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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Goal-Setting and Self-Regulation in Online Courses: The Basics


Goal-setting, which is an aspect of self-regulation, can be a vital part of an adult student's success in online learning. It increases motivation dramatically, not only by building in rewards, but also by increasing skill levels and perceived self-efficacy.

In 1979, Locke and Latham published a landmark paper that presented their research on self-regulation and motivation, which involved logging industry workers in the American South and the West. The findings suggested that when individuals are able to set their own goals, and if they are provided the support and resources they need to achieve the goals, productivity increases. This article proposes a goal-setting model that includes the following components: input sources, achieving goal commitment, overcoming resistance to goal acceptance, goal attributes, support elements, and performance. Benefits include high performance, role clarity, and pride in achievement. It also identifies possible dangers of implementing goal-setting. Employees may become dissatisfied by the failures, may be tempted to take short cuts, and may ignore non-goal areas.

Later, Locke and Latham published research that established connections between goal-setting, self-regulation and job satisfaction. It grew out of Locke and Latham's original research, as well as from the Wurzburg school on intention, task and set, Lewin on aspiration, and Ryan on intentions. The results are that goal specificity is key to developing motivating goals. Commitment to goals is also seen as a key element if performance is to be impacted in a positive way. The connections between goal-setting and work satisfaction are revealed to have a direct connection to expectancy theory. High expectancy and specific, high goals will lead to satisfaction when mediating mechanisms such as effort, persistence, direction, and plans lead to contingent and non-contingent rewards.

Further building on earlier research, White developed an evaluation instrument designed to determine how goal-setting relates to the actual performance of university students. The instrument measured the both the goal-setting attitudes and behaviors. Findings found correlations between specific and clear short-term goal-setting and academic performance.

Definitions and Key Concepts

Self-regulation is the way an individual monitors, controls, and directs aspects of his or her cognitive processes and behavior for themselves.

Self-regulation involves the following cognitive processes:

1. Planning: organized steps, includes goal-setting, developing a strategy, and identifying obstacles;
2. Monitoring: involves the ability to observe, acknowledge, and measure progress toward one's objectives;
3. Evaluating: involves assessing outcomes, gauging progress;
4. Reinforcing: reflection and recognition of success, involves reward.
Goal-setting involves self-regulation and is very task and outcome-oriented. It also requires one to develop cognitive abilities and skills.

Application to Adult Online Learners

Self-regulation: Adult learners are beneficiaries of self-regulation because it allows them to create order out of an often chaotic existence, and it helps them organize time, energies, and resources. This is a vital element as adults seek to balance career, family, travel, goals, dreams, and responsibilities.

The following are steps that will help the adult learner build skills needed for self-regulation:

1. Planning.
Set goals => must identify goals
Develop a strategy => analyze the task, describe the desired outcome
Prior experience and knowledge => identify useful knowledge or experience

2. Monitoring
Determine progress => observe and measure
Fine-tuning => identify needed adjustments
Re-assess desired outcomes => Propose changes in order to attain goal

3. Evaluating
Assess strategy => was desired outcome achieved? was it done easily? efficiently?
Lessons learned => Is there anything to modify or incorporate in future attempts?

One of the most widely used approaches to goal-setting is the SMART model, which was developed and popularized by Stephen Covey. The SMART model below includes adaptations for adult learners.

S = Specific - Make the goal very specific, both in terms of time and tasks
M = Measurable - Monitor progress, and recognize when the goals have been achieved
A = Achievable - Impossible goals are very demotivating
R = Resourced - Adult students should always invest in resources needed
T = Time-based - Realistic time frames, with short-term and long-term goals

Useful Articles

Assor, A., Kaplan, H, & Roth, G. (2002). Choice is good, but relevance is excellent: Autonomy-enhancing and suppressing teacher behaviors predicting students’ engagement in schoolwork. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 261-278.

This article reports the results of a study to determine how teacher behavior, and self-regulation affects the level to which students engage in their schoolwork. The findings suggested that teachers who were able to explain the relevance of the schoolwork to the students and to model self-regulation had more success in encouraging students to engage with the schoolwork.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.

Boekaerts, M., Pintrich, P. R., & Zeidner, M. (Eds.) (2000). Handbook of self-regulation. San Diego: Academic Press.

Dweck, C. S. (1999). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). A theory of goal setting and task performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist. 57, 701-717.

Locke E A, Saari L M, Shaw K N & Latham G P. (1981) Goal setting and task performance: 1969-1980. Psychol. Bull. 90, 125-52.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P (1979). Goal setting – A motivational technique that works. Organizational Dynamics, Autumn 1979, 68-80.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). Work motivation and satisfaction: Light at the end of the tunnel. Psychological Science, 1, 240-246.

Pervin, L.A. (1992). The rational mind and the problem of volition. Psychological Science, 3, 162-164.

Schunk, D. H. (1995). Self-efficacy and education and instruction. In J. E. Maddux (Ed.), Self-efficacy, adaptation, and adjustment: Theory, research, and application (pp. 281-303). New York: Plenum Press.

Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (1997). Social origins of self-regulatory competence. Educational Psychologist, 32, 195-208.

White, F. (2002). A cognitive-behavioural measure of student goal setting in a tertiary educational context. Educational Pscyhology, 22, 285-304.

Zimmerman, B. J. (1998). Developing self-fulfilling cycles of academic regulation: An analysis of exemplary instructional models. In D. H. Schunk & B. J. Zimmerman (Eds.), Self- regulated learning: From teaching to self-reflective practice (pp. 1-19). New York: Guilford Press.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Attaining self-regulation: A social cognitive perspective. In M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (pp. 13-39). San Diego: Academic Press.

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