• motivation;
  • learning strategies;
  • future time perspective


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The FTP variable sequence
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. References

The purpose of this study was to provide evidence for the internal structure of the domain-general and context-specific components of future time perspective (FTP) and to provide support for a top-down structure of FTP theory. The participants included 546 engineering students from a large university in the southwest of the USA. The students responded to the Future Time Perspective Scale, the Perceptions of Instrumentality Scale, and the Student Perceptions of Classroom Knowledge-building Scale. Analyses present evidence for: (a) the structural fidelity of student responses to the respective theoretical constructs, and (b) the top down, domain-general to context-sensitive relation between FTP variables and student learning behavior. The results also indicate that students' use of knowledge building strategies may be influenced by both domain-general aspects of FTP and the perceived endogenous instrumentality of coursework. Implications include support for use of valid FTP measures and the recognition of the relation between FTP and value of present school activities.

The way humans consciously consider time has been an important component of psychology and motivation for the better half of the 20th century (Atkinson, 1964; Lewin, 1942; Markus & Nurius, 1986; Nuttin & Lens, 1985; Seginer, 2009). Future Time Perspective (FTP) researchers have established a convincing body of evidence to explain the common characteristics and dimensions of how people consider their personal futures (Andriessen, Phalet, & Lens, 2006; Husman & Shell, 2008; Lang & Carstensen, 2002; Miller, DeBacker, & Greene, 1999; Simons, Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Lacante, 2004b; Tabachnick, Miller, & Relyea, 2008). Research suggests that students' imagined personal futures function as roadmaps for their strategic learning (Lens & Vansteenkiste, 2008; Marko & Savickas, 1998; Oyserman, Bybee, Terry, & Hart-Johnson, 2004), and that developing a manageable vision of the future which is connected to present activities is a crucial task for young adults preparing to enter the world of work (Csikszentmihalyi & Schneider, 2000; Kerpelman & Mosher, 2004; Nurmi, 2005).

The FTP variable sequence

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The FTP variable sequence
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. References

FTP researchers have identified the dimensions of FTP that influence present behaviors and motivation (Husman & Shell, 2008). Similar to other psychological variable sequences in education research that have both dispositional and situational aspects (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Urdan & Schoenfelder, 2006; Vallerand, 1997, 2000), FTP theories are presented as models where the domain-general constructs appear on the left, the context-specific constructs are located as mediators, and the outcome variables are presented on the right (Simons et al., 2004b; Tabachnick et al., 2008; Wigfield & Eccles, 2002). This hierarchical organization of psychological constructs has deep roots in psychological theory (Bandura, 1986; James, 1890; Marsh, 1992). James (1890) argues that the basic constituents of self give rise to situation-specific feelings, emotions, and actions. In his classic example, he argues that while the layperson may depart a city in times of cholera, a doctor or priest would consider such an act a defiance of honor, or a defiance of the constituent of the social self (p. 295). More contemporary social cognitive theories of motivation (Bandura, 1986) and self-concept (Marsh, 1992) espouse a like theoretical structure with varying levels of context specificity in which more general constructs predict context-specific outcomes and behaviors.

FTP theory espouses a similar theoretical structure by which the general characteristics of a person's view of the future, such as the degree of connection between the present and the future, influence context-specific perceptions and actions; the relations stemming from the hierarchical organization of constructs allow for the examination of individual differences in perceptions of academic contexts (Simons et al., 2004b). The mediating role of context-sensitive perceptions has gained recent attention in the area of future-oriented motivation, where research suggests optimal motivational states are attained when present tasks are valued because they lead to attainment of a personal vision for the future (Miller et al., 1999; Tabachnick et al., 2008). This psychological phenomenon creates a relation whereby perceptions of present academic tasks mediate the relation between the characteristics of imagined personal futures and academic outcomes (i.e., use of effective strategies, achievement, etc.). For example, if a student believes planning for the future is important, and desires a career in computer science, then learning Java Script may have high intrinsic value, leading to improved study strategies.

General FTP constructs, or what we term “domain-general” constructs, have been conceptualized as a stable set of orientations that have developed throughout childhood and have achieved some state of equilibration (Holman & Silver, 2005; Robbins & Bryan, 2004; Sheldon & Vansteenkiste, 2005; Specter & Ferrari, 2000). Context-sensitive FTP constructs reflect how particular tasks are interpreted within the parameters of students' domain-general time perspective (Husman & Hilpert, 2007; Malka & Covington, 2005). In the domain-general to context-sensitive sequence, the context-sensitive variables should have a stronger influence on learning than the domain-general variables, and context-sensitive variables should mediate the relation between the domain-general variables and learning.

Domain-general variables

Time perspective research may examine peoples' relative temporal orientation to the past, present, or future (Luyckx, Lens, Smits, & Goossens, 2010), or the content of future possibilities (Oyserman et al., 2004). FTP describes the dimensions of the imagined future: the degree to which a person is connected to the future, the speed at which imagined future events are moving toward a person in perceived time, and how far into the imagined future a person's thoughts extend (Nuttin & Lens, 1985). Research on postsecondary students' FTP has addressed four domain-general dimensions, including connectedness, speed, valance, and distance (Husman & Shell, 2008). In this paper we focus on three dimensions, connectedness, speed, and distance, and their relation to one context-sensitive variable, perceived instrumentality, and one outcome variable, use of knowledge-building strategies.

