Research and Theories Used to Analyze Students' Motivation

We selected the MUSIC Model of Academic Motivation (Jones, 2009) to analyze students’ motivation, because the model was designed as an operational guide to translate and organize motivational theory and research into practical strategies that could be applied by instructors. Five key principles/components of the model are that students are more motivated learners when they perceive that they are eMpowered, the content is Useful, they can be Successful, they are Interested, and they feel Cared for by others in the learning environment. These principles were derived from research and theory as pertinent to students’ engagement in academic settings (Jones, 2009; see for more information). The MUSIC model has been used by researchers and instructors at the K-12 levels in formal schooling settings (e.g., Jones & Wilkins, 2013b) and informal settings (e.g., Evans, Jones, & Akalin, 2012; Schnittka, Brandt, Jones, & Evans, 2012), and in higher education with traditional face-to-face courses (e.g., Jones, Ruff, Snyder, Petrich, & Koonce, 2012) and online courses (e.g., Jones, 2010). The model has also been used to examine students’ motivation in different types of courses (e.g., Jones & Wilkins, 2013a) that used varied instructional approaches, including courses that were online (e.g., Jones, Watson, Rakes, & Akalin, 2012; Hall, Jones, Amelink, & Hu, 2013), that incorporated problem-based learning (e.g., Jones, Epler, Mokri, Bryant, & Paretti, 2013), and that implemented interventions to increase students’ motivation (e.g., McGinley & Jones, in press). Several features of the MUSIC model make it particularly useful to instructors at all levels:

  • • It organizes major motivational concepts into one framework that can be used to guide instruction.
  • • It aims to translate motivational jargon into comprehensible instructional strategies for instructors.
  • • It brings an awareness to instructors of the importance of all five key motivational components in educational settings.
  • • It enables instructors to assess the effectiveness of their instruction with respect to each MUSIC component to collect data to assess and/or revise instruction.

In the sections that follow, we further explain the components of the MUSIC model and the research and theories associated with them.


The empowerment component of the MUSIC model refers to the amount of autonomy that students perceive they have within their learning environment.

When students feel empowered, they believe that they are able to make choices and decisions. Much of the research related to the empowerment components has been conducted by researchers studying autonomy within the framework of self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000). In fact, the need for autonomy is one of the three basic psychological needs, along with the need for competence and relatedness, that self-determination researchers have identified as critical to understanding individuals’ goal-directed behavior, psychological development, and well-being (Deci & Ryan, 2000). To empower students, teachers need to provide students with choices and allow them to make decisions about some aspect of their learning environment (Jones, 2009).


The usefulness component of the MUSIC model involves the extent to which students believe that instruction is useful for their short- or long-term goals. This component is important because students’ motivation is affected by their perceptions of the usefulness of what they are learning for their future. Research related to usefulness has been conducted by Eccles and her colleagues (Eccles et al., 1983; Wigfield & Eccles, 2000) who have studied the utility value construct as part of their work on the expectancy-value model of motivation, and by future time perspective theorists who have studied instrumentality or “the perception that completion of a task will directly increase the probability of achieving a future goal” (Husman, Derryberry, Crowson, & Lomax, 2004, p. 64). Instrumentality focuses on the usefulness of a present behavior for some future goal. Teachers can incorporate usefulness into their pedagogy by making activities relevant to students’ career goals and interests, and relevant to the “real- world” (Jones, 2009).


The success component of the MUSIC model is important because when students feel successful, they are more likely to be motivated to engage in those activities in the present and future. Conversely, students who do not feel successful at particular activities will not be as likely to engage in them. Students feel successful when they perceive that they are or can be competent in activities. Self-perceptions of competence (i.e., one’s beliefs about one’s abilities) are central to many motivation theories, such as self-concept theory (Marsh, 1990), self-efficacy theory (Bandura, 1986), self-worth theory (Covington, 1992), goal orientation theory (Ames, 1992), and expectancy-value theory (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000). Instructors can foster students’ success beliefs in a variety of ways, including making the course expectations clear, challenging students at an appropriate level, and providing students with feedback regularly (Jones, 2009).


The interest component of the MUSIC model can be separated into two theoretically distinct components: situational and individual interest (Hidi & Renninger, 2006; Jones & Wilkins, 2013a). Situational interest refers to students’ positive emotion and attention that is activated by the environment. That is, factors in any learning environment can stimulate students’ situational interest by catching their attention and being associated with productive emotions. Therefore, when students are situationally interested, they enjoy what they are doing. Conceptually, situational interest is similar to constructs such as intrinsic motivation (Deci, 1975) and intrinsic interest value (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000), whereby anticipation of an external reward is not the basis for the interest. Teachers can stimulate situational interest by including one or more of the following elements in course activities: novelty, social interaction, games and puzzles, fantasy, humor, or physical movement (Bergin, 1999).

Individual interest emerges from interaction with content perceived as personally important and valuable. When students have an individual interest, they seek out opportunities to reengage in activities related to the topic (Hidi & Renninger, 2006). Individual interest is similar to identification with a domain (Osborne & Jones, 2011) and attainment value (Eccles, 2009), which are defined, in part, by the extent to which individuals believe that a domain is central to their self-definition. Instructors can develop students’ individual interest in a topic by providing them with opportunities to become more knowledgeable about the topic and by helping them understand its value (Hidi & Renninger, 2006).


The caring component of the MUSIC model specifies that students have a need to establish and sustain caring interpersonal relationships, either with an instructor or classmates. The importance of interpersonal relationships is derived from research in the areas of belongingness, relatedness, connectedness, affiliation, involvement, attachment, commitment, bonding, and sense of community (e.g., Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Deci & Ryan, 2000). When students have close relationships with their teachers, they tend to show higher levels of motivation and achievement (Bergin & Bergin, 2009). The caring component can be divided into two components: academic caring and personal caring (Jones & Wilkins, 2013a). Academic caring concerns students’ need to believe that their instructor cares about whether specified learning objectives have been met successfully. In the case of personal caring, students need to perceive that their instructor cares about their general well being. To support academic caring, instructors can demonstrate that they care about academic success in the class and to support personal caring, instructors can demonstrate that they care about students’ general welfare (Jones, 2009).

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