National Academies Press: OpenBook

How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures (2018)

Chapter: 6 motivation to learn, 6 motivation to learn.

Motivation is a condition that activates and sustains behavior toward a goal. It is critical to learning and achievement across the life span in both informal settings and formal learning environments. For example, children who are motivated tend to be engaged, persist longer, have better learning outcomes, and perform better than other children on standardized achievement tests ( Pintrich, 2003 ). Motivation is distinguishable from general cognitive functioning and helps to explain gains in achievement independent of scores on intelligence tests ( Murayama et al., 2013 ). It is also distinguishable from states related to it, such as engagement, interest, goal orientation, grit, and tenacity, all of which have different antecedents and different implications for learning and achievement ( Järvelä and Renninger, 2014 ).

HPL I 1 emphasized some key findings from decades of research on motivation to learn:

  • People are motivated to develop competence and solve problems by rewards and punishments but often have intrinsic reasons for learning that may be more powerful.
  • Learners tend to persist in learning when they face a manageable challenge (neither too easy nor too frustrating) and when they see the value and utility of what they are learning.
  • Children and adults who focus mainly on their own performance (such as on gaining recognition or avoiding negative judgments) are


1 As noted in Chapter 1 , this report uses the abbreviation “ HPL I ” for How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition ( National Research Council, 2000 ).

less likely to seek challenges and persist than those who focus on learning itself.

  • Learners who focus on learning rather than performance or who have intrinsic motivation to learn tend to set goals for themselves and regard increasing their competence to be a goal.
  • Teachers can be effective in encouraging students to focus on learning instead of performance, helping them to develop a learning orientation.

In this chapter, we provide updates and additional elaboration on research in this area. We begin by describing some of the primary theoretical perspectives that have shaped this research, but our focus is on four primary influences on people’s motivation to learn. We explore research on people’s own beliefs and values, intrinsic motivation, the role of learning goals, and social and cultural factors that affect motivation to learn. We then examine research on interventions and approaches to instructional design that may influence motivation to learn, and we close with our conclusions about the implications of this research.

The research we discuss includes both laboratory and field research from multiple disciplines, such as developmental psychology, social psychology, education, and cognitive psychology.


Research on motivation has been strongly driven by theories that overlap and contain similar concepts. A comprehensive review of this literature is beyond the scope of this report, but we highlight a few key points. Behavior-based theories of learning , which conceptualized motivation in terms of habits, drives, incentives, and reinforcement schedules, were popular through the mid-20th century. In these approaches, learners were assumed to be passive in the learning process and research focused mainly on individual differences between people (e.g., cognitive abilities, drive for achievement). These differences were presumed to be fixed and to dictate learners’ responses to features in the learning environment (method of instruction, incentives, and so on) and their motivation and performance.

Current researchers regard many of these factors as important but have also come to focus on learners as active participants in learning and to pay greater attention to how learners make sense of and choose to engage with their learning environments. Cognitive theories, for example, have focused on how learners set goals for learning and achievement and how they maintain and monitor their progress toward those goals. They also consider how physical aspects of the learning environment, such as classroom structures ( Ames, 1986 ) and social interactions (e.g., Gehlbach et al., 2016 ), affect learning through their impacts on students’ goals, beliefs, affect, and actions.

Motivation is also increasingly viewed as an emergent phenomenon , meaning it can develop over time and change as a result of one’s experiences with learning and other circumstances. Research suggests, for example, that aspects of the learning environment can both trigger and sustain a student’s curiosity and interest in ways that support motivation and learning ( Hidi and Renninger, 2006 ).

A key factor in motivation is an individual’s mindset : the set of assumptions, values, and beliefs about oneself and the world that influence how one perceives, interprets, and acts upon one’s environment ( Dweck, 1999 ). For example, a person’s view as to whether intelligence is fixed or malleable is likely to link to his views of the malleability of his own abilities ( Hong and Lin-Siegler, 2012 ). As we discuss below, learners who have a fixed view of intelligence tend to set demonstrating competence as a learning goal, whereas learners who have an incremental theory of intelligence tend to set mastery as a goal and to place greater value on effort. Mindsets develop over time as a function of learning experiences and cultural influences. Research related to mindsets has focused on patterns in how learners construe goals and make choices about how to direct attention and effort. Some evidence suggests that it is possible to change students’ self-attributions so that they adopt a growth mindset, which in turn improves their academic performance ( Blackwell et al., 2007 ).

Researchers have also tried to integrate the many concepts that have been introduced to explain this complex aspect of learning in order to formulate a more comprehensive understanding of motivational processes and their effects on learning. For example, researchers who study psychological aspects of motivation take a motivational systems perspective , viewing motivation as a set of psychological mechanisms and processes, such as those related to setting goals, engagement in learning, and use of self-regulatory strategies ( Kanfer, 2015 ; Linnenbrink-Garcia and Patall, 2016 ; Yeager and Walton, 2011 ).


Learners’ ideas about their own competence, their values, and the preexisting interests they bring to a particular learning situation all influence motivation.


When learners expect to succeed, they are more likely to put forth the effort and persistence needed to perform well. Self-efficacy theory ( Bandura, 1977 ), which is incorporated into several models of motivation and learning, posits that the perceptions learners have about their competency or capabilities are critical to accomplishing a task or attaining other goals ( Bandura, 1977 ).

According to self-efficacy theory, learning develops from multiple sources, including perceptions of one’s past performance, vicarious experiences, performance feedback, affective/physiological states, and social influences. Research on how to improve self-efficacy for learning has shown the benefits of several strategies for strengthening students’ sense of their competence for learning, including setting appropriate goals and breaking down difficult goals into subgoals ( Bandura and Schunk, 1981 ) and providing students with information about their progress, which allows them to attribute success to their own effort ( Schunk and Cox, 1986 ). A sense of competence may also foster interest and motivation, particularly when students are given the opportunity to make choices about their learning activities ( Patall et al., 2014 ).

Another important aspect of self-attribution involves beliefs about whether one belongs in a particular learning situation. People who come from backgrounds where college attendance is not the norm may question whether they belong in college despite having been admitted. Students may misinterpret short-term failure as reflecting that they do not belong, when in fact short-term failure is common among all college students. These students experience a form of stereotype threat, where prevailing cultural stereotypes about their position in the world cause them to doubt themselves and perform more poorly ( Steele and Aronson, 1995 ).

A recent study examined interventions designed to boost the sense of belonging among African American college freshmen ( Walton and Cohen, 2011 ). The researchers compared students who did and did not encounter survey results ostensibly collected from more senior college students, which indicated that most senior students had worried about whether they belonged during their first year of college but had become more confident over time. The students who completed the activity made significant academic gains, and the researchers concluded that even brief interventions can help people overcome the bias of prior knowledge by challenging that knowledge and supporting a new perspective.

Another approach to overcoming the bias of knowledge is to use strategies that can prevent some of the undesirable consequences of holding negative perspectives. One such strategy is to support learners in trying out multiple ideas before settling on the final idea. In one study, for example, researchers asked college students either to design a Web page advertisement for an online journal and then refine it several times or to create several separate ones ( Dow et al., 2010 ). The researchers posted the advertisements and assessed their effectiveness both by counting how many clicks each generated and by asking experts in Web graphics to rate them. The authors found that the designs developed separately were more effective and concluded that when students refined their initial designs, they were trapped by their initial decisions. The students who developed separate advertisements explored the possibilities more thoroughly and had more ideas to choose from.

Learners may not engage in a task or persist with learning long enough to achieve their goals unless they value the learning activities and goals. Expectancy-value theories have drawn attention to how learners choose goals depending on their beliefs about both their ability to accomplish a task and the value of that task. The concept of value encompasses learners’ judgments about (1) whether a topic or task is useful for achieving learning or life goals, (2) the importance of a topic or task to the learner’s identity or sense of self, (3) whether a task is enjoyable or interesting, and (4) whether a task is worth pursuing ( Eccles et al., 1983 ; Wigfield and Eccles, 2000 ).

Research with learners of various ages supports the idea that those who expect to succeed at a task exert more effort and have higher levels of performance ( Eccles and Wigfield, 2002 ). However, some studies have suggested that task valuation seems to be the strongest predictor of behaviors associated with motivation, such as choosing topics and making decisions about participation in training ( Linnenbrink-Garcia et al., 2008 ). Such research illustrates one of the keys to expectancy-value theory: the idea that expectancy and value dimensions work together. For example, a less-than-skilled reader may nevertheless approach a difficult reading task with strong motivation to persist in the task if it is interesting, useful, or important to the reader’s identity ( National Research Council, 2012c ). As learners experience success at a task or in a domain of learning, such as reading or math, the value they attribute to those activities can increase over time ( Eccles and Wigfield, 2002 ).

Learners’ interest is an important consideration for educators because they can accommodate those interests as they design curricula and select learning resources. Interest is also important in adult learning in part because students and trainees with little interest in a topic may show higher rates of absenteeism and lower levels of performance ( Ackerman et al., 2001 ).

Two forms of learner interest have been identified. Individual or personal interest is viewed as a relatively stable attribute of the individual. It is characterized by a learner’s enduring connection to a domain and willingness to re-engage in learning in that domain over time ( Schiefele, 2009 ). In contrast, situational interest refers to a psychological state that arises spontaneously in response to specific features of the task or learning environment ( Hidi and Renninger, 2006 ). Situational interest is malleable, can affect student engagement and learning, and is influenced by the tasks and materials educators use or encourage ( Hunsu et al., 2017 ). Practices that engage students and influence their attitudes may increase their personal interest and intrinsic motivation over time ( Guthrie et al., 2006 ).

Sometimes the spark of motivation begins with a meaningful alignment of student interest with an assignment or other learning opportunity. At other times, features of the learning environment energize a state of wanting to know more, which activates motivational processes. In both cases, it is a change in mindset and goal construction brought about by interest that explains improved learning outcomes ( Barron, 2006 ; Bricker and Bell, 2014 ; Goldman and Booker, 2009 ). For instance, when learner interest is low, students may be less engaged and more likely to attend to the learning goals that require minimal attention and effort.

