Achievement goals: what they are and how they help understand learning

Motivation is a very important and decisive variable when performing any type of activity. This is particularly important in the field of education, because being motivated, the individual will facilitate or hinder his learning and performance.

There are many models of motivation that attempt to clarify the influence of this variable on aspects such as academic performance, being the theory of achievement objectives the explanatory proposal that we will explore below.

    What is the theory of achievement goals?

    The theory of achievement targets is a motivation model that refers to the way people behave when they achieve their goals, especially applied in academia.

    This model is based on the belief that the objectives of an individual are to strive to demonstrate competence and abilities in contexts of achievement, contexts from which can be understood those in which the person participates, especially in the educational setting. ., Sports, family, social … and those who can receive influences for the orientation of their goals.

    Achievement milestones

    According to James W. Fryer and Andrew J. Elliot, achievement goals reflect the desire to develop, achieve, and demonstrate competency assessed against criteria that may well be absolute, such as completion of the task itself; intrapersonal, as would be the maximum individual potential for this task, ie “put to the test”; or regulations, such as the action and approval of others.

    Originally, the model spoke of two types of objectives: The learning goal, also known as mastery or task-oriented, and the performance goal, also known as the relative ability goal or self-directed goal. The objective of the learning objective as the name suggests is to develop a better competence according to intrapersonal criteria, while the objective of the performance objective is to demonstrate this competence on the basis of normative criteria and interpersonal.

    Over time, the model has broadened, incorporating the concept of approach goals and avoidance goals. In a context of success, we understand the idea of ​​the process as going, in the figurative sense, towards the object valued positively or by remaining close or within it. On the other hand, avoidance means walking away from the object, which is rated negatively and you want to get away from it.

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

    1. Learning objective-approximation

    Its main objective is understand and learn as much as possible, Approach to the object of study.

    2. Learning avoidance goal

    Their goal is to escape incompetence, not to learn as much as possible.

    3. Performance approximation objective

    Put the accent on the subject’s relative ability to compare himself with the rest of his peers and try to overcome them. It aims to show that he is the best at a certain skill or task.

    4. Performance avoidance objective

    The subject tries to escape failure and avoid negative judgments from others. He doesn’t want to show how incompetent he is at some socially valued and judged task.

    Although the original 2×2 model was widely appreciated, it was considered that the categorization of behaviors into seemingly exclusive categories of each other did not correspond to reality. Research into how students develop academically, both by learning and by showing their performance, has shown that these goals can really be combined and, moreover, social factors have an important weight in each of them. They can adopt more than one lens simultaneously.

      oriented behaviors

      Maehr and Nicholls consider that people differ in their definitions of success or failure when they find themselves in environments of accomplishment in which they must demonstrate competence and in those in which they must achieve a goal, no matter what. the skill they enabled them to achieve this goal. . they or they the different behaviors observable in the production environments are grouped into four categories, Based on the objectives that give rise to these behaviors.

      1. Demonstrations to demonstrate the ability

      people we feel capable if we see ourselves as more competent and gifted than other people and we feel less capable if we see ourselves as less competent than others.

      2. Behaviors aimed at social approval

      These types of behaviors aim to maximize the probability of showing superiority and thus gain social recognition. In that case, success is achieved if this social approval is obtained by other important peopleRegardless of the quality of the end results.

      3. Behaviors oriented towards the process of learning tasks

      These behaviors aim to improve the skill or exercise of the task being performedIn other words, they are in themselves focused on a learning process. It does not matter the achievement of the ultimate goal or the achievement of the goal, but the improvement of competition. Success is achieved when the task is mastered.

      4. Behaviors aimed at achieving objectives

      The main reason the behavior is done is to have a good resultIt doesn’t matter what you learned while completing the task. Success or failure depends on whether the goal is achieved or not.

      The theory of self-determination

      Although this is a different theory from achievement goals, self-determination theory is closely related to the former because it remains a model closely related to the motivational aspects involved in learning and performance. this theory assumes that the person is active by nature, in that they have an innate tendency to become involved in the environment, Assimilate new knowledge and develop autonomous self-regulation.

