Motivation and Engagement: Findings from a school in Singapore

Year: 2012

Author: Kadir, Munirah Shaik

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Motivation and engagement have been described as students' energy and drive to learn, work effectively, and achieve to their potential at school and the behaviours that follow from this energy and drive. There has been much literature about motivation and engagement, but hardly any that distinguishes one from the other. Is motivation the same as engagement? If a student is motivated, does it mean that he or she is engaged during lessons? This paper examines the key question of this symposium by examining a recent research study which involved measuring both motivation and engagement.  Specifically the study investigates five motivational constructs (self-concept, interest, effort, ego goal and work avoidance) and their relationship with engagement.

Students from a secondary school in Singapore (N=275, median age=13 years) participated in this study. They responded to a survey that measured their self-concept in physics (4 items), interest in physics (4 items), ego goal (6 items), effort goal (4 items), work avoidance (4 items), and engagement (5 items), with the items randomised. Using MPlus, confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was used to identify the factors. Structural equation modelling (SEM) was used to test the relations of five predictors (self-concept, interest, ego, effort and work avoidance) to one outcome variable (engagement).

The CFA model yielded six factors with a good model fit. The reliability of each scale was acceptable (alphas>.70). The results showed that not all the motivational constructs were positively correlated with engagement (defined in behavioural terms). Self-concept and interest were correlated with engagement, but not as highly correlated as effort goal is to engagement. Ego goal, on the other hand is not correlated to engagement. Work avoidance, as anticipated, is negatively correlated to engagement. 

Based on our results, ego goal has a low correlation to engagement, which implies that students who have desires to be academically better than their peers and feel the importance to look smart in front of their peers and teachers do not necessarily engage themselves during lessons. Therefore, "pushing" students to do better than their peers (as would parents and teachers in Singapore) does not determine their engagement during lessons or the learning tasks. Effort, in contrast, has the highest association with engagement, which implies that students who have desires to better themselves through working hard are the ones who have the highest engagement levels during lessons and schoolwork. To have students highly engaged during lessons, we need to work on certain aspects of motivation such as effort. Thus, we may conclude that motivation and engagement are closely related but are not the same construct. Only some constructs of motivation can determine students' engagement in learning tasks, but not all.