Academic Motivation: Concepts, Strategies, and Counseling Approaches

By Rowell, Lonnie; Hong, Eunsook | Professional School Counseling, February 2013 | Go to article overview

Academic Motivation: Concepts, Strategies, and Counseling Approaches


Rowell, Lonnie, Hong, Eunsook, Professional School Counseling


Motivation is an important foundation of academic development in students. This article discusses academic motivation; its various component concepts in areas such as beliefs, goals, and values; and intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. It also presents major, widely studied theoretical perspectives of academic motivation and briefly illustrates strategies for increasing academic motivation. The article addresses the importance of the school counselor's role in student academic development and describes preventive (classroom guidance) and remedial (small-group counseling intervention and individual counseling intervention) approaches that school counselors can utilize for promoting academic motivation.

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Motivation has been widely studied in education and in other fields (Collins & Amabile, 1999; Isaksen, & Treffinger, & Dorval, 2011; Zimmerman, 2008). Motivation is a complex psychological phenomenon; therefore, the absence of one major overarching definition or theory of motivation should not be surprising. Researchers have explored motivation from various theoretical perspectives, such as behavioral (Skinner, 1953, 1978), social (Bandura, 1977, 2011), cognitive (Festinger, 1957), and humanistic standpoints (Maslow, 1968, 1970; Rogers, 1969). In the last few decades, researchers have advanced various dimensions of motivation, such as self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997), values (Wigfield & Eccles, 1992), and goals (Ames, 1992; Locke & Latham, 1990), and more comprehensive macro-theories such as self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985) and social-cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986).

Although many significant psychological components influence student behaviors, motivation is considered one of the most important foundations essential for students' academic development (Steinmayr & Spinath, 2009). In keeping with efforts to promote comprehensive school counseling programs that address a full range of developmental domains (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2012; Gysbers & Henderson, 2006), this article focuses on the academic development domain. More specifically, the authors examine academic motivation, a psychological dimension considered important--if not the most important--in human learning and development (Roeser & Eccles, 1998; Scheel, Madahhushi, & Backhaus, 2009).

Research has consistently found that academically motivated students tend to perceive school and learning as valuable, like to learn, and enjoy learning-related activities (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Zimmerman, 2000, 2008). Studies have identified lack of motivation as a primary reason for underachievement (Scheel et al., 2009; Wigfield, Lutz, & Wagner, 2005). It is not unusual for school counselors to interact with students who lack motivation to learn or to change behaviors that are self-defeating (Lambie, 2004; Lewis, 1992). Often, school counselors are eager to assist such students, but find themselves lacking understanding of the motivational underpinnings of students' behaviors or unable to determine how best to tackle motivational problems and provide proper guidance for these students. Nevertheless, the ASCA Student Standards (ASCA, 2004) feature several items that point to the need for school counselors' understanding of student's academic motivation, including demonstrating "the motivation to achieve individual potential" (A:B1.1); demonstrating "dependability, productivity, and initiative" (A:A3.4); demonstrating "how effort and persistence positively affect learning" (A:A2.2); and "display a positive interest in learning" (A:A1.2).

Given the recognized importance of academic motivation in school success, it is important that schools find ways to increase student motivation (McCoach, 2002; Wang & Pomerantz, 2009). In the authors' view, school counselors should be at the forefront of this effort. The purpose of this article is to describe (a) conceptual definitions and examples of various motivational components of academic motivation, (b) various strategies for increasing academic motivation, and (c) counseling approaches for promoting academic motivation. …

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