interested students will engage with course materials, faculty, and other students regardless of their motivation. An interesting curriculum can effectively take motivation out of the equation when predicting student learning. Curiosity of a foundation of all learning. When they find a question that piques their interest and they are genuinely interested in finding the answer, they become focused in a manner that cannot be replicated with external motivational tools.