Achievement Goals: What They Are And How They Help Understand Learning

achievement goals

Motivation is a very important and decisive variable when carrying out any type of activity. This is especially important in the field of education, since how motivated the individual is will facilitate or hinder their learning and performance.

There are many motivational models that try to clarify the influence of this variable on aspects such as academic performance, being achievement goal theory the explanatory proposal that we are going to delve into below.

What is achievement goal theory?

Achievement goal theory is a motivational model that refers to how people behave when meeting goals, especially applied in the academic field

This model is based on the belief that an individual’s goals consist of striving to demonstrate his or her competence and ability in contexts of achievement, contexts which can be understood as those in which the person participates, especially the educational environment, the sports, family, social… and from which you can receive influences to guide your goals.

achievement goals

According to James W. Fryer and Andrew J. Elliot, achievement goals reflect the desire to develop, achieve and demonstrate competence evaluated according to criteria that may well be absolute, such as the performance of the task itself. ; intrapersonal, such as the maximum individual potential for that task, that is, “putting yourself to the test”; or normative, such as the performance and approval of others.

Originally, within the model there were two types of goals: The learning goal, also called mastery or task-directed, and the performance goal, also called relative ability or ego-directed goal The objective of the learning goal as its name suggests is to develop better competence according to intrapersonal criteria, while the objective of the performance goal is to demonstrate that competence based on normative and interpersonal criteria.

As time went by, the model expanded, incorporating the concept of approach goals and avoidance goals. In a context of obtaining an achievement, we understand the idea of ​​approach as moving, in a figurative sense, towards the positively valued object or staying close to or in it. On the other hand, Avoidance means moving away from the object, which is negatively valued and you want to remain distanced from it.

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Combining the ideas of learning and performance goals with those of approach and avoidance we have a 2×2 type model, in which we can distinguish 4 different types of learning goals:

1. Learning-approach goal

Its fundamental objective is understand and learn as much as possible approaching the object of study.

2. Learning-avoidance goal

Its objective is to avoid incompetence, not learning everything possible.

3. Performance goal-approach

It focuses on the relative ability of the subject comparing himself with the rest of his classmates and trying to surpass them He aims to prove that he is the best at a certain skill or task.

4. Performance-avoidance goal

The subject tries to escape failure and avoid the negative judgments of others. He does not want to demonstrate how incompetent he is in a certain task that is socially valued and judged.

Although the original 2×2 model has been widely valued, it has been considered that categorizing behaviors into apparently mutually exclusive categories does not correspond to reality. Research on how students perform academically, both learning and performing, has found that These goals can really be combined and, in addition, social factors have an important weight in all of them Multiple goals can be adopted simultaneously.

Targeted behaviors

Maehr and Nicholls consider that people differ in their definitions of success or failure when they are in achievement environments in which they have to demonstrate their competence and those in which they must achieve some goal, regardless of the competence that has allowed them to achieve that goal. aim. They group the different behaviors that can be observed in achievement environments into four categories based on the goals that give rise to such behaviors.

1. Behaviors aimed at demonstrating capacity

People We feel capable if we perceive ourselves as more competent and gifted than other individuals and we feel less capable if we perceive ourselves as less competent than others.

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2. Behaviors aimed at social approval

This type of behavior aims to maximize the probability of showing superiority and thereby obtaining social recognition. In this case, Success is achieved if social approval is achieved from significant other people regardless of how good the final results are.

3. Behaviors oriented to the task learning process

These behaviors are intended to improve the skill or performance of the task at hand, that is, in themselves they are focused as a learning process. It is not important to achieve the final objective or reach the goal, but to improve the competition. Success comes when the task is mastered.

4. Behaviors aimed at achieving goals

The main reason why the behavior is done is to have a good result, no matter how much was learned during the completion of the task. Success or failure depends on whether the goal is achieved or not.

The theory of self-determination

Although it is a different theory from that of achievement goals, the theory of self-determination is quite related to the first in that it is still a model closely related to the motivational aspects involved in learning and academic performance. This theory assumes that the person is active by nature, in the sense that they have an innate tendency to get involved in the environment assimilating new knowledge and developing autonomous self-regulation.

Within the model, self-regulation is understood as those causes or reasons that each person considers underlying their behavior, that is, that explain them and that attribute a greater or lesser degree of self-control. These various reasons can give rise to various regulatory styles and can be grouped into two categories.

1. Autonomous

This style regulator It is deduced when the person’s motives for acting correspond to their interests, values ​​or needs Only autonomous reasons can really be considered as properly self-regulated, since the person recognizes that his way of acting depends on him. It could be related to an internalizing locus of control.

2. Controlled

Here the regulatory style could be related to an externalizing locus of control. The person considers that The reasons that direct their plans and behaviors have to do with some form of social pressure or external control She behaves because others have told her to do so.

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Taking all this into account, we understand that autonomous self-regulation is a fundamental aspect behind a student’s motivation to study, do homework and perform behaviors focused on acquiring new learning and improving their academic performance. If you have an autonomous style, you will understand that it is through your effort and interest that you will get good grades while if you have a controlled style you will think that your poor academic performance, for example, is because your teacher has a mania for you instead of attributing it to a lack of motivation to study.

Demotivation or amotivation, that is, a state of absolute absence of motivation, makes it very difficult to carry out a given task and obtain the goal that is at the end of the path. The unmotivated student lacks intentionality, so his behavior is non-self-determined and his regulatory style is that of non-regulation, that is, he does not mobilize to achieve achievement, regardless of whether it is to learn or to improve his performance.

Extrinsic motivation is defined as any situation in which the reason why the person acts is some consequence external to them, that is, it is dispensed by other people. This initially extrinsic motivation can become integrated, that is, intrinsic to the individual. This means that the individual can feel so much interest in the task that without anyone forcing him to do it or regardless of how important it is for his future, he does it willingly.

In relation to regulation and the type of motivation we can talk about four types of regulation styles that, in reality, can be located in different sections of a spectrum made up at its extremes by the controlled regulation style and the autonomous regulation style

Relationships between achievement goals and self-determination

Given the theory of achievement goals and self-determination, we move on to see what relationships these two models of motivation have. The learning goal, typical of achievement goals, enhances intrinsic motivation while performance is considered an indication of extrinsic motivation.

If our goal is to learn, we do it for ourselves, with more integrated or introjected regulation. On the other hand, if our goal is performance, motivation usually comes from outside, with external regulation. We do it because we want a reward such as recognition.