The term motivation is derived from the Latin verb movere (to move). The idea of movement is reflected in such commonsense ideas about motivation as something that gets us going, keeps us moving, and helps us get jobs done. Conversely, we know we are not motivated when we cannot seem to get out of bed or off the sofa.
Despite these commonly held ideas, definitions of motivation are numerous and varied, and there is much disagreement over the precise nature of motivation. Although there is disagreement about the precise nature of motivation, this paper offer a general definition of motivation that is consistent with the cognitive focus of this paper on learners’ thoughts and beliefs and hat captures the elements considered by most researchers and practitioners to be central to motivation. Motivation is the process whereby goal-directed activity is instigated and sustained.
Motivation involves goals that provide impetus for and direction to action. Cognitive views of motivation are united in their emphasis on the importance of goals. Goals may not be well formulated and may change with experience, but the point is that individuals have something in mind that they are trying to attain (or avoid).
Motivation requires activity—physical or mental. Physical activity entails effort, persistence, and other overt actions. Mental activity includes such cognitive actions as planning, rehearsing, organizing, monitoring, making decisions, solving problems, and assessing progress. The activities that students engage in are geared toward attaining their goals.
Finally, we highlight that motivated activity is both instigated and sustained. Starting toward a goal is important and often difficult because it involves making a commitment to change and taking the first step. But motivational processes are critically important to sustain action. Many major goals are long-term, for example, earning a college degree, obtaining a good job, and saving money for retirement. Much of what we know about motivational processes comes from studying how people respond to the difficulties, problems, failures, and setbacks they encounter as they pursue goals over time.
A. Motivation Research paradigms
Researchers employ different research paradigms to investigate motivational processes. For example, there is a distinction between correlational and experimental studies. Correlational research deals with relations that exist between variables. A researcher may hypothesize that motivation is positively correlated with (related to) perceived capabilities such that the more confidence individuals have in their learning abilities, the higher is their motivation. To test this relation, the researcher might measure individuals’ perceived capabilities and their motivation as demonstrated on a task. The researcher could statistically correlate the perceived capability and motivation scores to determine the nature and strength of the relation.
Pintrich and De Groot (2000a) conducted a correlational study that explored the relations among motivational, cognitive, and academic performance variables. The motivational beliefs component assessed three factors: self-efficacy, (perceptions of capabilities), intrinsic value (importance), and test anxiety. The learning strategies component comprised two factors: cognitive strategy use and self-regulation.
Correlations among intrinsic value, self-efficacy, strategy use, and self-regulation were positive and significant. Test anxiety showed a significant, negative correlation with self-efficacy; correlations of test anxiety with all other variables were nonsignificant.The researchers also computed correlations among these five variables and measures of academic performance: in-class seatwork and homework, quizzes and tests, essays and reports, grades. Intrinsic value, self-efficacy, and self-regulation correlated positively with academic measures except performance measures; strategy use correlated positively with all academic performance measures; strategy use correlated positively with academic measures except for seatwork (nonsignificant); test anxiety was negatively correlated with grades and quiz/test scores.
This study was correlational because Pintrich and De Groot looked at the existing relations among variables and did not attempt to alter them. The results show that motivational variables relate in important ways to cognitive factors contributing to classroom success (strategy use-self-regulation) and to measures of academic performance.
In an experimental study, the researcher actually alters one or more variables and determines the effects on other variables. A researcher interested in the effects of perceived capabilities could conduct an experimental study by systematically altering these perceptions and gauging the effect on individual motivation. For example, the researcher might have a teacher systematically praise love-achieving individuals to raise their perceptions of capabilities and determine if this increase enhances motivation.
Schunk (2002) conducted an experimental study that investigated how forms of effort attributional feedback influenced individuals’ achievement outcomes during learning. Individuals in lower years who lacked subtraction skills received instruction and practice opportunities over sessions. While individuals solved problems individually, an adult proctor periodically walked up to each individual and asked on what page in the instructional packet he or she was working.
For some individuals (prior attribution), after they replied with the page number; the proctor linked their progress with effort by remarking, “You’ve been working hard.” For others (future attribution, the proctor stressed the value of future effort by stating, “You need to work hard.” Those in third condition (monitoring) were queried but the proctor departed without comment after the individual replied. Individuals in a fourth (control) condition were not monitored.