Many studies of how interest affects learning have included measures of reading comprehension and text recall. This approach has allowed researchers to assess the separate effects of topic interest and interest in a specific text on how readers interact with text, by measuring the amount of time learners spend reading and what they learn from it. Findings from studies of this sort suggest that educators can foster students’ interest by selecting resources that promote interest, by providing feedback that supports attention ( Renninger and Hidi, 2002 ), by demonstrating their own interest in a topic, and by generating positive affect in learning contexts (see review by Hidi and Renninger, 2006 ).

This line of research has also suggested particular characteristics of texts that are associated with learner interest. For example, in one study of college students, five characteristics of informational texts were associated with both interest and better recall: (1) the information was important, new, and valued; (2) the information was unexpected; (3) the text supported readers in making connections with prior knowledge or experience; (4) the text contained imagery and descriptive language; and (5) the author attempted to relate information to readers’ background knowledge using, for example, comparisons and analogies ( Wade et al., 1999 ). The texts that students viewed as less interesting interfered with comprehension in that they, for example, offered incomplete or shallow explanations, contained difficult vocabulary, or lacked coherence.

A number of studies suggest that situational interest can be a strong predictor of engagement, positive attitudes, and performance, including a study of students’ essay writing ( Flowerday et al., 2004 ) and other research (e.g., Alexander and Jetton, 1996 ; Schraw and Lehman, 2001 ). These studies suggest the power of situational interest for engaging students in learning, which has implications for the design of project-based or problem-based learning. For example, Hoffman and Haussler (1998) found that high school girls displayed significantly more interest in the physics related to the working of a pump when the mechanism was put into a real-world context: the use of a pump in heart surgery.

The perception of having a choice may also influence situational interest and engagement, as suggested by a study that examined the effects of classroom practices on adolescents enrolled in a summer school science course

( Linnenbrink-Garcia et al., 2013 ). The positive effect learners experience as part of interest also appears to play a role in their persistence and ultimately their performance (see, e.g., Ainley et al., 2002 ).

Intrinsic Motivation

Self-determination theory posits that behavior is strongly influenced by three universal, innate, psychological needs—autonomy (the urge to control one’s own life), competence (the urge to experience mastery), and psychological relatedness (the urge to interact with, be connected to, and care for others). Researchers have linked this theory to people’s intrinsic motivation to learn ( Deci and Ryan, 1985 , 2000 ; Ryan and Deci, 2000 ). Intrinsic motivation is the experience of wanting to engage in an activity for its own sake because the activity is interesting and enjoyable or helps to achieve goals one has chosen. From the perspective of self-determination theory ( Deci and Ryan, 1985 , 2000 ; Ryan and Deci, 2000 ), learners are intrinsically motivated to learn when they perceive that they have a high degree of autonomy and engage in an activity willingly, rather than because they are being externally controlled. Learners who are intrinsically motivated also perceive that the challenges of a problem or task are within their abilities.

External Rewards

The effect of external rewards on intrinsic motivation is a topic of much debate. External rewards can be an important tool for motivating learning behaviors, but some argue that such rewards are harmful to intrinsic motivation in ways that affect persistence and achievement.

For example, some research suggests that intrinsic motivation to persist at a task may decrease if a learner receives extrinsic rewards contingent on performance. The idea that extrinsic rewards harm intrinsic motivation has been supported in a meta-analysis of 128 experiments ( Deci et al., 1999 , 2001 ). One reason proposed for such findings is that learners’ initial interest in the task and desire for success are replaced by their desire for the extrinsic reward ( Deci and Ryan, 1985 ). External rewards, it is argued, may also undermine the learner’s perceptions of autonomy and control.

Other research points to potential benefits. A recent field study, for example, suggests that incentives do not always lead to reduced engagement after the incentive ends ( Goswami and Urminsky, 2017 ). Moreover, in some circumstances external rewards such as praise or prizes can help to encourage engagement and persistence, and they may not harm intrinsic motivation over the long term, provided that the extrinsic reward does not undermine the individual’s sense of autonomy and control over her behavior (see National Research Council, 2012c , pp. 143–145; also see Cerasoli et al.,

2016 ; Vansteenkiste et al., 2009 ). Thus, teaching strategies that use rewards to capture and stimulate interest in a topic (rather than to drive compliance), that provide the student with encouragement (rather than reprimands), and that are perceived to guide student progress (rather than just monitor student progress) can foster feelings of autonomy, competence, and academic achievement (e.g., Vansteenkist et al., 2004 ). Praise is important, but what is praised makes a difference (see Box 6-1 ).

Other work ( Cameron et al., 2005 ) suggests that when rewards are inherent in the achievement itself—that is, when rewards for successful completion of a task include real privileges, pride, or respect—they can spur intrinsic motivation. This may be the case, for example, with videogames in which individuals are highly motivated to play well in order to move to the next higher level. This may also be the case when learners feel valued and respected for their demonstrations of expertise, as when a teacher asks a student who correctly completed a challenging homework math problem to explain his solution to the class. Extrinsic rewards support engagement sufficient for learning, as shown in one study in which rewards were associated with enhanced memory consolidation but only when students perceived the material to be boring ( Murayama and Kuhbandner, 2011 ). Given the prevalence

BOX 6-1 What You Praise Makes a Difference

of different performance-based incentives in classrooms (e.g., grades, prizes), a better, more integrated understanding is needed of how external rewards may harm or benefit learners’ motivation in ways that matter to achievement and performance in a range of real-world conditions across the life span.

Effects of Choice

When learners believe they have control over their learning environment, they are more likely to take on challenges and persist with difficult tasks, compared with those who perceive that they have little control ( National Research Council, 2012c ). Evidence suggests that the opportunity to make meaningful choices during instruction, even if they are small, can support autonomy, motivation, and ultimately, learning and achievement ( Moller et al., 2006 ; Patall et al., 2008 , 2010 ). 2

Choice may be particularly effective for individuals with high initial interest in the domain, and it may also generate increased interest ( Patall, 2013 ). One possible reason why exercising choice seems to increase motivation is that the act of making a choice induces cognitive dissonance: a feeling of being uncomfortable and unsure about one’s decision. To reduce this feeling, individuals tend to change their preferences to especially value and become interested in the thing they chose ( Izuma et al., 2010 ). Knowing that one has made a choice (“owning the choice”) can protect against the discouraging effects of negative feedback during the learning process, an effect that has been observed at the neurophysiological level ( Murayama et al., 2015 ). The perception of choice also may affect learning by fostering situational interest and engagement ( Linnenbrink-Garcia et al., 2013 ).


Goals—the learner’s desired outcomes—are important for learning because they guide decisions about whether to expend effort and how to direct attention, foster planning, influence responses to failure, and promote other behaviors important for learning ( Albaili, 1998 ; Dweck and Elliot, 1983 ; Hastings and West, 2011 ).

Learners may not always be conscious of their goals or of the motivation processes that relate to their goals. For example, activities that learners perceive as enjoyable or interesting can foster engagement without the learner’s

2 The 2008 study was a meta-analysis, so the study populations are not described. The 2010 study included a total of 207 (54% female) high school students from ninth through twelfth grade. A majority (55.5%) of the students in these classes were Caucasian, 28 percent were African American, 7 percent were Asian, 3 percent were Hispanic, 1.5 percent were Native American, and 5 percent were of other ethnicities.

conscious awareness. Similarly, activities that learners perceive as threatening to their sense of competence or self-esteem (e.g., conditions that invoke stereotype threat, discussed below 3 ) may reduce learners’ motivation and performance even (and sometimes especially) when they intend to perform well.

HPL I made the point that having clear and specific goals that are challenging but manageable has a positive effect on performance, and researchers have proposed explanations. Some have focused on goals as motives or reasons to learn ( Ames and Ames, 1984 ; Dweck and Elliott, 1983 ; Locke et al., 1981 ; Maehr, 1984 ; Nicholls, 1984 ). Others have noted that different types of goals, such as mastery and performance goals, have different effects on the cognitive, affective, and behavioral processes that underlie learning as well as on learners’ outcomes ( Ames and Archer, 1988 ; Covington, 2000 ; Dweck, 1986 ). Research has also linked learners’ beliefs about learning and achievement, or mindsets, with students’ pursuit of specific types of learning goals ( Maehr and Zusho, 2009 ). The next section examines types of goals and research on their influence.

Types of Goals

Researchers distinguish between two main types of goals: mastery goals , in which learners focus on increasing competence or understanding, and performance goals , in which learners are driven by a desire to appear competent or outperform others (see Table 6-1 ). They further distinguish between performance-approach and performance-avoidance goals ( Senko et al., 2011 ). Learners who embrace performance-avoidance goals work to avoid looking incompetent or being embarrassed or judged as a failure, whereas those who adopt performance-approach goals seek to appear more competent than others and to be judged socially in a favorable light. Within the category of performance-approach goals, researchers have identified both self-presentation goals (“wanting others to think you are smart”) and normative goals (“wanting to outperform others”) ( Hulleman et al., 2010 ).

Learners may simultaneously pursue multiple goals ( Harackiewicz et al., 2002 ; Hulleman et al., 2008 ) and, depending on the subject area or skill domain, may adopt different achievement goals ( Anderman and Midgley, 1997 ). Although students’ achievement goals are relatively stable across the school years, they are sensitive to changes in the learning environment, such as moving from one classroom to another or changing schools ( Friedel et al., 2007 ). Learning environments differ in the learning expectations, rules, and

3 When an individual encounters negative stereotypes about his social identity group in the context of a cognitive task, he may underperform on that task; this outcome is attributed to stereotype threat ( Steele, 1997 ).

TABLE 6-1 Mindsets, Goals, and Their Implications for Learning

structure that apply, and as a result, students may shift their goal orientation to succeed in the new context ( Anderman and Midgley, 1997 ).

