Goal theory is almost a self-explanatory term. Essentially, goal theory states that people are motivated when they have goals. This seems obvious, yet many people do not have goals and thus often lack motivation. As such, goal theory can be useful for people who lack motivation or who perhaps need help in clarifying the goals they have but cannot achieve.
Principles of Goal Theory
There are several principles related to goal theory. First, as has already been stated, is that people perform better when they have goals. Second, and this one needs explanation, the goals must be personal goals that the person wants to achieve. It is hard to be motivated by someone else’s goals. Goals must come from the individual. Many students struggle in school because all the goals come from the curriculum or teacher and rarely from the student. When all actions are coming from the top down, and it could lead to a loss of motivation.
A third principle similar and related to the second is that people have to commit to the goal(s). In other words, it cannot only be in the person’s head but must be followed with action. Procrastination is a sign of a lack of commitment. Such behavior is seen by everyone when they make a goal, maybe a reasonable goal, but never actually do anything to make it happen.
The fourth principle of goal theory is that challenging goals encourage better performance than easy goals. A struggling helps people to perform better, whether adult or child. In the classroom, goals need to elicit moderate to hard struggle because this motivates a student to push themselves. Of course, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and this means that goals should be challenging but attainable; otherwise, people will give up and be even less motivated.
Fifth, goals need to specific rather than broad. This is a good point. However, different people have different views on broad and specific. Determining whether a goal is broad or specific can be done by assessing a person’s ability to achieve the goal if it is not apparent to the person what they need to succeed. This means that the goal may require refinement in the form of breaking a goal into several subgoals, defining what it means to complete the goal, or setting boundaries such as a timeframe in which the goal is pursued.
The consequences of setting goals are not necessarily negative. When adults or students achieve goals, there is a sense of satisfaction in achieving them. Achieving goals brings a sense of autonomy and even self-actualization as a person sees that they can do something and have an impact, no matter how small, on their environment.
There can also be rewards when involving goals. Students can be given various privileges fr achieving goals. This is a more extrinsic matter, but providing external rewards can be beneficial for students on occasion.
There are also problems with goal setting. When goals are set in one area, other areas may be ignored. For example, a student set a goal of doing their math homework at the exclusion of other homework. To achieve this one goal meant to create problems in another area.
Another problem is when goal setting is abuse. An example of this is when a child sets goals that are easy to achieve their real goal of being lazy. It takes experience on the part of a teacher to know when the students’ goals are reasonable and not too hard or too easy.
Children need goals. It breaks the learning experience of school into small measurable steps that they can achieve little by little. These goals must be negotiated at least partially so that students have ownership in the process. When this is done, cooperation may be achieved.