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The Role of Motivational Components in Classroom Learning - Handbook of psychology volume 7 educational psychology

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The Role of Motivational Components in Classroom Learning


responsibility for negative or failure outcomes (an external

locus of control; see Harter, 1985). Part of the difficulty in in-

terpreting this literature lies in the use of different definitions

of the construct of control, different instruments to measure

the construct, different ages of the samples, and different

outcomes measures used as a criterion in the numerous stud-

ies. In particular, the construct of internal locus of control con-

founds three dimensions of locus (internal vs. external),

controllability (controllable vs. uncontrollable), and stability

(stable vs. unstable). Attributional theory proposes that these

three dimensions can be separated conceptually and empiri-

cally and that they have different influences on behavior

(Weiner, 1986).

Attributional theory proposes that the causal attributions

an individual makes for success or failure—not the actual suc-

cess or failure event—mediates future expectancies. A large

number of studies have shown that individuals who tend to at-

tribute success to internal and stable causes like ability or ap-

titude will tend to expect to succeed in the future. In contrast,

individuals who attribute their success to external or unstable

causes (i.e., ease of the task, luck) will not expect to do well

in the future. For failure situations, the positive motivational

pattern consists of not an internal locus of control, but rather

attribution of failure to external and unstable causes (difficult

task, lack of effort, bad luck) and the negative motivational

pattern consists of attributing failure to internal and stable

causes (e.g., ability, skill). This general attributional approach

has been applied to numerous situations and the motivational

dynamics seem to be remarkably robust and similar (Weiner,

1986, 1995).

The key difference between attributional theory and intrin-

sic motivation theories of personal control (e.g., de Charms,

1968; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Skinner, 1995, 1996) is that attri-

butions are post hoc explanations for performance after some

feedback about success or failure has been provided to the stu-

dent. The control beliefs that are of concern to intrinsic moti-

vation theorists are prospective beliefs of the student before

he or she begins a task. Both types of construct are important

in predicting various outcomes, including cognitive engage-

ment (see Pintrich & Schrauben, 1992), but the motivational

dynamics are different, given the different temporal role of

attributions and control beliefs in the theoretical models.

It also is important to note that from an attributional

analysis, the important dimension that is linked to future ex-

pectancies (beliefs that one will do well in the future) is sta-

bility, not locus (Weiner, 1986)—that is, it is how stable you

believe a cause is that is linked to future expectancies (i.e.,

the belief that your ability or effort to do the task is stable

over time, not whether you believe it is internal or external to

you). Attributional theory generally takes a situational view

of these attributions and beliefs, but some researchers have

suggested that individuals have relatively consistent attribu-

tional patterns across domains and tasks that function some-

what like personality traits (e.g., Fincham & Cain, 1986;

Peterson, Maier, & Seligman, 1993). These attributional pat-

terns seem to predict individuals’ performance over time. For

example, if students consistently attributed their success to

their own skill and ability as learners, then it would be pre-

dicted that they would continually expect success in future

classes. In contrast, if students consistently attribute success

to other causes (e.g., excellent instructors, easy material,

luck), then their expectations might not be as high for future


Individuals’ beliefs about the causes of events can be

changed through feedback and other environmental manipu-

lations to facilitate the adoption of positive control and attri-

butional beliefs. For example, some research on attributional

retraining in achievement situations (e.g., Foersterling, 1985;

Perry & Penner, 1990) suggests that teaching individuals to

make appropriate attributions for failure on school tasks (e.g.,

effort attributions instead of ability attributions) can facilitate

future achievement. Of course, there are a variety of issues to

consider in attributional retraining, including the specifica-

tion of which attributional patterns are actually dysfunc-

tional, the relative accuracy of the new attributional pattern,

and the issue of only attempting to change a motivational

component instead of the cognitive skill that also may be im-

portant for performance (cf. Blumenfeld, Pintrich, Meece, &

Wessels, 1982; Weiner, 1986).