Dweck (1986) argued that achievement goals reflect learners’ underlying theories of the nature of intelligence or ability: whether it is fixed (something with which one is born) or malleable. Learners who believe intelligence is malleable, she suggested, are predisposed toward adopting mastery goals, whereas learners who believe intelligence is fixed tend to orient toward displaying competence and adopting performance goals ( Burns and Isbell, 2007 ; Dweck, 1986 ; Dweck and Master, 2009 ; Mangels et al., 2006 ). Table 6-1 shows how learners’ mindsets can relate to their learning goals and behaviors.

Research in this area suggests that learners who strongly endorse mastery goals tend to enjoy novel and challenging tasks ( Pintrich, 2000 ; Shim et al., 2008 ; Witkow and Fuligni, 2007 ; Wolters, 2004 ), demonstrate a greater willingness to expend effort, and engage higher-order cognitive skills during learning ( Ames, 1992 ; Dweck and Leggett, 1988 ; Kahraman and Sungur, 2011 ; Middleton and Midgley, 1997 ). Mastery students are also persistent—even in the face of failure—and frequently use failure as an opportunity to seek feedback and improve subsequent performance ( Dweck and Leggett, 1988 ).

Learners’ mastery and performance goals may also influence learning and achievement through indirect effects on cognition. Specifically, learners with mastery goals tend to focus on relating new information to existing knowledge as they learn, which supports deep learning and long-term memory for the

information. By contrast, learners with performance goals tend to focus on learning individual bits of information separately, which improves speed of learning and immediate recall but may undermine conceptual learning and long-term recall. In this way, performance goals tend to support better immediate retrieval of information, while mastery goals tend to support better long-term retention ( Crouzevialle and Butera, 2013 ). Performance goals may in fact undermine conceptual learning and long-term recall. When learners with mastery goals work to recall a previously learned piece of information, they also activate and strengthen memory for the other, related information they learned. When learners with performance goals try to recall what they learned, they do not get the benefit of this retrieval-induced strengthening of their memory for other information ( Ikeda et al., 2015 ).

Two studies with undergraduate students illustrate this point. Study participants who adopted performance goals were found to be concerned with communicating competence, prioritizing areas of high ability, and avoiding challenging tasks or areas in which they perceived themselves to be weaker than others ( Darnon et al., 2007 ; Elliot and Murayama, 2008 ). These students perceived failure as a reflection of their inability and typically responded to failure with frustration, shame, and anxiety. These kinds of performance-avoidance goals have been associated with maladaptive learning behaviors including task avoidance ( Middleton and Midgley, 1997 ; sixth-grade students), reduced effort ( Elliot, 1999 ), and self-handicapping ( Covington, 2000 ; Midgley et al., 1996 ).

The adoption of a mastery goal orientation to learning is likely to be beneficial for learning, while pursuit of performance goals is associated with poor learning-related outcomes. However, research regarding the impact of performance goals on academic outcomes has yielded mixed findings ( Elliot and McGregor, 2001 ; Midgley et al., 2001 ). Some researchers have found positive outcomes when learners have endorsed normative goals (a type of performance goal) ( Covington, 2000 ; Linnenbrink, 2005 ). Others have found that achievement goals do not have a direct effect on academic achievement but operate instead through the intermediary learning behaviors described above and through self-efficacy ( Hulleman et al., 2010 ).

Influence of Teachers on Learners’ Goals

Classrooms can be structured to make particular goals more or less salient and can shift or reinforce learners’ goal orientations ( Maehr and Midgley, 1996 ). Learners’ goals may reflect the classroom’s goal structure or the values teachers communicate about learning through their teaching practices (e.g., how the chairs are set up or whether the teacher uses cooperative learning groups) (see Kaplan and Midgley, 1999 ; Urdan et al., 1998 ). When learners perceive mastery goals are valued in the classsroom, they are more likely

TABLE 6-2 Achievement Goals and Classroom Climate

SOURCE: Adapted from Ames and Archer (1988 , Tbl. 1, p. 261).

to use information-processing strategies, self-planning, and self-monitoring strategies ( Ames and Archer, 1988 ; Schraw et al., 1995 ). A mastery-oriented structure in the classroom is positively correlated with high academic competency and negatively related to disruptive behaviors. Further, congruence in learners’ perceptions of their own and their school’s mastery orientation is associated with positive academic achievement and school well-being ( Kaplan and Maehr, 1999 ).

Teachers can influence the goals learners adopt during learning, and learners’ perceptions of classroom goal structures are better predictors of learners’ goal orientations than are their perceptions of their parents’ goals. Perceived classroom goals are also strongly linked to learners’ academic efficacy in the transition to middle school. Hence, classroom goal structures are a particularly important target for intervention ( Friedel et al., 2007 ; Kim et al., 2010 ). Table 6-2 summarizes a longstanding view of how the prevailing classroom goal structure—oriented toward either mastery goals or performance goals—affects the classroom climate for learning. However, more experimental research is needed to determine whether interventions designed to influence such mindsets benefit learners.

Learning Goals and Other Goals

Academic goals are shaped not only by the immediate learning context but also by the learners’ goals and challenges, which develop and change

throughout the life course. Enhancing a person’s learning and achievement requires an understanding of what the person is trying to achieve: what goals the individual seeks to accomplish and why. However, it is not always easy to determine what goals an individual is trying to achieve because learners have multiple goals and their goals may shift in response to events and experiences. For example, children may adopt an academic goal as a means of pleasing parents or because they enjoy learning about a topic, or both. Teachers may participate in an online statistics course in order to satisfy job requirements for continuing education or because they view mastery of the topic as relevant to their identity as a teacher, or both.

At any given time, an individual holds multiple goals related to achievement, belongingness, identity, autonomy, and sense of competence that are deeply personal, cultural, and subjective. Which of these goals becomes salient in directing behavior at what times depends on the way the individual construes the situation. During adolescence, for example, social belongingness goals may take precedence over academic achievement goals: young people may experience greater motivation and improved learning in a group context that fosters relationships that serve and support achievement. Over the life span, academic achievement goals also become linked to career goals, and these may need to be adapted over time. For example, an adolescent who aspires to become a physician but who continually fails her basic science courses may need to protect her sense of competence by either building new strategies for learning science or revising her occupational goals.

A person’s motivation to persist in learning in spite of obstacles and setbacks is facilitated when goals for learning and achievement are made explicit, are congruent with the learners’ desired outcomes and motives, and are supported by the learning environment, as judged by the learner; this perspective is illustrated in Box 6-2 .

Future Identities and Long-Term Persistence

Long-term learning and achievement tend to require not only the learner’s interest, but also prolonged motivation and persistence. Motivation to persevere may be strengthened when students can perceive connections between their current action choices (present self) and their future self or possible future identities ( Gollwitzer et al., 2011 ; Oyserman et al., 2015 ). The practice of displaying the names and accomplishments of past successful students is one way educators try to help current students see the connection.

Researchers have explored the mechanisms through which such experiences affect learning. Some neurobiological evidence, for example, suggests that compelling narratives that trigger emotions (such as admiration elicited by a story about a young person who becomes a civil rights leader for his community) may activate a mindset focused on a “possible future” or values

BOX 6-2 Learners’ Perceptions of the Learning Environment Can Inadvertently Undermine Motivation

( Immordino-Yang et al., 2009 ). Similar research also points to an apparent shifting between two distinct neural networks that researchers have associated with an “action now” mindset (with respect to the choices and behaviors for executing a task during learning) and a “possible future/values oriented”

mindset (with respect to whether difficult tasks are ones that “people like me” do) ( Immordino-Yang et al., 2012 ). Students who shift between these two mindsets may take a reflective stance that enables them to inspire themselves and to persist and perform well on difficult tasks to attain future goals ( Immordino-Yang and Sylvan, 2010 ).

Practices that help learners recognize the motivational demands required and obstacles to overcome for achieving desired future outcomes also may support goal attainment, as suggested in one study of children’s attempts to learn foreign-language vocabulary words ( Gollwitzer et al., 2011 ). Research is needed, however, to better establish the efficacy of practices designed to shape learners’ thinking about future identities and persistence


All learners’ goals emerge in a particular cultural context. As discussed in Chapter 2 , the way individuals perceive and interpret the world and their own role in it, and their expectations about how people function socially, reflect the unique set of influences they have experienced. The procedures people use to complete tasks and solve problems, as well as the social emotional dispositions people bring to such tasks, are similarly shaped by context and experience ( Elliott et al., 2001 ; Oyserman, 2011 ). In this section, the committee discusses three specific lines of research that illustrate the importance of culturally mediated views of the self and social identities to learners’ perceptions of learning environments, goals, and performance.

Cross-Cultural Differences in Learners’ Self-Construals

Over the past several decades, researchers have attempted to discern the influence of culture on a person’s self-construal, or definition of herself in reference to others. In an influential paper, Markus and Kitayama (1991) distinguished between independent and interdependent self-construals and proposed that these may be associated with individualistic or collectivistic goals. For example, they argued that East Asian cultures tend to emphasize collectivistic goals, which promote a comparatively interdependent self-construal in which the self is experienced as socially embedded and one’s accomplishments are tied to the community. In contrast, they argued, the prevailing North American culture tends to emphasize individualistic goals and an individualistic self-construal that prioritizes unique traits, abilities, and accomplishments tied to the self rather than to the community.

Although assigning cultural groups to either a collectivist or individualistic category oversimplifies very complex phenomena, several large-sample

survey studies have offered insights about the ways learners who fit these two categories tend to vary in their assessment of goals, the goals they see as relevant or salient, and the ways in which their goals relate to other phenomena such as school achievement ( King and McInerney, 2016 ). For example, in cross-cultural studies of academic goals, Dekker and Fischer (2008) found that gaining social approval in achievement contexts was particularly important for students who had a collectivist perspective. This cultural value may predispose students to adopt goals that help them to avoid the appearance of incompetence or negative judgments (i.e., performance-avoidance goals) ( Elliot, 1997 , 1999 ; Kitayama, Matsumoto, and Norasakkunkit, 1997 ).

