Just because individuals feels competent or in control does not necessarily mean that they will always be motivated to complete a task. Thus, certain motivational theories focus on the reasons for task engagement. These theoretical frameworks are focused on values and interest, intrinsic motivation, and achievement goal theory (see also Anderman & Wolters, 2006; Wigfield & Cambria, 2010).

Expectancy-value theory (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000) suggests that behavior is largely a function of the outcomes individuals expect and the value that they ascribe to those expected outcomes. In terms of values, modern expectancy-value theory submits that students are much more likely to choose a task when they feel that the task is important (attainment value), useful (utility value), and interest- ing/enjoyable (intrinsic interest value). Correspondingly, interest theory suggests that students are typically more engaged in tasks when they find them to be personally meaningful, relevant, and interesting (Hidi & Renninger, 2006). Interest theory further proposes that there are two kinds of interest: individual interest, which represents a more stable, long-term, predisposition to reengage in an activity; and situational interest, which represents a more temporary, in-the-moment form of enhanced attention and affect that results from environmental stimuli (e.g., use of computer games; Hidi & Renninger, 2006). Recent efforts in this area of inquiry have focused on the development of interest, specifically how situational interest can be leveraged to promote longer-term individual interest (Hidi & Renninger, 2006).

When students report high levels of interest and enjoyment, it is assumed that they are intrinsically motivated (Malone & Lepper, 1987). Two theories speak directly to intrinsic motivation: self-determination theory (SDT) and flow theory. Eccles and Wigfield (2002) suggest that these theories are complementary in that SDT outlines the longer-term conditions necessary for intrinsic motivation to flourish, whereas flow theory generally provides a more immediate account of what conditions need to be in place for an individual to achieve a state of flow.

More specifically, SDT suggests that all individuals, irrespective of their cultural backgrounds, have three innate psychological needs: needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. It further suggests that intrinsic motivation will flourish only under the “right” conditions, or when these three basic needs are met. SDT also assumes that the quality of motivation is enhanced when individuals are intrinsically motivated than extrinsically motivated, and that not all environments will facilitate intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Flow theory, in turn, proposes that enjoyment in an activity is realized in a flow state, which is generally characterized as a holistic sense of being fully immersed in an activity. This happens when challenges posed by a task align with individuals’ ability: they merge action and awareness; are intensely focused on the task enough to lose a sense of self-awareness and time; and feel in total control of their actions and the environment (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996).

Finally, achievement goal theory stipulates that students’ motivation and achievement-related behaviors can be understood by considering their goals for engaging in a task (Ames, 1992; Maehr & Zusho, 2009). Research framed within this tradition has focused on two primary achievement goals: goals focused on the development of competence (mastery) or on the demonstration of competence (performance). Researchers have since proposed a 2-by- 2 achievement goal framework that considers four main types of achievement goals: mastery-approach, mastery-avoidance, performance-approach, and performance-avoidance (Elliot & McGregor, 2001; Pintrich, 2000). Students who adopt mastery-approach goals focus on understanding course material, overcoming challenges, or increasing their level of competence, whereas mastery-avoidant students focus more on maintaining their skills and competence. Students who pursue performance-approach goals aim to demonstrate their ability relative to others or want to prove their self-worth publicly, whereas students who endorse performance-avoidance goals seek to avoid looking incompetent in relation to their others.

The focus of most of the research in this area has been on the causal relationship between individuals’ goal endorsements and their academic-related behaviors and beliefs. Mastery goals, in particular mastery-approach goals, have been found to be related to adaptive cognitive, affective, and behavioral outcomes, such as the use of deep-level cognitive and metacognitive strategies. Research suggests that the endorsement of performance-approach goals may, at times, lead to higher levels of academic achievement (Maehr & Zusho, 2009). Notably, the effects of performance-avoidance goals have been found to be almost entirely negative (Maehr & Zusho, 2009). Research on mastery-avoidance goals is limited in comparison, and suggests these goals to be predictive of both positive and negative learning outcomes (Elliot & McGregor, 2001).

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