      In the model, self-regulation is understood as the causes or reasons that everyone considers to be underlying their behavior, that is to say, which explain them and which attribute to them a greater or lesser degree of self-control. . These different reasons can give rise to different styles of regulation and can be grouped into two categories.


      This regulatory style it is deduced when the person’s motives for action correspond to his interests, values ​​or needs. In reality, only autonomous reasons can be considered as properly self-regulated, because the person recognizes that his way of acting depends on it. It could be related to an internalizing locus of control.

      2. Controlled

      Here, the regulatory style could be linked to an outsourcing locus of control. The person considers that the reasons behind their plans and behaviors relate to some form of social pressure or external control. She behaves because others have told her to.

      With all of this in mind, we understand that autonomous self-regulation is a key aspect of a student’s motivation to study, do homework, and adopt behaviors focused on the acquisition of new learning and development. improvement of his school performance. If you have an independent style, you will understand that it is through your efforts and your interest that you will get good grades.If you have it in a controlled style, you will think that your poor academic performance, for example, is due to your teacher being obsessed with you instead of attributing it to a lack of motivation to study.

      Demotivation or amotivation, that is to say a state of absolute lack of motivation, makes it very difficult to perform a given task and achieve the goal at the end of the road. The demotivated student has no intention, therefore his behavior is not self-determined and his style of regulation is that of non-regulation, that is to say, he does not mobilize in the achievement of success, whether to learn or to improve. their performance.

      extrinsic motivation is defined as any situation in which the reason why the person acts is an external consequence of itIn other words, it is provided by other people. This initially extrinsic motivation can be integrated, that is to say, be intrinsic to the individual. By this, it is said that the individual can feel so much interest in the task that without anyone forcing him or no matter how important it is for his future, he does it willingly.

      Regarding regulation and the type of motivation, we can talk about four types of styles of regulation that can really lie in different sections of a spectrum formed at its ends by the controlled regulation style and the autonomous regulation style.

      • External regulation: motivation comes from outside, to satisfy an external demand or to obtain a price.
      • Introjected regulation: actions are taken to avoid feeling guilty or anxious and to protect self-esteem, rather than out of obligation or pleasure.
      • Identified regulation: the person recognizes and accepts the implicit value of the behavior, executes it freely even if it is not pleasant.
      • Integrated regulation: performs the behavior in good taste, assimilated it as something that is part of their individual identity, values, needs or goals.

      Relationship between achievement goals and self-determination

      Given the theory of achievement goals and self-determination, let’s look at the relationship between these two motivation models. The learning objective, typical of achievement objectives, reinforces intrinsic motivation, While that of 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 objective is performance, motivation generally comes from outside, with external regulation. We do this because we want an award as recognition.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Elliot, A. (2005). A conceptual history of building goal achievement. In A. Elliot and C. Dweck (Eds), Competence and Motivation Handbook (pages 52-72). New York: Guilford.
      • Elliot, A. and Fryer, J. (2008). Construction of objectives in psychology. In J. Shah and W. Gardner (Eds.), Handbook of the Science of Motivation (pp. 235-250). New York: Guilford.
      • Elliot, A. and McGregor, H. (2001). A 2×2 Achievement Goal Framework 2. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80 (3), 501-519.
      • Elliot, A. and Murayama, K. (2008). On the measurement of the achievement objectives: criticism, illustration and application. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100 (3), 613-628.
      • Fryer, J. and Elliot, A. (2008). Self-regulation of the achievement of achievement objectives. In D. Schunk and B. Zimmerman (Eds.), Motivation and self-regulated learning: Theory, research, and applications (pp. 53-75). New York: Erlbaum.
      • Harackiewicz, J. Barron, K., Elliot, A., Tauer, J. and Carter, S. (2000). Short and long term consequences of achieving goals: predict interest and performance over time. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92 (2), 316-330.
      • Kaplan, A. and Maehr, M. (2007). The contributions and perspectives of goal orientation theory. Journal of Educational Psychology, 19, 141-184.
      • González, A., Donolo, D., Rinaudo, M., Paoloni, PVA (2010). University students’ achievement and self-determination objectives: individual differences and motivation profiles. REME, ISSN 1138-493X, vol. 13, Núm. 34.

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