More recent work has also explored the relationships between such differences and cultural context. For example, several studies have compared students’ indications of endorsement for performance-avoidance goals and found that Asian students endorsed these goals to a greater degree than European American students did ( Elliot et al., 2001 ; Zusho and Njoku, 2007 ; Zusho et al., 2005 ). This body of work seems to suggest that though there were differences, the performance avoidance may also have different outcomes in societies in which individualism is prioritized than in more collectivistic ones. These researchers found that performance-avoidance goals can be adaptive and associated with such positive academic outcomes as higher levels of engagement, deeper cognitive processing, and higher achievement. (See also the work of Chan and Lai [2006] on students in Hong Kong; Hulleman et al. [2010] ; and the work of King [2015] on students in the Philippines.)

Although cultures may vary on average in their emphasis on individualism and collectivism, learners may think in either individualistic and collectivistic terms if primed to do so ( Oyserman et al., 2009 ). For example, priming interventions such as those that encourage participants to call up personal memories of cross-cultural experiences ( Tadmor et al., 2013 ) have been used successfully to shift students from their tendency to take one cultural perspective or the other. Work on such interventions is based on the assumption that one cultural perspective is not inherently better than the other: the most effective approaches would depend on what the person is trying to achieve in the moment and the context in which he is operating. Problem solving is facilitated when the salient mindset is well matched to the task at hand, suggesting that flexibility in cultural mindset also may promote flexible cognitive functioning and adaptability to circumstances ( Vezzali et al., 2016 ).

This perspective also suggests the potential benefits of encouraging learners to think about problems and goals from different cultural perspectives. Some evidence suggests that these and other multicultural priming interventions improve creativity and persistence because they cue individuals to think of problems as having multiple possible solutions. For instance, priming learners to adopt a multicultural mindset may support more-divergent thinking about multiple possible goals related to achievement, family, identity, and

friendships and more flexible action plans for achieving those goals. Teachers may be able to structure learning opportunities that incorporate diverse perspectives related to cultural self-construals in order to engage students more effectively ( Morris et al., 2015 ).

However, a consideration for both research and practice moving forward is that there may be much more variation within cultural models of the self than has been assumed. In a large study of students across several nations that examined seven different dimensions related to self-construal ( Vignoles et al., 2016 ), researchers found neither a consistent contrast between Western and non-Western cultures nor one between collectivistic and individualistic cultures. To better explain cultural variation, the authors suggested an ecocultural perspective that takes into account racial/ethnic identity.

Social Identity and Motivation Processes

Identity is a person’s sense of who she is. It is the lens through which an individual makes sense of experiences and positions herself in the social world. Identity has both personal and social dimensions that play an important role in shaping an individual’s goals and motivation. The personal dimensions of identity tend to be traits (e.g., being athletic or smart) and values (e.g., being strongly committed to a set of religious or political beliefs). Social dimensions of identity are linked to social roles or characteristics that make one recognizable as a member of a group, such as being a woman or a Christian ( Tajfel and Turner, 1979 ). They can operate separately (e.g., “an African American”) or in combination (“an African American male student”) ( Oyserman, 2009 ).

Individuals tend to engage in activities that connect them to their social identities because doing so can support their sense of belonging and esteem and help them integrate into a social group. This integration often means taking on the particular knowledge, goals, and practices valued by that group ( Nasir, 2002 ). The dimensions of identity are dynamic, malleable, and very sensitive to the situations in which people find themselves ( Oyserman, 2009 ; Steele, 1997 ). This means the identity a person takes on at any moment is contingent on the circumstances

A number of studies indicate that a positive identification with one’s racial or ethnic identity supports a sense of school belonging, as well as greater interest, engagement, and success in academic pursuits. For example, African American adolescents with positive attitudes toward their racial/ethnic group express higher efficacy beliefs and report more interest and engagement in school ( Chavous et al., 2003 ). The value of culturally connected racial/ethnic identity is also evident for Mexican and Chinese adolescents ( Fuligni et al., 2005 ). In middle school, this culturally connected identity is linked to higher grade-point averages among African American ( Altschul et al., 2006 ; Eccles et al., 2006 ), Latino ( Oyserman, 2009 ), and Native American students in North

BOX 6-3 Basketball, Mathematics, and Identity

America ( Fryberg et al., 2013 ). The research described in Box 6-3 illustrates the potential and powerful influence of social identity on learners’ engagement with a task.

Stereotype Threat

The experience of being evaluated in academic settings can heighten self-awareness, including awareness of the stereotypes linked to the social group to which one belongs and that are associated with one’s ability ( Steele, 1997 ). The effects of social identity on motivation and performance may be positive, as illustrated in the previous section, but negative stereotypes can lead people to underperform on cognitive tasks (see Steele et al., 2002 ; Walton and Spencer, 2009 ). This phenomenon is known as stereotype threat , an unconscious worry that a stereotype about one’s social group could be applied to oneself or that one might do something to confirm the stereotype ( Steele, 1997 ). Steele has noted that stereotype threat is most likely in areas of performance in which individuals are particularly motivated.

In a prototypical experiment to test stereotype threat, a difficult achievement test is given to individuals who belong to a group for whom a negative stereotype about ability in that achievement domain exists. For example, women are given a test in math. The test is portrayed as either gender-neutral

(women and men do equally well on it) or—in the threat condition—as one at which women do less well. In the threat condition, members of the stereotyped group perform at lower levels than they do in the gender-neutral condition. In the case of women and math, for instance, women perform more poorly on the math test than would be expected given their actual ability (as demonstrated in other contexts) ( Steele and Aronson, 1995 ). Several studies have replicated this finding ( Beilock et al., 2008 ; Dar-Nimrod and Heine, 2006 ; Good et al., 2008 ; Spencer et al., 1999 ), and the finding is considered to be robust, especially on high-stakes tests such as the SAT ( Danaher and Crandall, 2008 ) and GRE.

The effects of negative stereotypes about African American and Latino students are among the most studied in this literature because these stereotypes have been persistent in the United States ( Oyserman et al., 1995 ). Sensitivity to these learning-related stereotypes appears as early as second grade ( Cvencek et al., 2011 ) and grows as children enter adolescence ( McKown and Strambler, 2009 ). Among college-age African Americans, underperformance occurs in contexts in which students believe they are being academically evaluated ( Steele and Aronson, 1995 ). African American school-age children perform worse on achievement tests when they are reminded of stereotypes associated with their social group ( Schmader et al., 2008 ; Wasserberg, 2014 ). Similar negative effects of stereotype threat manifest among Latino youth ( Aronson and Salinas, 1997 ; Gonzales et al., 2002 ; Schmader and Johns, 2003 ).

Stereotype threat is believed to undermine performance by lowering executive functioning and heightening anxiety and worry about what others will think if the individual fails, which robs the person of working memory resources. Thus, the negative effects of stereotype threat may not be as apparent on easy tasks but arise in the context of difficult and challenging tasks that require mental effort ( Beilock et al., 2007 ).

Neurophysiological evidence supports this understanding of the mechanisms underlying stereotype threat. Under threatening conditions, individuals show lower levels of activation in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, reflecting impaired executive functioning and working memory ( Beilock et al., 2007 ; Cadinu et al., 2005 ; Johns et al., 2008 ; Lyons and Beilock, 2012 ; Schmader and Jones, 2003 ) and higher levels of activation in fear circuits, including, for example, in the amygdala ( Spencer et al., 1999 ; Steele and Aronson, 1995 ).

In the short term, stereotype threat can result in upset, distraction, anxiety, and other conditions that interfere with learning and performance ( Pennington et al., 2016 ). Stereotype threat also may have long-term deleterious effects because it can lead people to conclude that they are not likely to be successful in a domain of performance ( Aronson, 2004 ; Steele, 1997 ). It has been suggested that the longer-term effects of stereotype threat may be one cause of longstanding achievement gaps ( Walton and Spencer, 2009 ). For example, women for whom the poor-at-math stereotype was primed reported


more negative thoughts about math ( Cadinu et al., 2005 ). Such threats can be subtly induced. In one classroom study, cues in the form of gendered objects in the room led high school girls to report less interest in taking computer science courses ( Master et al., 2015 ).

Students can maintain positive academic self-concepts in spite of negative stereotypes when supported in doing so ( Anderman and Maehr, 1994 ; Graham, 1994 ; Yeager and Walton, 2011 ). For example, a study by Walton and Spencer (2009) illustrates that under conditions that reduce psychological threat, students for whom a stereotype about their social group exists perform better than nonstereotyped students at the same level of past performance (see Figure 6-1 ).

These findings highlight an important feature of stereotype threat: it is not a characteristic solely of a person or of a context but rather a condition that results from an interaction between the two. To be negatively affected, a person must be exposed to and perceive a potential cue in the environment and be aware of a stereotype about the social group with which he identifies ( Aronson et al., 1999 ). For example, in a study of African American children in an urban elementary school, introduction of a reading test as an index of ability hampered performance only among students who reported being aware of racial stereotypes about intelligence ( Walton and Spencer, 2009 ).

It also appears that the learner must tie her identity to the domain of skills

being tested. For example, students who have a strong academic identity and value academic achievement highly are more vulnerable to academic stereotype threat than are other students ( Aronson et al., 1999 ; Keller, 2007 ; Lawrence et al., 2010 ; Leyens et al., 2000 ; Steele, 1997 ).