This study was an experiment because Schunk altered the type of feedback individuals received and looked to see whether differential effects on achievement outcomes resulted. Schunk hypothesized, that prior attribution would be the most effective because it supports individuals’ perceptions of their progress in acquiring skills and conveys that they can continue to improve through effort. This prediction was supported.
Prior-attribution individuals outperformed individuals in the other conditions on measures of self-efficacy and subtraction skill. Prior-attribution individuals also displayed higher motivation than did future-attribution and control individuals as assessed by the amount of problem solving during the independent practice portions of the sessions. The results of this study suggest that it is better to link individuals’ past success to effort than to stress the future benefits of hard work.
Each type of research has advantages and disadvantages. Correlational research helps clarify relations among variables. Correlational findings often suggest directions for experimental research. The positive correlation obtained by Pintrich and De Groot between intrinsic value and academic performance suggests further research exploring whether increasing intrinsic value leads to higher achievement. A disadvantage of correlational research is that it cannot identify cause and effect. The positive correlation between intrinsic value and academic performance could mean that (a) intrinsic value affects academic performance, (b) academic performance influences intrinsic value, (c) intrinsic value and academic performance are each influenced by other, unmeasured variables (e.g., home factors).
Experimental research can clarify cause-effect relations. By systematically varying type of feedback and eliminating other variables as potential causes, Schunk (2002) could specify how changes in attributional feedback affect achievement outcomes. Clarifying causal relations helps us understand the nature of motivation. At the same time, experimental research is often narrow is scope. Researchers typically vary only a few variables and try to hold all others constant, which is difficult to do and somewhat unrealistic.
B. Qualitative/Interpretative Research
In recent years, another type of paradigm has gained currency among researchers. The theories and methods used are referred to various labels, including qualitative, ethnographic, participant observation, phenomenological, constructivist, and interpretative (Erickson, 2003). These approaches differ from one another characterized by intensive study, descriptions of events, and interpretation of meanings. Such a research model is not new in the social sciences, but only recently has it been applied increasingly in supervision.
Interpretative research is especially useful when researchers are interested in the structure of events rather than their overall distributions, when the meanings and perspectives of individuals are important, when actual experiments are impractical or unethical, and when there is a desire to search for new potential causal linkages that have not been unearthed by experimental methods, (Erickson, 2003).
Moreover, qualitative/interpretive research yields rich sources of data that are much more intensive and thorough than those typically obtained in correlational or experimental research. This research paradigm also has the potential of raising new questions and new slants on old questions that often are missed by traditional methods. Because this approach is not concerned with the aggregation of usable knowledge for teaching practice, it is not a means for providing practical answers to teaching problems (Shulman, 2004).
Studies usually are conducted with few participants, which raise the issue of whether findings are reliable and representative of the population being studied. Another concern is that if researchers do not attempt to interpret data in light of a theoretical framework, findings may not seem linked and interpretation may prove difficult. Nonetheless, as a research model, this tradition has provided much valuable data in the study of motivation, and its influence will continue to grow.
In conclusion and in addition to the differences among experimental, correlational, and qualitative research, another distinction exists between laboratory studies conducted in controlled settings and field studies conducted where was conducted in laboratories using such infrahuman species as cats, dogs, and rats. Such research was appropriate given the influence of conditioning theories which contended that common processes occurred in animals and humans and that controlled experiments could help isolate these processes and eliminate extraneous influences. Motivation research also has employed human subjects in controlled laboratory environments. With the increasing emphasis on schooling and other applied settings, however; most current research is conducted in field settings. The Pintrich and De Groot (2000a), and Schunk (2002) studies are examples of field studies.
1.Pintrich, P.R. & De Groot, E. (2000a). Individual differences in early adolescents’ motivation and self-regulated learning. Journal of early Adolescence, 14, 139-161.
2.Schunk, D.H. (2002). Extended attributional feedback: Sequence effects during remedial reading instruction. Journal of Early Adolescence, 6, 55-66.
3.Erickson, F. (2003). Qualitative methods in research on supervision. In M.C. Wittrock (ED.), Handbook research on supervision (3rd ed., pp. 119-161). New York: Macmillan.
4.Shulman, L.S. (2004). Paradigms and research programs in the study of teachings: A contemporary perspective. In M.C. Wittrock (ED.) Handbook of research on supervision (3rd) ed., pp. 3-36). New York: Macmillan.