Transforming research on motivation: A review focusing on change

Year: 2016

Author: Maccallum, Judith

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The language we use in everyday life about motivation implies change. The nature of motivation has been examined from many different perspectives but motivation research rarely explicitly addresses the nature of change, how it is conceptualised or how motivation develops over time in classroom contexts. This paper reviews motivation research from 1980 to 2015 that has examined change, to consider ways we might transform research on motivation to focus on change. Understanding motivational change, including how and why motivation changes in school contexts, is critical to understanding how to create effective learning environments. Murphy and Alexander’s (2000) categorization of motivation terms was used as a starting point to guide motivation constructs to be included in the review. These are goals, social goals, interest, motivation (intrinsic etc) and self-schema. In addition, concepts used in sociocultural and activity theory to represent motivation (e.g. motives) were included.Motivation book series, educational psychology and sociocultural journals published between 1980 and 2015 were used as sources of articles reporting motivation research. Each research study was examined for (a) the motivation constructs and theoretical approach to motivation used, (b) the aspect/s of change examined, (c) the methodological approach used, (d) the research methods, (e) how context is treated in the research, and (f) assumptions and conceptualisations of change in motivation. An analytical framework of different aspects of change was developed from developmental research (e.g. Valsiner, 2006). Examples of research covering each aspect of change were found, but few studies conceptualised change or development. Change was rarely elaborated but usually assumed to be understood by the reader. A few studies investigated change in motivation in terms of development of motivation or development of interest. Some longitudinal studies included the development of motivation, as change in variables, over school years. Where change was considered, it was usually as an aside. Social cognitive approaches were prominent during the 35-year period, mainly adopting survey techniques to study motivation, and often relegating context to that of a background variable. More recent approaches to the study of motivation, using situative or sociocultural and activity perspectives, acknowledge the social nature of motivation and learning and hence incorporate context in the conceptualisation of motivation. They use ethnographic research approaches to detail classroom interaction, motivation and learning and the educational contexts. These approaches present new ways to consider motivational change and offer insight to educators wishing to develop classroom communities that motivate and engage students.