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A caution: Motivation as content versus motivation as process

29 December, 2015 - 14:51
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A caution about self-efficacy theory is its heavy emphasis on just the process of motivation, at the expense of the content of motivation. The basic self-efficacy model has much to say about how beliefs affect behavior, but relatively little to say about which beliefs and tasks are especially satisfying or lead to the greatest well-being in students. The answer to this question is important to know, since teachers might then select tasks as much as possible that are intrinsically satisfying, and not merely achievable.

Another way of posing this concern is by asking: “Is it possible to feel high self-efficacy about a task that you do not enjoy?” It does seem quite possible for such a gap to exist. A young child may show some promise as a pianist, for example. Given encouragement (pressure?) from her parents, her successes lead to further practice. She may persist in developing as a pianist, her beliefs in her skills propelling her to commit more and more time to practice and a high level of performance. But, it is possible that this girl does not particularly like playing the piano; perhaps she does it to please her parents. From a motivational perspective, self-efficacy (the girl's confidence in her skills as a pianist) explains her persistence and effort, but does not tell the full story. Accounting for such a gap requires a different theory of motivation, one that includes not only specific beliefs, but “deeper” personal needs as well. An example of this approach is self-determination theory.