Researchers have identified several actions educators can take that may help to manage stereotype threat. One is to remove the social identity characteristic (e.g., race or gender) as an evaluating factor, thereby reducing the possibility of confirming a stereotype ( Steele, 1997 ). This requires bolstering or repositioning dimensions of social identity. Interventions of this sort are likely to work not because they reduce the perception of, or eliminate, stereotype threat, but because they change students responses to the threatening situation ( Aronson et al., 2001 ; Good et al., 2003 ). For example, learners can be repositioned as the bearers of knowledge or expertise, which can facilitate identity shifts that enable learners to open up to opportunities for learning ( Lee, 2012 ). In research that confronted women with negative gender-based stereotypes about their performance in mathematics but prompted them to think of other aspects of their identity, the women performed on par with men and appeared to be buffered against the deleterious effects of gender-based stereotypes. Women who did not receive the encouragement performed worse than their male counterparts ( Gresky et al., 2005 ). Such findings suggest that having opportunities to be reminded of the full range of dimensions of one’s identity may promote resilience against stereotype threats. Notably, interventions that have addressed stereotype threat tend to target and support identity rather than self-esteem. However, clear feedback that sets high expectations and assures a student that he can reach those expectations are also important ( Cohen and Steele, 2002 ; Cohen et al., 1999 ).

Values-affirmation interventions are designed to reduce self-handicapping behavior and increase motivation to perform. Enabling threatened individuals to affirm their talents in other domains through self-affirmations has in some situations strengthened students’ sense of self ( McQueen and Klein, 2006 ). Values-affirmation exercises in which students write about their personal values (e.g., art, sports, music) have bolstered personal identity, reduced threat, and improved academic performance among students experiencing threat ( Cohen et al., 2006 , 2009 ; Martens et al., 2006 ). In randomized field experiments, self-affirmation tasks were associated with better grades for middle school students ( Cohen et al., 2006 , 2009 ) 4 and college students ( Miyake et al., 2010 ). However, other studies have not replicated these findings (e.g., Dee, 2015 ; Hanselman et al., 2017 ), so research is needed to determine for whom and under which conditions values-affirmation approaches may be effective.

Although research suggests steps that educators can take that may help to

4 The 2006 study included 119 African American and 119 European American students; the 2009 study was a 2-year follow-up with the same sample.

eliminate stereotype threat, much of this research has been in highly controlled settings. The full range of factors that may be operating and interacting with one another has yet to be fully examined in real-world environments. However, educators can take into account the influences that research has identified as potentially causing, exacerbating, or ameliorating the effects of stereotype threat on their own students’ motivation, learning, and performance.


Many students experience a decline in motivation from the primary grades through high school ( Gallup, Inc., 2014 ; Jacobs et al., 2002 ; Lepper et al., 2005 ). Researchers are beginning to develop interventions motivated by theories of motivation to improve student motivation and learning.

Some interventions focus on the psychological mechanisms that affect students’ construal of the learning environment and the goals they develop to adapt to that environment. For example, a brief intervention was designed to enhance student motivation by helping learners to overcome the negative impact of stereotype threat on social belongingness and sense of self ( Yeager et al., 2016 ). In a randomized controlled study, African American and European American college students were asked to write a speech that attributed adversity in learning to a common aspect of the college-adjustment process rather than to personal deficits or their ethnic group ( Walton and Cohen, 2011 ). After 3 years, African American students who had participated in the intervention reported less uncertainty about belonging and showed greater improvement in their grade point averages compared to the European American students.

One group of interventions to address performance setbacks has focused on exercises to help students shift from a fixed view of intelligence to a growth theory of intelligence. For example, in 1-year-long study, middle school students attended an eight-session workshop in which they either learned about study skills alone (control condition) or both study skills and research on how the brain improves and grows by working on challenging tasks (the growth mindset condition). At the end of the year, students in the growth mindset condition had significantly improved their math grades compared to students who only learned about study skills. However, the effect size was small and limited to a small subset of underachieving students ( Blackwell et al., 2007 ).

The subjective and personal nature of the learner’s experiences and the dynamic nature of the learning environment require that motivational interventions be flexible enough to take account of changes in the individual and in the learning environment. Over the past decade, a number of studies have suggested that interventions that enhance both short- and long-term motivation and achievement using brief interventions or exercises can be effective (e.g., Yeager and Walton, 2011 ). The interventions that have shown sustained effects on aspects of motivation and learning are based on relatively brief activities

and exercises that directly target how students interpret their experiences, particularly their challenges in school and during learning.

The effectiveness of brief interventions appears to stem from their impact on the individual’s construal of the situation and the motivational processes they set in motion, which in turn support longer-term achievement. Brief interventions to enhance motivation and achievement appear to share several important characteristics. First, the interventions directly target the psychological mechanisms that affect student motivation rather than academic content. Second, the interventions adopt a student-centric perspective that takes into account the student’s subjective experience in and out of school. Third, the brief interventions are designed to indirectly affect how students think or feel about school or about themselves in school through experience, rather than attempting to persuade them to change their thinking, which is likely to be interpreted as controlling. Fourth, these brief interventions focus on reducing barriers to student motivation rather than directly increasing student motivation. Such interventions appear particularly promising for African American students and other cultural groups who are subjected to negative stereotypes about learning and ability. However, as Yeager and Walton (2011) note, the effectiveness of these interventions appears to depend on both context and implementation.

Studies such as these are grounded in different theories of motivation related to the learners’ cognition, affect, or behavior and are intended to affect different aspects of motivation. Lazowski and Hulleman (2016) conducted a meta-analysis of research on such interventions to identify their effects on outcomes in education settings. The studies included using measures of authentic education outcomes (e.g., standardized test scores, persistence at a task, course choices, or engagement) and showed consistent, small effects across intervention type.

However, this meta-analysis was small: only 74 published and unpublished papers met criteria for inclusion, and the included studies involved a wide range of theoretical perspectives, learner populations, types of interventions, and measured outcomes. These results are not a sufficient basis for conclusions about practice, but further research may help identify which interventions work best for whom and under which conditions, as well as factors that affect implementation (such as dosage, frequency, and timing). Improvements in the ability to clearly define, distinguish among, and measure motivational constructs could improve the validity and usefulness of intervention research.


When learners want and expect to succeed, they are more likely to value learning, persist at challenging tasks, and perform well. A broad constellation of factors and circumstances may either trigger or undermine students’ desire

to learn and their decisions to expend effort on learning, whether in the moment or over time. These factors include learners’ beliefs and values, personal goals, and social and cultural context. Advances since the publication of HPL I provide robust evidence for the importance of both an individual’s goals in motivation related to learning and the active role of the learner in shaping these goals, based on how that learner conceives the learning context and the experiences that occur during learning. There is also strong evidence for the view that engagement and intrinsic motivation develop and change over time—these are not properties of the individual or the environment alone.

While empirical and theoretical work in this area continues to develop, recent research does strongly support the following conclusion:

CONCLUSION 6-1: Motivation to learn is influenced by the multiple goals that individuals construct for themselves as a result of their life and school experiences and the sociocultural context in which learning takes place. Motivation to learn is fostered for learners of all ages when they perceive the school or learning environment is a place where they “belong” and when the environment promotes their sense of agency and purpose.

More research is needed on instructional methods and how the structure of formal schooling can influence motivational processes. What is already known does support the following general guidance for educators:

CONCLUSION 6-2: Educators may support learners’ motivation by attending to their engagement, persistence, and performance by:

  • helping them to set desired learning goals and appropriately challenging goals for performance;
  • creating learning experiences that they value;
  • supporting their sense of control and autonomy;
  • developing their sense of competency by helping them to recognize, monitor, and strategize about their learning progress; and
  • creating an emotionally supportive and nonthreatening learning environment where learners feel safe and valued.

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There are many reasons to be curious about the way people learn, and the past several decades have seen an explosion of research that has important implications for individual learning, schooling, workforce training, and policy.

In 2000, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition was published and its influence has been wide and deep. The report summarized insights on the nature of learning in school-aged children; described principles for the design of effective learning environments; and provided examples of how that could be implemented in the classroom.

Since then, researchers have continued to investigate the nature of learning and have generated new findings related to the neurological processes involved in learning, individual and cultural variability related to learning, and educational technologies. In addition to expanding scientific understanding of the mechanisms of learning and how the brain adapts throughout the lifespan, there have been important discoveries about influences on learning, particularly sociocultural factors and the structure of learning environments.

How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures provides a much-needed update incorporating insights gained from this research over the past decade. The book expands on the foundation laid out in the 2000 report and takes an in-depth look at the constellation of influences that affect individual learning. How People Learn II will become an indispensable resource to understand learning throughout the lifespan for educators of students and adults.

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What is Goal Setting and How to Do it Well

what is goal setting and how to do it well

Perhaps you know exactly what you want to achieve, but have no idea how to get there.

That’s where goal setting comes in. Goals are the first step towards planning for the future, and play a fundamental role in the development of skills in various facets of life, from work to relationships and everything in between. They are the target at which we aim our proverbial arrow.

Understanding the importance of goals and the techniques involved in setting achievable goals paves the way for success.

In the words of Pablo Picasso:

Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free . These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients create actionable goals and master techniques to create lasting behavior change.

This Article Contains:

What is goal setting, why is goal setting important, key principles of goal setting, 8 interesting facts on goal setting, research and studies, how and why goal setting works, what skills does it require, an outline for personal goal setting, 3 descriptions of goal setting in practice, 3 goal-setting pdfs, how often should we review goals, how can we best achieve goals we have set, 7 tips and strategies, a take-home message.

Goal setting is a powerful motivator, the value of which has been recognized in an abundance of clinical and real-world settings for over 35 years.

‘Goals,’ are “ the object or aim of an action, for example, to attain a specific standard of proficiency, usually within a specified time limit .” (Locke & Latham, 2002, p. 705) They are the level of competence that we wish to achieve and create a useful lens through which we assess our current performance.

Goal setting is the process by which we achieve these goals. The importance of the goal-setting process should not go unappreciated. According to Lock (2019) “ Every person’s life depends on the process of choosing goals to pursue; if you remain passive you are not going to thrive as a human being. ”

Goal-setting theory (Locke & Latham, 1984) is based on the premise that conscious goals affect action (Ryan, 1970) and conscious human behavior is purposeful and regulated by individual goals. Simply put, we must decide what is beneficial to our own welfare, and set goals accordingly.

