Goal Setting and Attainment in Graduate Student Training Groups

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to examine goal setting and attainment within an experiential, process-oriented training group. Participants were 56 graduate students who were interested in leading counseling or educational groups. In addition to didactic learning, experiential learning is an important component of training group facilitators. This learning component was provided through participation in an experiential training group. Prior to beginning the training group, students set goals that they hoped to attain through participation in the group. After completion of the ten-week training group, students rated the extent to which they had met their goals. Information on the types of goals set by students and the degree of goal attainment is presented in this study. Implications for the education and training of graduate students are discussed.

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Participation in experiential training groups has become a widely accepted learning tool for group facilitators (Corey & Corey, 2002; Gans, Rutan, & Wilcox, 1995; Merta, Wolfgang & McNeil, 1993). This type of experiential learning offers practical experience that goes beyond what can be taught didactically (Bruce-Sanford, 1998; Munich, 1993). Brown (1992) suggested that, in order to fully operationalize intellectual learning, the training of student group facilitators should include lecture, encouragement of critical thinking about group process variables, and the opportunity for experiential learning.

Corey and Corey (2002) asserted that training groups assist students in identifying their interactional style and working through issues that could hinder their ability to function effectively as group facilitators. Through interaction with the group leader and other group members, students gain self-awareness and the ability to handle interpersonal feedback non-defensively. Additionally, experiential learning allows students to shape their own learning and focus on the specific skills they wish to develop (Johnson & Johnson, 1997).

One way to maximize learning in experiential training groups is through setting specific goals and focusing on the attainment of those goals over the course of the group (Corey & Corey, 2002). Locke (1996) conceptualized a goal as the aim or purpose that guides action. Goal setting theory emerged from the field of management and work performance. This theory postulates that setting goals regulates behavior and enhances performance (Locke, 1996). According to goal-setting theory, the highest level of commitment to goals is attained when individuals believe the goal is important and attainable. Thus, in the present study, participants were asked to set the goals themselves to meet these two criteria. Goal-setting theory also states that goal setting is most effective when there is feedback given that shows progress in relation to goals. Students were asked to evaluate progress towards goals throughout the group, and also completed a goal attainment rating at the end of the group.

The purpose of the present study was to examine goal setting and attainment among graduate students who participated in an experiential training group. The study was designed within the framework of goal-setting theory (Locke, 1996), and addresses the benefits of goal setting within the experiential training group. Two questions were answered using qualitative analysis. First, the researchers addressed what types of goals are considered to be important by group counselors-in-training. Second, the researchers examined the types of goals related to high goal attainment in experiential training groups.

Method

Participants and Procedures

Participants were 56 (24 male and 32 female) graduate students who were interested in becoming group facilitators. The groups were each led by an experienced group facilitator. Each group met for ten weekly, one-hour sessions. There were six training groups included in the present study (four groups of nine members and two groups of ten members). …