In summary, individuals’ beliefs about the contingency

between their behaviors and their performance in a situation

are linked to student learning and achievement. In a class-

room context, this means that students’ motivational beliefs

about the link between their studying, self-regulated learning

behavior, and achievement will influence their actual study-

ing behavior. For example, if students believe that no matter

how hard they study, they will not be able to do well on a

chemistry test because they simply lack the aptitude to mas-

ter the material, then they will be less likely to actually study

for the test. In the same fashion, if students believe that their

effort in studying can make a difference regardless of their

actual aptitude for the material, then they will be more likely

to study the material. Accordingly, these beliefs about control

and contingency have motivational force because they influ-

ence future behavior.

Self-Efficacy Beliefs

In contrast to control beliefs, self-efficacy concerns students’

beliefs about their ability to just do the task, not the linkage


Motivation and Classroom Learning

between their doing it and the outcome. Self-efficacy has been

defined as individuals’ beliefs about their performance capa-

bilities in a particular domain (Bandura, 1982, 1986; Schunk,

1985). The construct of self-efficacy includes individuals’

judgments about their ability to accomplish certain goals or

tasks by their actions in specific situations (Schunk, 1985).

This approach implies a relatively situational or domain-

specific construct rather than a global personality trait or gen-

eral perceptions of self-concept or self-competence. In an

achievement context, it includes students’ confidence in their

cognitive skills to perform the academic task. Continuing the

example from chemistry, a student might have confidence in

his or her capability (a high self-efficacy belief) to learn the

material for the chemistry test (i.e., I can learn this material on stoichiometry) and consequently exert more effort in

studying. At the same time, if the student believes that the

grading curve in the class is so difficult and that studying will

not make much difference in his or her grade on the exam

(a low control belief), that student might not study as much.

Accordingly, self-efficacy and control beliefs are separate

constructs, albeit they are usually positively correlated empir-

ically. Moreover, they may combine and interact with each

other to influence student self-regulation and outcomes.

An issue in most motivational theories regarding

self-efficacy and control beliefs concerns the domain or

situational specificity of the beliefs. As noted previously, self-

efficacy theory generally assumes a situation-specific view—

that is, individuals’ judgment of their efficacy for a task is a

function of the task and situational characteristics operating

at the time (difficulty, feedback, norms, comparisons with

others, etc.) as well as their past experience and prior be-

liefs about the task and their current beliefs and feelings as

they work on the task. However, generalized efficacy beliefs

that extend beyond the specific situation may influence moti-

vated behavior. Accordingly, students could have efficacy be-

liefs not only for a specific exam in chemistry, but also for

chemistry in general, natural science courses in contrast to

social science or humanities courses, or learning and school-

work in general. At these more global levels, self-efficacy be-

liefs would become very similar to perceived competence

beliefs or self-concept, at least in terms of the motivational

dynamics and functional relations to student outcomes

(Eccles, Wigfield, & Schiefele, 1998; Harter, 1999; Pintrich

& Schunk, 2002). An important direction for future research

will be to examine the domain generality of both self-efficacy

and control beliefs. Nevertheless, it has been shown in

many studies in many different domains—including the

achievement domain—that students’ self-efficacy beliefs (or

in more colloquial terms, their self-confidence in their capa-

bilities to do a task) are strongly related to their choice of

activities, their level of cognitive engagement, and their will-

ingness to persist at a task (Bandura, 1986; Pintrich, 1999;

Pintrich & De Groot, 1990; Pintrich & Schrauben, 1992;

Schunk, 1985).

In terms of self-efficacy beliefs, results from correlational

research (Pintrich, 1999, 2000b; Pintrich & De Groot, 1990)

are very consistent over time and in line with more experi-

mental studies of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997). Self-efficacy

is one of the strongest positive predictors of actual achieve-

ment in the course, accounting for 9–25% of the variance in

grades, depending on the study and the other predictors en-

tered in the regression (see review by Pintrich, 1999). Stu-

dents who believe they are able to do the course work and

learn the material are much more likely to do well in the

course. Moreover, in these studies, self-efficacy remains a

significant predictor of final achievement, although it ac-

counts for less total variance, even when previous knowledge

(as indexed by performance on earlier tests) or general ability

(as indexed by SAT scores) are entered into the equations in

these studies.

