Motivation as an Enabler for Academic Success

Updated: Feb 7, 2020

Over the years, motivation has arguably been one of the most researched topics in the field of psychology and education. Educational psychologists have long recognized the positive effects of motivation on students’ learning and behavior.

Motivation is defined as “the reasons behind underlying behavior” (Guay, Chanal, , Ratelle, Marsh, Larose, & Boivin, 2010, p. 712). It may also refer to “the attribute that moves us to do or not to do something” (Broussard, & Garrison, 2004, p. 106). It is considered a crucial ingredient in achieving academic success (Graham & Weiner, 1996).

In the journal article under this review, authors Linnenbrink and Pintrich (2002) looked at the aspects of motivation from different theoretical perspectives with emphasis on their influence to students’ academic success. The article focused on the discussion of four key components of student motivation namely, adaptive self-efficacy beliefs, adaptive attributions, intrinsic motivation, and adaptive goals orientation. The authors provided explanations for each component based on researches and then related it to academic achievement. The authors also offered suggestions on how these motivational constructs can be applied to classroom practice and what measures can be used to assess them.


There were three assumptions about motivation that the authors discussed in order to establish our understanding of the subject. First is the assumption that motivation is a dynamic, multifaceted concept which means that students are motivated in multiple ways. It all boils down to understanding the learning needs and goals of the students. The second assumption revealed that motivation is not a stable state but a constantly changing characteristic that operates in different situations, contexts and domains. This indicates that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy in motivating students. The third assumption centered on the cognitive aspects of motivation which contends that motivation is not directly observable. This means that students’ motivation is fueled by their own thoughts and active processing of information.


Given these assumptions, the authors discussed the four motivational constructs built on the social cognitive motivational theories. The first of these constructs is self-efficacy which Bandura (1982) defined as “judgments of how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations” (p. 122). Eccles and Wigfield (2002) further described it as one’s “ability to organize and execute a given course of action to solve a problem or accomplish a task” (p. 110). Self-efficacy has been associated with academic success primarily because when students are confident about their capabilities; it motivates them to be persistent in accomplishing the tasks that are given to them. This notion is supported by Pintrich and DeGroot (1990) who claimed that self-efficacy perceptions can actually predict achievement over and above actual ability levels.

As teachers, the best thing to do is to provide students with opportunities where they can engage in tasks that are attainable or the chance of success is high. This can be fostered later on by increasing the difficulty of task to increase capability. Giving students clear expectations about the tasks is also crucial so they can strategize on how to achieve such. In terms of assessment, as noted earlier, motivation is context-specific; hence it should be established on a particular context or classroom.

Adaptive Attribution

The second motivation component pertains to adaptive attribution which refers to students’ perceived causes of their failure or success. These perceived causes can be categorized as stable or unstable, internal or external, and controllable or uncontrollable. When students are able to appropriately attribute the causes of their successes and failures, they can develop adaptive skills that they can use in dealing with different situations in the future. In short, the types of attributions that students make largely influence their subsequent behaviors.

Hence, as teachers, we should communicate to our students our comments or feedback about their works. This way, we can teach them a sense of accountability for their failures and warn them not to be complacent on their successes. In doing so however, we should be mindful of what we communicate to them as it affects the types of attributions that they will make. For instance, if we always attribute a student’s failures to lack of ability, he or she may lose the motivation and confidence to succeed in the future.

Consequently, to assess students’ attributions, we can engage them to an informal conversation to learn about their attributions. This will also allow us to provide corrections for possible inaccurate and harmful beliefs that they may have.

Intrinsic Motivation

The third component focuses on intrinsic motivation which refers to motivation that is characterized by personal enjoyment and interest (Guay et al., 2010). It should be noted that interest is a component of motivation but it is not motivation.

Given the multidimensionality of intrinsic motivation, the focal point of the article was personal and situational interest. Personal interest refers to an individual’s interest on a particular subject or domain while situational interest is based on the features of the learning context. Both personal and situational interest allows students to use deeper cognition strategies, increase engagement, and increase persistence and strategy use.

As teachers, we can capitalize on students’ interest to maximize their learning. We can also create situational interest through group activities using the ‘catch and hold’ approach and by explaining the functional value of the lessons that we teach. Intrinsic motivation can be assessed using observation, feedback and different self-report instruments.

Adaptive Goal Orientations

The fourth and last component was adaptive goal orientations which fall into two major classes namely mastery goals and performance goals. Mastery goals focus on learning a task well, whereas performance goals emphasize in demonstrating competence in comparison to others. Each mastery and performance goals can also be divided into approach and avoid goals. To simplify, this means that a student may achieve their goals either by approaching success or avoiding failure.

As teachers, there are many ways that we can foster adaptive goal orientations to our students. But first, we have to be critical and clear about the goals that we set for them. Aside from goal orientations, we also need to develop our students to ‘growth’ orientations by recognizing the improvement that they make. We should be keen as well in giving students enriching tasks and in allowing them to choose tasks they find personally interesting. Moreover, instead of recognizing students’ achievements publicly, we can try doing it privately to promote a mastery-oriented learning environment.


Motivation is such a powerful thing it can spark ideas or desires that could lead to great discoveries. In some cases, motivation can actually change people’s lives. Whenever I hear stories of successful people, I am always fascinated to know the underlying motivations behind their success.

In educational setting, motivation plays a major role in the life of both teachers and students. As discussed in the article, motivation is multifaceted, unstable, and cognitive in nature. This made me realized that not all forms of motivation will have exactly the same effects on students’ academic achievement. That is why as teachers, we need to provide differential feedback to our students and acknowledge the fact that progress and achievement will vary for each of them.

I remember on one occasion, I was so motivated to teach counting to my kindergarten class when suddenly; one of my students raised his hand and asked me, “Teacher, why should we bother to learn that?” I quickly replied, “So that you would know how to count.” Obviously dissatisfied with my answer, he said, “But I know everything already.” Although this was a laughing matter to me that moment, it got me thinking the whole day.

As I reflected on my student’s question, I realized that perhaps, motivation is non-transferable but it can be activated using different teaching strategies. I also realized that acquiring knowledge is not enough motivation for some students. Thus, aside from making learning activities interesting for them, we should also emphasize that those tasks have value and meaning beyond the classroom. Furthermore, I also understood that my student’s question requires metacognitive processing which indicates that a student’s motivation is affected by his or her cognition. This implies that as teachers, we should provide students with goals and expectations that will motivate them to achieve more.



Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37(2), 122–147.

Broussard, S. C., & Garrison, M. E. B. (2004). The relationship between classroom motivation and academic achievement in elementary school-aged children. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 33(2), 106–120.

Eccles, J. S., & Wigfield, A. (2002). Motivational beliefs, values, and goals. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 109–132.

Guay, F., Chanal, J., Ratelle, C. F., Marsh, H. W., Larose, S., & Boivin, M. (2010). Intrinsic, identified, and controlled types of motivation for school subjects in young elementary school children. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(4), 711–735.

Linnenbrink, E. A., & Pintrich, P. (2002). Motivation as an enabler for academic success. School Psychology Review, 31(3), 313.

Pintrich, P. R., & DeGroot, E. V. (1990). Motivational and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(1), 33–40.

Ryan, R. M., Connell, J. P., & Plant, R. W. (1990). Emotions in nondirected text learning. Learning and Individual Differences, 2(1), 1–17.

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