This position paper focuses on the concept of goal theory. Goal theory is a particular from of an achievement goal which in turn is a particular feature of achievement motivation. At the finer level of distinction, there are also different types of goal theories. In this position paper, I start by firstly outlining the category differences between the different achievement motivation concepts to arrive at the suite of goal theories. I will then focus on Andy Elliot’s version of goal theory and in particular, the theoretical debate that surrounds firstly the operationalisation of goals. I explain the evidence that suggests the importance of a range of alternative goals and outline the argument that goal theory may underplay the importance these goals. The second controversy I will focus on is a practical one, namely, how can we use what we have learned from the research on goal theory to inform practice in classrooms? These two controversies share considerable space in the extant literature and so whilst there may be others, I hope by outlining these two controversies, the scene can be set for further debate.
Achievement motivation, achievement goals and goal theories.
In 1938, Henry Murray produced a seminal piece of work entitled “Explorations in Personality” (Murray, 1938). Murray was interested in behaviours that seemed to him to be motivated by forces other than drives such as sex, hunger and thirst. He wanted to understand whether there might be some other set of innate characteristics that operated in a drive-like fashion in the sense that they energized behaviour in a particular direction. Murray developed the thematic apperception test where participants were asked to describe what they thought was going on in a series of pictures (see Fig 1).
Fig 1. Typical pictures from Murray’s thematic apperception test. Participants were asked to tell a story about each picture.
From participants’ replies, Murray coded responses into...