Finally, in all of these studies (see review by Pintrich,

1999), self-efficacy is a significant positive predictor of

student self-regulation and cognitive engagement in the

course. Students who are confident of their capabilities to

learn and do the course work are more likely to report using

more elaboration and organizational cognitive strategies.

These strategies involve deeper cognitive processing of the

course material—students try to paraphrase the material,

summarize it in their own words, or make outlines or concept

maps of the concepts in comparison to just trying to memorize

the material. In addition, students higher in their self-efficacy

for learning also are much more likely to be metacognitive

and try to regulate their learning by monitoring and control-

ling their cognition as they learn. In our studies (see review by

Pintrich, 1999), we have measures of these cognitive and self-

regulatory strategies at the start of the course and at the end of

the course, and self-efficacy remains a significant predictor of

cognitive and self-regulatory strategy use at the end of the

course, even when the earlier measure of cognition is in-

cluded as a predictor along with self-efficacy. Accordingly,

positive self-efficacy beliefs can boost cognitive and self-

regulatory strategy use over the course of a semester.

In summary, an important first generalization about the

role of motivational beliefs in classroom learning emphasizes

the importance of self-efficacy beliefs. Generalization 1: Self-efficacy beliefs are positively re-

lated to adaptive cognitive and self-regulatory strategy use as

well as actual achievement in the classroom.

Accordingly, students who feel capable and confident about

their capabilities to do the course work are much more likely to

The Role of Motivational Components in Classroom Learning


be cognitively engaged, to try hard, to persist, and to do well in

the course. In fact, the strength of the relations between self-

efficacy and these different outcomes in our research as well as

others (Bandura, 1997; Eccles et al., 1998; Pintrich & Schunk,

2002; Schunk, 1991) suggests that self-efficacy is one of the

best and most powerful motivational predictors of learning and

achievement. Given the strength of the relations, research on

the motivational aspects of student learning and performance

needs to include self-efficacy as an important mediator

between classroom contextual factors and student outcomes.

Value Components

Value components of the model incorporate individuals’

goals for engaging in a task as well as their beliefs about the

importance, utility, or interest of a task. Essentially, these

components concern the question Why am I doing this task?

In more colloquial terms, value components concern whether

students care about the task and the nature of that concern.

These components should be related to cognitive and self-

regulatory activities as well as outcomes such as the choice of

activities, effort, and persistence (Eccles, 1983; Eccles et al.,

1998; Pintrich, 1999). Although there are a variety of differ-

ent conceptualizations of value, two basic components seem

relevant: goal orientation and task value.

Goal Orientation

All motivational theories posit some type of goal, purpose, or

intentionality to human behavior, although these goals may

range from relatively accessible and conscious goals as in

attribution theory to relatively inaccessible and unconscious

goals as in psychodynamic theories (Zukier, 1986). In recent

cognitive reformulations of achievement motivation theory,

goals are assumed to be cognitive representations of the dif-

ferent purposes students may adopt in different achievement

situations (Dweck & Elliott, 1983; Dweck & Leggett, 1988;

Ford, 1992). In current achievement motivation research,

there have been two general classes of goals that have

been discussed under various names such as target and

purpose goals (e.g., Harackiewicz, Barron, & Elliot, 1998;

Harackiewicz & Sansone, 1991), or task-specific goals and

goal orientations (e.g., Garcia & Pintrich, 1994; Pintrich &

Schunk, 2002; Wolters, Yu, & Pintrich, 1996; Zimmerman &

Kitsantas, 1997). The general distinction between these two

classes of goals is that target and task-specific goals represent

the specific outcome the individual is attempting to accom-

plish. In academic learning contexts, it would be represented

by goals such as wanting to get a 85% out of 100% correct on

a quiz, trying to get an A on a midterm exam, and so forth.