Why do some people perform better on tasks than others? According to Ryan (1970), if individuals are equal in ability and knowledge, then the cause must be motivational .

The theory states that the simplest and most direct motivational explanation of why some people perform better than others is due to disparate performance goals, implying that setting and adjusting goals can significantly impact performance.

Initially, research into goal setting attempted to ascertain how the level of intended achievement (goal) is related to the actual level of achievement (performance) in an organizational setting (Locke & Latham, 1990).

Goal setting increases employee motivation and organizational commitment (Latham, 2004). Additionally, goals affect the intensity of our actions and our emotions. The more difficult and valued a goal is, the more intense our efforts will be in order to attain it, and the more success we experience following achievement (Latham & Locke, 2006).

Through the experience of success and the positive emotions that accompany it, confidence and belief in our own abilities grow. Schunk (1985) found that participation in goal setting encourages a search for new strategies to aid success. Finding novel ways to utilize our skills and push our abilities increases task-relevant knowledge while enhancing self-efficacy and self-confidence .

Goal setting involves planning for the future. MacLeod, Coates & Hetherton (2008) found that goal setting and skill-oriented planning significantly improved subjective wellbeing in those who took part in a goal-setting intervention program. Thinking positively about the future bolsters our ability to create goals and consider the actions required to achieve them.

The capacity to plan positively impacts our perceived control over goal outcomes and our future (Vincent, Boddana, & MacLeod, 2004). Furthermore, goal setting and achievement can promote the development of an internal locus of control.

While individuals with an external locus of control believe that both positive and negative outcomes are the result of external influences, those with an internal locus of control believe that success is determined by their own actions and skills.

The Five Principles of Successful Goal Setting

1. Commitment

Commitment refers to the degree to which an individual is attached to the goal and their determination to reach it – even when faced with obstacles. Goal performance is strongest when people are committed, and even more so when said goals are difficult (Locke & Latham, 1990).

Once they’re committed, if an individual discovers their performance is inadequate, they are likely to increase their effort or change their strategy in order to attain it (Latham & Locke, 2006).

When we are less committed to goals – particularly more challenging goals – we increase the likelihood of giving up.

A number of factors can influence our commitment levels (Miner, 2005). Namely, the perceived desirability of a goal and the perceived ability of achieving it. To be successful, you must possess the desire and a comprehensive understanding of what is required to achieve your goal.

Specific goals put you on a direct course. When a goal is vague, it has limited motivational value. Goal clarity is positively related to overall motivation and satisfaction in the workplace (Arvey et al., 1976).

Set clear, precise and unambiguous goals that are implicit and can be measured. When a goal is clear in your mind, you have an improved understanding of the task at hand. You know exactly what is required and the resulting success is a further source of motivation.

3. Challenging

Goals must be challenging yet attainable. Challenging goals can improve performance through increased self-satisfaction, and the motivation to find suitable strategies to push our skills to the limit (Locke & Latham, 1990). Conversely, goals that are not within our ability level may not be achieved, leading to feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration.

We are motivated by achievement and the anticipation of achievement. If we know a goal is challenging yet believe it is within our abilities to accomplish, we are more likely to be motivated to complete a task (Zimmerman et al., 1992).

4. Task complexity

Miner (2005) suggested that overly complex tasks introduce demands that may mute goal-setting effects. Overly complex goals that lie out of our skill level may become overwhelming and negatively impact morale, productivity, and motivation.

The timescale for such goals should be realistic. Allowing sufficient time to work toward a goal allows opportunities to reassess the goal complexity, while reviewing and improving performance. Even the most motivated of people can become disillusioned if the task’s complexity is too great for their skills.

5. Feedback

Goal setting is more effective in the presence of immediate feedback (Erez, 1977). Feedback – including internal feedback – helps to determine the degree to which a goal is being met and how you are progressing.

Unambiguous feedback ensures that action can be taken if necessary. If performance falls below the standard required to achieve a goal, feedback allows us to reflect upon our ability and set new, more attainable, goals. When such feedback is delayed, we cannot evaluate the effectiveness of our strategies promptly, leading to a potential reduction in the rate of progress (Zimmerman, 2008).

When we perceive our progress towards a goal as adequate, we feel capable of learning new skills and setting more challenging future goals.

  • Setting goals and reflecting upon them improves academic success. Around 25% of students who enroll in 4-year university courses do not complete their studies – common explanations for this include a lack of clear goals and motivation. Goal-setting intervention programs have been shown to significantly improve academic performance (Morisano, Hirsh, Peterson, Pihl, & Shore, 2010).
  • Goals are good for motivation and vice versa. Most definitions of motivation incorporate goals and goal setting as an essential factor. For example, “ Motivation is the desire or want that energizes and directs goal-oriented behavior .” (Kleinginna & Kleinginna, 1981).
  • Goal setting is associated with achieving the optimal conditions for flow state . Setting clear goals that are both challenging yet within your skill level is a powerful contributor to finding yourself in ‘the zone’.
  • An optimistic approach to goal setting can aid success. Research into goal-setting among students indicates that factors such as hope and optimism have a significant impact on how we manage our goals (Bressler, Bressler, & Bressler, 2010).
  • Goals that are both specific and difficult lead to overall improved performance. Comparisons between the effect of non-specific goals such as “I will try to do my best” and specific, challenging goals suggest that people do not tend to perform well when trying to ‘do their best’. A vague goal is compatible with multiple outcomes, including those lower than one’s capabilities (Locke, 1996).
  • People with high efficacy are more likely to set challenging goals and commit to them. Individuals who sustain belief in their abilities under the pressure of challenging goals tend to maintain or even increase their subsequent goals, thereby making improvements to ensuing performances. Conversely, individuals who lack this confidence have a tendency to lower their goals (making them easier to achieve) and decrease their future efforts (Locke, 1996).
  • Social influences are a strong determinant in goal choice. While the impact of social influences on goal achievement may diminish with increased task-specific knowledge, social influences remain a strong determinant of goal choice (Klein, Austin & Cooper, 2008).
  • Goal setting is a more powerful motivator than monetary incentives alone. Latham and Locke (1979) found goal setting to be the major mechanism by which other incentives affect motivation. Within the workplace, money was found most effective as a motivator when the rewards offered were contingent on achieving specific objectives.

How to do activity scheduling

The setting of clear goals is more likely to close the gap between current ability and the desired objectives. With this in mind, let’s look at some of the research related to goal setting.

Goal setting in teams

The increasing prevalence of team-based structures in the workplace encouraged research in goal setting within teams. Such research indicated structural differences between goal setting for individuals and for groups (Locke & Latham, 2013).

Kozlowski and Klein (2000) suggested that while the effectiveness of individual and team goals may look similar when considering the final outcomes, the structure of the goal-setting construct is very different.

In team-based structures, individuals must engage in interpersonal interaction and various other processes in order to accomplish the team’s goal. Kristof-Brown and Stevens (2001) examined how perceived team mastery and performance goals affected individual outcome. Their findings suggested that agreement on team performance goals elicited greater individual satisfaction and contributions, regardless of goal strength.

Goal setting in virtual teams

Within virtual teams (workgroups in which members collaborate remotely), designing interactions that encourage the setting of goals leads to the achievement of shared mental models (Powell, Piccoli, & Ives, 2004). The addition of intermediate goals in addition to final goals, and clearly articulating them, significantly improved task performance within virtual groups (Kaiser, Tuller, & McKowen, 2000).

Research by Powell, et al. (2004) suggested that virtual groups should employ someone who is responsible for sharing goal-critical information, known as a caretaker. The inclusion of a ‘caretaker’ ensures each virtual team member’s efforts are aligned with those of the group, that there is role clarity, and that each teammate’s contribution advances the team toward its goals.

Goals and academia

The setting of educational goals in academia ensures learners have an unequivocal understanding of what is expected, which in turn aids concentration on the attainment of their goals (Hattie & Timperly, 2007).

Reis and McCoach (2000) suggested that specific characteristics are commonly associated with academic underachievement. These include low motivation, low self-regulation, and low goal valuation. For children, self-regulation and motivation are affected by perceived goal and achievement values. When a goal is valued, children are more likely to engage in, expend more effort on, and perform better on the task

Further research by McCoach and Siegle (2003) found that valuing a goal was a necessary prerequisite to one’s motivation to self-regulate and to achieve in a scholastic environment. Additionally, students’ beliefs in their efficacy for self-regulated learning influenced the academic goals they set for themselves and their final academic achievement (Zimmerman, 2008).

Neurological rehabilitation

Goal setting is at the core of many neurological rehabilitation therapies. Holliday, Ballinger, & Playford (2007) explored how in-patients with neurological impairments experienced goal setting and identified the issues that underpin individual experiences of goal setting.

Their findings suggested that within rehabilitative healthcare professions, it is vital that patients understand what is expected of them in order to ensure goal setting is a meaningful activity.

Goal setting in physical therapy

Goal setting is a traditional method used within the practice of physical therapy. Cott and Finch (1991) examined the potential use of goal setting in improving and measuring physical therapy effectiveness. The study suggested that active participation by the patient in the goal-setting process is of primary importance to the attainment of goals.

That is, inclusion in the formation of goals rather than having them externally imposed is imperative.

A complete guide to goal setting – The Art of Improvement

When done correctly, goal setting is effective and often critical to success. Goals give us direction by focusing attention on goal-relevant behavior and away from irrelevant tasks (Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992). Miner (2005) suggested that goal setting works through three basic propositions:

  • Goals energize performance through the motivation to expend the required effort in line with the difficulty of the task.
  • Goals motivate people to persist in activities over time.
  • Goals direct people’s attention to relevant behaviors and away from behaviors which are irrelevant or detrimental to the achievement of the task.

