NMK - Academic Coaching and Communication - How Can Goal-Setting Motivate Students?

How Can Goal-Setting Motivate Students?

Regardless of how paramount education is, many students remain demotivated when it comes to learning, studying, or attending schools and colleges. But perhaps, goal-setting would allow undergrads to appreciate its value more.

For a very long time, students have been trained to link learning to assessments and scores. Had they been taught to actually tie this process to a certain purpose in life, the world would have seen more motivated youngsters; the added value of student’s goal-setting.

With that in mind, Alexandra Usher and Nancy Kober examined the effect of setting a goal on learners, along with different programs that use test performance or postsecondary attendance as motivational goals in the first place.

Defining Goal-Setting

According to the authors, “a goal is a specific idea that one forms consciously, as opposed to motives or desires, which more often occur on a subconscious level”. Literature pointed out that undergraduates who lack intrinsic academic motivation are most probably the ones who will not be able to determine personal goals. However, if advisors, instructors, parents, or coaches aid them throughout this process, students will eventually be motivated which will boost their achievement.

Nonetheless, Usher & Kober (2012) mentioned that the type and context of one’s personal goal can highly affect academic motivation and effort. That is especially true whenever “explicit goals and implicit motives are congruent, then individuals are more motivated and perform better” (Pintrich, 2003, as cited in Usher & Kober, 2012).

Add to the above, goals must not be neither too difficult nor too easy. Rather, they have to be of an appropriate difficulty. For instance, students who perceive goals as too difficult will be demotivated. That is because he/she would have to exert too much effort to achieve them. Likewise, a very easy goal requires the least amount of effort; i.e. little motivation to do it.

“If the goal is set too high, it will undermine competence and control, but if the goal is too easy it will have no value.”

(Usher & Kober, 2012)

Goal-Setting as a Motivator

The writers also explored this concept through the Motivational Theory lens. They accordingly stated that there are four distinct dimensions of motivation that play a crucial role in goal-setting. They are:


Students should see their goals as realistic and achievable. Else, they will not sense themselves as competent.

Control or Autonomy

The youngster must set the goal by him/herself to feel in control. Additionally, he/she should be able to see a clear path to achieve the objective; one that luck cannot control and that the student him/herself has some sort of authority on.

Value or Interest

This dimension can only be fostered if the student supports this goal or feel that the objective is supported.


This dimension is affected by how students perceive society’s expectations and how it will judge them, or depending on the goals of another desirable social group.

Want to know about the different types of school/university assessments and how each can have a good potential to motivate undergrads? Stay tuned for our upcoming blog post!


Usher, A., & Kober N. (2012). Can Goals Motivate Students? Center on Education Policy. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED532668

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NMK - Academic Coaching and Communication

NMK - Academic Coaching and Communication  - How Can Goal-Setting Motivate Students?