These goals are specific to a task and are most similar to the

goals discussed by Locke and Latham (1990) for workers in

an organizational context such as wanting to make 10 more

widgets an hour or to sell five more cars in the next week.

In contrast, purpose goals or goal orientations reflect the

more general reasons individuals do a task and are related

more to the research on achievement motivation (Elliot,

1997; Urdan, 1997). It is an individual’s general orientation

(also called schema or theory) for approaching the task, doing

the task, and evaluating his or her performance on the task

(Ames, 1992; Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Pintrich, 2000a,

2000b, 2000c). In this case, purpose goals or goal orientations

refer to why individuals want to get 85% out of 100%, why

they want to get an A, or why they want to make more wid-

gets or sell more cars as well as the standards or criteria (85%,

an A) they will use to evaluate their progress towards the

goal. Most of the research on classroom learning has focused

on goal orientation—not specific target goals—so this chap-

ter also focuses on the role of goal orientation in learning.

There are a number of different models of goal orientation

that have been advanced by different achievement motivation

researchers (cf. Ames, 1992; Dweck & Leggett, 1988;

Harackiewicz et al., 1998; Maehr & Midgley, 1991; Nicholls,

1984; Pintrich, 1988a, 1988b, 1989; Wolters et al., 1996).

These models vary somewhat in their definition of goal ori-

entation and the use of different labels for similar constructs.

They also differ on the proposed number of goal orientations

and the role of approach and avoidance forms of the different

goals. Finally, they also differ on the degree to which an indi-

vidual’s goal orientations are more personal and based in

somewhat stable individual differences, or the degree to

which an individual’s goal orientations are more situated or

sensitive to the context and a function of the contextual fea-

tures of the environment. Most of the models assume that

goal orientations are a function of both individual differences

and contextual factors, but the relative emphasis along this

continuum does vary between the different models. Much of

this research also assumes that classrooms and other contexts

(e.g., business or work settings, laboratory conditions in an

experiment) can be characterized in terms of their goal orien-

tations (see Ford, Smith, Weissbein, Gully, & Salas, 1998, for

an application of goal orientation theory to a work setting),

but for the purposes of this chapter the focus is on indi-

viduals’ personal goal orientation.

Most models propose two general goal orientations that

concern the reasons or purposes individuals are pursuing

when approaching and engaging in a task. In Dweck’s model,

the two goal orientations are labeled learning and perfor- mance goals (Dweck & Leggett, 1988), with learning goals

reflecting a focus on increasing competence and performance


Motivation and Classroom Learning

goals involving either the avoidance of negative judgments of

competence or attainment of positive judgments of compe-

tence. Ames (1992) labels them mastery and performance

goals, with mastery goals orienting learners to “developing

new skills, trying to understand their work, improving their

level of competence, or achieving a sense of mastery based on

self-referenced standards” (Ames, 1992, p. 262). In contrast,

performance goals orient learners to focus on their ability

and self-worth, to determine their ability in reference to best-

ing other students in competitions, surpassing others in

achievements or grades, and receiving public recognition

for their superior performance (Ames, 1992). Harackiewicz,

Elliot, and their colleagues (e.g., Elliot, 1997; Elliot &

Church, 1997; Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996; Harackiewicz

et al., 1998) have labeled them mastery and performance

goals as well. Nicholls (1984) has used the terms task-

involved and ego-involved for similar constructs (see

Pintrich, 2000c, for a review). In this chapter we use the la-

bels of mastery and performance goals.