As previously discussed goals that are specific and challenging lead to higher levels of performance. Locke and Latham (1990) suggested that these types of goal strategies work more effectively for the following reasons:

  • Specific and challenging goals are associated with higher self-efficacy (the belief in our own skills and abilities).
  • They require higher performance and more effort to elicit a sense of satisfaction.
  • Specific goals are less ambiguous in terms of what constitutes good performance.
  • Challenging goals are more likely to result in outcomes that are valued by the individual.
  • They encourage a tendency to persist with a task for longer.
  • The more specific and challenging the goal is, the more attention an individual will dedicate to it, often utilizing skills that have previously gone unused.
  • They motivate individuals to search for better strategies and to plan ahead.

motivation essay brainly

The good news is they can be learned and developed through practice. If you cannot achieve the goals you have set, it is possible that the problem lies in one or more of these areas:

The old adage ‘ fail to plan, plan to fail ’ is applicable to successful goal achievement. Low-quality planning negatively affects performance in relation to goals (Smith, Locke, & Barry, 1990). Planning and organizational skills are integral to the goal achievement process. Through proper planning, we can prioritize and maintain focus on the task at hand, while avoiding extraneous distractions that can draw us away from the end goal.


Without the desire to achieve, our attempts at goal setting are doomed to fail. Motivation to achieve a goal encourages us to develop new techniques and skills in order to succeed (Locke, 2001). In more challenging circumstances, the motivation to keep going is a powerful contributor to goal attainment.

Time management

Time management is a useful skill across many facets of life including goal setting. While setting goals is commonly considered being a specific time management behavior (Macan, Shahani, Dipboye, & Phillips, 1990), time management is also required to successfully accomplish a goal. If we do not properly consider the timescale required to attain a goal, we will inevitably fail.

Additionally, the time we allocate to planning our goals directly impacts task performance – the more time spent on the planning stage, the more likely we are to succeed (Smith, Locke, & Barry, 1990).


Inevitably, at some point, things aren’t going to go as planned. Having the flexibility to adapt to barriers, the perseverance to sustain your efforts and to carry on in the face of adversity is essential to reaching your goal.


An individual needs to regulate and manage their own emotions in order to promote their own personal and social goals. With developed Emotional Intelligence comes the ability to efficiently consider and describe motivational goals, aims, and missions (Mayer, 2004).

Commitment and Focus

If we are not committed to our goals, goal setting will not work (Locke, 2001). It is imperative that goals are important and relevant on a personal level, and that we know we are capable of attaining, or at the very least making substantial progress towards, a goal.

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The following outline will help focus your attention on the personal goal-setting process and guide you in the right direction for successful personal goal attainment.

Set three goals

It might be tempting to approach goal setting with gusto, and while enthusiasm is a good thing it is important not to rush into too much too soon. By limiting the number of goals you initially set there is less chance that you will become overwhelmed by the tasks ahead. Setting just a few initial goals will allow you to make a start on the journey while avoiding the negative emotions that accompany failure.

As you begin to achieve your objectives, try setting more challenging, longer-term goals to push your abilities even further. Once your goals are set, remember to review them regularly. When you begin the goal-setting process it may be beneficial to revisit your progress daily or weekly depending on the goal.

Focus on short-term goals

Initially, it is better to set short-term and more realistic goals. Setting short-term goals such as “ I will learn to make pancakes by next week ” enables more frequent opportunities to review and acknowledge the achievement of goals. More frequent experiences of success result in greater positive emotions and increased motivation to set additional goals or a combination of short, medium and long-term goals.

Make your goals positive

Reframe negative goals such as “ I want to stop eating so much junk food ” into more positive terms like “ I want to feel healthy and will change my diet in order to do so ”. With negative goals, the initial motivation often comes from a place of negativity. For example, “ I want to stop eating so much junk food because I feel unattractive. ” These negative connotations can lead to self-criticism and de-motivation.

Failure to achieve a positive goal is viewed as an indication that while we may have failed at least we are still on the right path.

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1. Psychological health

Goal setting is a robust method of support for positive mental health (Rose & Smith, 2018).

When considering the goals you would like to achieve in relation to psychological health, think about what you want to change and how you want to go about changing it. Achieving goals in any aspect of life can boost self-esteem and self-efficacy, leading to improvements in  confidence and wellbeing.

Janet has been thinking about her wellbeing and wants to make changes to improve her mental health. Within this area, goals such as “ I want to be happier ” are too vague and will create barriers to achievement. Janet settles on the more specific goals of “ I will do one thing every day that makes me happy ”. This is much more realistic and can easily be reviewed.

2. Relationships

Canevello and Crocker (2011) suggested that goals contribute to the cycles of responsiveness between people and improve relationship quality. Interpersonal goal setting allows us to create higher quality relationships characterized by improved responsiveness that ultimately enhance relationship quality for everyone involved.

Toby decides he wants to spend more time with his family, after thinking about how he can do this he feels that the problem may be related to the many late nights he has been spending at work. Toby decides, “ I will make sure I am home from work every night before the children go to bed ”.

While this may seem like a specific goal, there is still much ambiguity. What if he has to work late in order to meet a deadline? Both he and his children will feel disappointed and frustrated with this outcome.

After reviewing his goal, Toby makes some alterations: “ I will make sure I am home from work 2 days a week so that I can see the children before bedtime ”. By adding specifics, he has made his goal more achievable and measurable. On reviewing his goal progress, Toby might then decide to change his goal to three times per week if experience tells him this is attainable.

3. Financial

Money, or lack thereof, can massively influence our mental health and wellbeing. It is impossible to know what life will throw at you – illness, redundancy, unexpected expenditure.

In this category, like many others, short term, smaller goals are often more likely to result in success. Perhaps you have debt that you want freedom from or even just a rainy day savings fund. Whatever your financial goal, small positive steps to taking control of your finances can make a big impact.

Jenny has been thinking about her finances and decides she wants to start building her savings. Rather than setting the vague goal, “ I want to save money, ” she thinks in more detail about her objective and sets the goal “ I will save $500 in the next 8 weeks. ” By making the goal more specific and measurable, Jenny has improved the likelihood of actually achieving her goal.

The goal can now be reviewed when she decides to and it will be clear if she is on track.

In the 1980s, business coaches Graham Alexander, Alan Fine, and Sir John Whitmore developed the GROW goal setting model, which has become a very influential and effective coaching framework (Nguyen, 2018).

The core of the model relies on four pillars:

– Goals Setting clear goals that align with our core values is important for increasing engagement with actions that will make those goals a reality.

– Reality Being aware of our current state in relation to our goals, including what’s working well, as well as the possible barriers (e.g., excuses, fears, weaknesses), is key for making positive changes aligned with our goals.

– Options Acknowledging the possible routes for action, our own strengths, as well as our available resources (e.g., peer support) can help us use our options to get back on track when faced with obstacles.

– Way forward Motivation, commitment, and accountability towards making positive changes now are crucial in getting us started on our journey towards achieving our goals.

Many revisions of this model have been suggested since it was first developed, such as adding the “Tactics” and “Habits” components (GROWTH). However, the core model remains the same and is used across various contexts, including workplaces, couples, families, and the individual level.

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This PDF : ‘ Workbook for Goal-setting and Evidence-based Strategies for Success ’ provides an abundance of exercises and worksheets to teach the reader the best practices for designing, pursuing and achieving important goals.

Compiled by Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP, author of ‘ Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide ’, the 90+ page workbook provides a structured approach to guide readers towards successful goal setting.

This workbook/guide draws input from a number of areas, including work on “ flourishing ” from positive psychology founding father, Dr. Martin Seligman . It presents a thorough 6-theme process which guides readers to successful goal setting and provides an in-depth review of the underlying psychology.

Anxiety Canada’s PDF ‘ Guide for Goal Setting ’ provides a simple but effective guide on how to identify, set, and achieve realistic goals. The guide handily breaks down the process into easy-to-follow steps while prompting readers to view their future prospects in a positive light.

In brief, the guide is broken down into five steps:

  • Identify your goals with a focus on being realistic and specific.
  • Break down these goals into smaller steps.
  • Identify potential obstacles between you and your goals.
  • Build a schedule and allow adequate time to pursue goals.

The guide is a really great overview of goal-setting practices and represents a fantastic starting point if you’re keen to jump right into the practice of goal-setting.

The University of Exeter’s PDF , ‘ Goal Setting ’ for the physically impaired, was compiled by BABCP-accredited Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapist, Dr. Paul Farrand and associate research fellow – Joanne Woodford. The guide focuses on goal setting for individuals facing physical health problems.

Alongside goal-setting advice, the guide contains worksheets for tracking their progress.

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While some goals can be achieved relatively quickly, others take time, patience and lasting motivation to continue. The frequency with which goals should be reviewed is very much dependent on the goal itself. What is more certain is that you should plan to review your goals regularly.

If, for example, you have set yourself smaller milestones to reach on the route to your final goal, it may be prudent to review these on a weekly basis. Being aware of your progress allows opportunities to alter your actions and goals so as not to undermine the hard work you have already put in.

Perhaps things aren’t quite going as planned, regular reviews allow you to reflect on the difficulty of the goals you have set. Is the goal more challenging than you expected? What can you improve upon to attain it?

Regular goal reviews ensure the goal is still relevant – is this still what you want to achieve? If you do not ‘check in’ on your progress, you can lose sight of your ultimate aim which will result in disappointment, frustration and less motivation to attain it than when you first began your journey.

Time-based goals such as learning a new language can take months or even years to complete. When working towards these types of long term goals, it is a good idea to break them down into more manageable targets that can be reviewed weekly.

Essentially, reviewing your goals ensures that you are monitoring your progress in relation to successes and failures. It gives you the chance to analyze the good and bad, so that you can regroup, build on that knowledge, and improve future goal setting strategies.

Have you ever made a grand New Year’s resolution only to find that by the middle of January, you’ve given up or forgotten all about it? You may have set yourself a goal that was too general, ambitious, or impersonal. Incorporating healthy goal-setting techniques is an excellent way to tackle these issues.

Pick goals that are S.M.A.R.T.

