It has been said that individuals can’t be motivated unless they have specific goals to pursue. Research indicates that students who decide to attend college with some goals to direct their study are more likely to persist than students who have no such goals. Both long-range (e.g. “I want to graduate with a B.A. degree in biology) and intermediate (e.g., I need to pass the courses needed to be accepted into biology) goals stem from our personal values. The more likely we are involved in tasks and activities that are related to our values, the happy and more successful we are likely to be.
Certain properties of goals lead to better attainment. Schunk (1991) identified three properties of goals that are more likely to lead to success in any area. These properties include specificity, proximity, and difficulty.
- Goals that identify specific performance standards are more likely to increase motivation than general goals such as “I want to be a better learner.” Specific goals help guide us in determining how much effort is required for success. Educational research has indicated that specific goals result in higher performance than either no goals or general goals (Locke & Latham, 1990).
- Proximal goals (i.e. more immediate) result in greater motivation than distant goals (i.e., more long-range). When learners feel that they are making progress toward a proximal goal, they feel more confident that they can attain more long-range goals. Short-term or intermediate goals are the stepping stones to the long-term goals.
- The more difficult a goal the greater effort individuals put forth (assuming the person has the ability to achieve the goal. As learners work hard and attain difficult goals, they develop competence beliefs and become ready to tackle even more difficult goals.