In the literature on mastery and performance goals, the

general theoretical assumption has been that mastery goals

foster a host of adaptive motivational, cognitive, and

achievement outcomes, whereas performance goals generate

less adaptive or even maladaptive outcomes. Moreover, this

assumption has been supported in a large number of empiri-

cal studies on goals and achievement processes (Ames, 1992;

Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Pintrich, 2000c; Pintrich & Schunk,

2002)—in particular, the positive predictions for mastery

goals. The logic of the argument is that when students are fo-

cused on trying to learn and understand the material and try-

ing to improve their performance relative to their own past

performance, this orientation will help them maintain their

self-efficacy in the face of failure, ward off negative affect

such as anxiety, lessen the probability that they will have dis-

tracting thoughts, and free up cognitive capacity and allow

for more cognitive engagement and achievement. In contrast,

when students are concerned about trying to be the best, get

higher grades than do others, and do well compared to others

under a performance goal, there is the possibility that this ori-

entation will result in more negative affect or anxiety, in-

crease the possibility of distracting and irrelevant thoughts

(e.g., worrying about how others are doing rather than focus-

ing on the task), and that this will diminish cognitive capac-

ity, task engagement, and performance.

The research on the role of mastery and performance goals

in learning and performance is fairly straightforward for mas-

tery goals but not for performance goals. This research has in-

cluded student use of strategies that promote deeper

processing of the material as well as various metacognitive

and self-regulatory strategies (Pintrich, 2000c). Much of this

research is based on self-report data from correlational class-

room studies, although Dweck and Leggett (1988) summarize

data from experimental studies. The classroom studies typi-

cally assess students’ goal orientations and then measure stu-

dents reported use of different strategies for learning either at

the same time or longitudinally. Although there are some

problems with the use of self-report instruments for measur-

ing self-regulatory strategies (see Pintrich, Wolters, & Baxter,

2000), these instruments do display reasonable psychometric

qualities. Moreover, the research results are overwhelmingly

consistent—mastery goals account for between 10 and 30%

of the variance in the cognitive outcomes. Studies have been

done with almost all age groups from elementary to college

students and have assessed students’ goals for school in gen-

eral as well as in the content areas of English, math, science,

and social studies.

The studies have found that students who endorse a mas-

tery goal are more likely to report attempts to self-monitor

their cognition and to seek ways to become aware of their

understanding and learning, such as checking for understand-

ing and comprehension monitoring (e.g., Ames & Archer,

1988; Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Meece, Blumenfeld, & Hoyle,

1988; Meece & Holt, 1993; Middleton & Midgley, 1997;

Nolen, 1988; Pintrich, 1999; Pintrich & De Groot, 1990;

Pintrich & Garcia, 1991, 1993; Pintrich, Smith, Garcia, &

McKeachie, 1993; Pintrich & Schrauben, 1992; Wolters

et al., 1996). In addition, this research has consistently shown

that students’ use of various cognitive strategies for learning

is positively related to mastery goals. In particular, this re-

search has shown that students’ reported use of deeper

processing strategies such as the use of elaboration strategies

(i.e., paraphrasing, summarizing) and organizational strategies

(networking, outlining) is positively correlated with the en-

dorsement of mastery goals (Ames & Archer, 1988; Bouffard,

Boisvert, Vezeau, & Larouche, 1995; Graham & Golen, 1991;

Kaplan & Midgley, 1997; Meece et al., 1988; Pintrich, 1999;

Pintrich & De Groot, 1990; Pintrich & Garcia, 1991; Pintrich

et al., 1993; Wolters et al., 1996). Finally, in some of this re-

search, mastery goals have been negatively correlated with the

use of less effective or surface processing strategies (i.e., re-

hearsal), especially in older students (Anderman & Young,

1994; Kaplan & Midgley, 1997; Pintrich & Garcia, 1991;

Pintrich et al., 1993). In contrast to this research on the use of

various self-regulatory and learning strategies, there has not

been much research on how mastery goals are linked to the use

of other problem-solving or thinking strategies. This is clearly

an area that will be investigated in the future.

The research on performance goals and cognitive out-

comes is not as easily summarized as are the results for mas-

tery goals. The original goal theory research generally found

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