The S.M.A.R.T. protocol offers a guide to help steer you towards setting goals that are suited to your abilities, timely, and measurable. If you are unsure of the goal-setting process, the S.M.A.R.T framework offers a sense-check to ensure your goals are the best they can be.

Be as specific as possible when setting goals. Look at the what, why, where, when and how of a goal. What do I want to achieve? How will I get there? When should I have achieved this goal by?

– Measurable

Having a goal which can be quantified makes it a lot easier to track your progress.

– Achievable/Attainable

The goals we set need to be grounded in reality lest we set ourselves up for disappointment.

Focus more intently on the subjective ‘why’. Is the goal something you actually want to achieve, or does it stem from external pressure?

– Time-specific

Create a clear yet achievable timescale. Deadlines maximize the reward versus time component. Be explicit about the time span or deadline. For example, change ‘end of summer’ to a specific date for improved clarity.

Write down your goals

It may seem like an unnecessary additional effort, but there is value in putting pen to paper. Write down your goals and think carefully about the steps involved to get there. The very act of writing something down improves recall (Naka & Naoi, 1995), and having a physical reminder of what you want to achieve means you can check-in and review it at any time.

Put a plan into action and review it regularly

Consider the timescale in which you wish to achieve your target. If your goal is a particularly challenging one, break it down into smaller, more manageable goals that culminate in attaining your main goal.

Rather than saying “I want a promotion”, consider the smaller steps that will help get you to that goal, “In the next 4 weeks I will commit to taking on a project I haven’t tried before”. Whatever you decide, ensure it is right for you.

Keep it specific and review your progress often

How we articulate goals to ourselves is integral to the outcome of our efforts. Rather than a blanket statement, more specific goals will be much more effective. Rethink your objectives by presenting them in more specific terms, then build on that.

Reward yourself for your successes, but don’t punish yourself for failure

This doesn’t mean rewarding yourself with chocolate when you attain a healthy eating goal, rather an internal pat on the back. Acknowledge your success and revel in the positive emotions that accompany it.

It is important to be resilient in the face of adversity. Reassess your goals and make alterations when you feel it is necessary to do so.

It’s great to shoot for the stars, but goal setting is more about what you can realistically accomplish rather than an idealistic vision of what you hope you can achieve.

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These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients create actionable goals and master techniques for lasting behavior change.

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To culminate this extensive guide on goal-setting, we leave you with a final list of tips and strategies.

1. Brainstorm

Consider what you want to accomplish and be specific in your goals. Really think about your core values and what outcome you are reaching for and write them down. Clear goals will ensure a comprehensive understanding of what is required in order to achieve them. Take the time to really reflect on what you want.

2. Create a ‘goal tree’

This logical thinking process tool is an excellent way to maintain focus on your goal while considering the strategy you might use to achieve it. The very top of the tree is the end goal – your mission statement. On the next level are a maximum of five objectives that are critical to attaining your main goal.

Under the objectives are the necessary conditions required to achieve each one. A goal tree is like a map to success, over time each step is color coded as it is completed, meaning that you can easily review your progress at a glance.

3. Be optimistic but realistic

If you set an unrealistic goal, it may well discourage you from continuing with your endeavor.

4. Evaluate your goals and reflect upon them

Feedback is superior to no feedback, and self-generated feedback is more powerful than externally generated feedback (Ivancevich & McMahon, 1982).

After setting your goal, feedback is the best way to assess how well you are doing. Try setting up a schedule where you can ‘check-in’ on your progress every week. Do you need to reassess and redefine your goal?

5. Intermittent reinforcement

Intermittent reinforcement involves interspersing easier, more achievable goals among more challenging, difficult goals (Martin & Pear, 2019). The completion of each smaller goal becomes rewarding in and of itself, thus delivering the positive effect of success at regular intervals.

6. Tell others about your goals

When we share our goals we are more inclined to exhibit accountability and strengthened commitment. If you tell a friend about a goal you have set, how will you feel if they ask about it and you haven’t been working towards it?

7. Believe in your abilities

Believe in your abilities, but know that it’s OK if things aren’t going to plan. Reevaluating our progress and rethinking goals is all part of the process. Remember that any progress towards your goal is a good thing.

We all have the capacity to adapt and to achieve our personal expectations. Through goal setting, we raise the bar in relation to our own potential and push ourselves to achieve things we only hoped were possible.

Have you incorporated any goal-setting techniques to help you on your way to success? Or maybe you are tempted to make a start on your own plan? How are you going to turn your goal setting into goal getting? Let us know in the comments below.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free .

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3 Goal Achievement Exercises Pack

Classroom Q&A

With larry ferlazzo.

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to [email protected]. Read more from this blog.

‘My Online Learning Experience as a Student Is Not So Good’

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(This is the first post in a multipart series.)

Here is the new question-of-the-week:

What has your online learning experience been as a student? What did you like about it? What didn’t you like about it? How does it compare with your experience as a student in a physical classroom? In the future, if you could choose, would you want to do more online learning? If so, why? If not, why not?

I’ve been posting a lot here—for obvious reasons—on how teachers are responding to the coronavirus crisis.

It’s probably past time to get students’ perspectives.

This series, though, isn’t the first time that student voices have been featured. You can see previous student contributions here .

Here are a few student commentaries on remote learning. Though the contributions today are all from students at the school where I teach in Sacramento, Calif., future posts in this series will include reflections from students of all age ranges and from different geographical areas:

“I would not want to do online learning in the future”

Diego Jimenez is a ROTC cadet at Luther Burbank High School:

My online learning experience as a student is not so good. I only like how I don’t have to wake up at 6 every day. What I don’t like about it is that for me it’s confusing when a teacher gives us work mostly since it’s easier for me to do work with instructions that the teacher gives. Being in a physical classroom makes me only focus on my work, but online learning makes it harder to focus because I have to also focus on household stuff, and it throws me off. I would not want to do online learning in the future because it is hard for me to concentrate on my work only.

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No thanks to online classes

Aaliyah Deshazier is a junior at Luther Burbank High School:

My online learning experience has been different than what I’m used to. I love that I get to work from the comfort of my home; however, I would rather be in a physical classroom doing my work because it gives me the opportunity to ask questions when needed, and in my own opinion, it is much more effective than online learning. Compared to learning in a physical classroom online classes seem more difficult because you don’t get the hands-on learning like you do in a physical classroom. In the future, I’d choose a physical classroom over online any day. The reason being, it’s easier for me to understand the lesson plans and put my new knowledge into effect.

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Mixed feelings

Jesusisis Alvarado is a junior at Luther Burbank High School:

My online learning experience as a student is kind of stressful; I’m not really used to technology. I am learning how to use technology, especially because I need to do my homework somehow. I did like how we can be at home, though, to bond with my family. What I don’t like is the piles of homework due on the same day. I have a teacher that makes us do our homework and makes us turn it in by 6:30 p.m. on that same day. This experience compares to my experience as a student in a physical classroom because of the workload. In the future, I would sometimes want online learning and sometimes do my education at school, even though it may be loud to concentrate sometimes. I would like to do some online learning so I can bond more with my family. I would just hope I didn’t get as much work as I do now. I want to be able to have a clear mind without worrying that I have so much homework to do.

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Learning how to be independent

Kimberly Deluna is a junior at Luther Burbank High School:

My online experience is disturbing. Ever since we had no school and stayed home due to quarantine, I have been more busy than usual. I don’t really like online school because it makes me procrastinate to do my work last minute. On the other hand, at school, I finished all my assignments on time without feeling lazy. The only thing I like about online classes is that they have helped me learn how to be independent, manage family time and school work. I am not as concerned about my grade as much because it can’t drop lower. I don’t really like how some of my teachers are giving us more assignments now than in the past. Also, I don’t understand how to do a lot of classwork because I forgot or it’s difficult to understand without anyone’s help. Being physically in a classroom, I have more classmates to ask for help. In class, I can ask the teacher for help as many times I need, and there’s a higher possibility I will understand the assignment. It’s totally different online because I only have myself to use as a resource. I would rather have physical communication with a teacher. Online learning for me is confusing and too stressful because there are times when my family is using the internet as well as I am. My documents won’t turn in on time. Or there’s been a moment where it failed to turn in my assignment at all, and I did all that hard work for nothing.

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More time to think

Mai Te Thao is a junior at Luther Burbank High School:

As a student, my online learning experience has been even busier compared to attending regular classes on campus in person because for the most part, I am not taking it as seriously as I need to take it. However, what I like about learning online is that I’m not as pressured to present myself as an excellent student, I can relax more, as well as think more (and I mean really THINK) because, in a school environment, I, as well as other students have to pace ourselves to think, which for most of us causes stress and anxiety. What I don’t like about online learning is that it can take me up to a whole school day (6-7 hours) to finish two assignments at most, given to me by my teachers. Comparing to my experience as a student in a physical classroom, online learning is definitely harder because I and maybe other students (even the independent people that like working by themselves) are so used to working with other students. If I could choose from wanting to do more online learning in the future, I will not because, although I’m the independent type, the vibe of learning online at home is just not the same as in a classroom with other students.

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Thanks to Diego, Aaliyah, Jesusisis, Kimberly, and Mai Te for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching .

If you missed any of the highlights from the first eight years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.

This Year’s Most Popular Q&A Posts Race & Gender Challenges Classroom-Management Advice Best Ways to Begin the School Year Best Ways to End the School Year Implementing the Common Core Student Motivation & Social-Emotional Learning Teaching Social Studies Cooperative & Collaborative Learning Using Tech in the Classroom Parent Engagement in Schools Teaching English-Language Learners Reading Instruction Writing Instruction Education Policy Issues Assessment Differentiating Instruction Math Instruction Science Instruction Advice for New Teachers Author Interviews Entering the Teaching Profession The Inclusive Classroom Learning & the Brain Administrator Leadership Teacher Leadership Relationships in Schools Professional Development Instructional Strategies Best of Classroom Q&A Professional Collaboration Classroom Organization Mistakes in Education Project-Based Learning

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributors to this column .

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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