Connectedness.  Connectedness is a general tendency to make cognitive connections between the present and the future (Simons, Dewitte, & Lens, 2004a). Using items tested and developed by a number of researchers (Daltrey & Langer, 1984; Gjesme, 1979; Strathman, Gleicher, Boninger, & Edwards, 1994), previous studies have shown that connectedness is a predictor of student achievement in postsecondary classrooms (Shell & Husman, 2001).

Speed.  Speed has been conceptualized in the FTP literature as humans' perceived ability to manage upcoming events (Drakulic, Tenjovic, & Lecic-Tosevski, 2003; Gjesme, 1979). Speed is the perception of how quickly the events in one's imagined future advance in perceptual time space, with rapid advancement indicating a perceived lack of ability to manage the future.

Distance.  Distance has been defined in the literature as how far into the future people project imagined future events (Daltrey & Langer, 1984; Halvari, 1991a,b; Lens, 1988; Lens & Moreas, 1994; Nurmi, 1991; Rappaport, 1991; Wallace, 1956). Although distance has been assessed using open-ended timeline techniques (Rappaport, 1991; Wallace, 1956), this approach has been criticized as unreliable, and item response can be used instead (Lens, 1988).

Context-sensitive variables

Perceived instrumentality is a future-oriented measure of value, as framed by expectancy versus value models of motivation (Wigfield & Eccles, 2002). Perceptions of instrumentality are the task-specific assessments of an activity's importance for the achievement of a valued future goal (Malka & Covington, 2005; Miller et al., 1999; Simons et al., 2004a; Tabachnick et al., 2008). Malka and Covington (2005) provided evidence that students' perceptions of instrumentality are conceptually and empirically separable from measures of FTP. Other researchers have argued that the influence of students' perceptions of the future on their behavior (such as learning strategies) is fully mediated by perceptions of instrumentality (Miller & Brickman, 2004). Students' perception of the future utility of a particular task depends on the characteristics of the particular task and the students' mental representation of their personal futures (Husman & Hilpert, 2007). Perceived instrumentality has two subcomponents: endogenous instrumentality and exogenous instrumentality (Husman & Lens, 1999).

Endogenous instrumentality is the perception that learning or mastering new information or concepts is useful to achieving long-term future goals (Husman, Derryberry, Crowson, & Lomax, 2004). The focus here is on learning and mastery. In contrast, exogenous instrumentality is the perception that attainment of an external reward is instrumental to achieving a future goal (Husman et al., 2004). The focus here is on jumping particular hurdles that are required for advancement. Consistent with prior research from Simons and colleagues, we anticipate a positive relation between endogenous (learning) perceptions of instrumentality and students' use of deep learning strategies (Simons et al, 2004b).

Knowledge-building strategies

Students' self-regulated strategic learning has received considerable theoretical and research interest, as greater emphasis has been placed on the need to develop students' skills for life-long learning (Winne, 2005; Zimmmerman & Schunk, 2001). This perspective has evolved within constructivist traditions largely based on the knowledge-building approach (Chan, Burtis, Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1992; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1992, 1993). Central to the knowledge-building model is the idea that meaningful learning involves the production of knowledge, rather than the reproduction of knowledge. Knowledge production is accomplished by the in-depth study of a topic that goes beyond simple factual or recall learning and takes into account what and how the information may be used. It requires the construction of new knowledge, the connection of new information to existing knowledge, and the integration of knowledge across topics and domains (Shell, Husman, Turner, Cliffel, Nath, & Sweany, 2005). It has been found to be significantly and positively related to motivation (Wolters, 2003) and achievement (Yip & Chung, 2005) at both the secondary and postsecondary levels.

Relations in the variable sequence

Prior research has indicated that the three domain general subcomponents of FTP, connectedness, speed, and distance, do function as separate latent constructs (Husman & Shell, 2008; Malka & Covington, 2005; Shell & Husman, 2001); thus each subcomponent can directly influence student motivation and the use of knowledge-building strategies separately. Tabachnick et al. (2008) and Jang (2008) have found that students' distal future goals are directly related to their perceived instrumentality and learning strategies. In turn, perceived instrumentality has been found to be positively related to the self-regulation of knowledge production (Simons et al., 2004a). Students' models of their personal futures have been shown to influence their self-regulation in secondary learning environments (Hoyle & Sherrill, 2006; Oyserman et al., 2004; Tabachnick et al., 2008), and endogenous perceived instrumentality has been found to be positively related to secondary students use of volitional strategies (Husman, McCann, & Crowson, 2000).

Given the nature of these previous findings, we expected positive relations between both connectedness and perceived instrumentality (both exogenous and endogenous), and connectedness and use of knowledge-building strategies. Although evidence for the internal consistency of responses to the speed and distance variables has been published (Husman & Shell, 2008), there is no existing literature regarding their relation to perceived instrumentality or the use of knowledge-building strategies, except in our own preliminary work, where we have found speed and distance both to be related to the use of knowledge-building strategy, but not to either perceived instrumentality construct (Husman, Hilpert, Lynch, Duggan, Kim, & Chung, 2007). Accordingly, we expected positive relations between speed and knowledge-building strategies, and distance and knowledge-building strategies. We expected no relation between the speed and distance variables and perceived instrumentality.

Purpose of the study

The purpose of this study was to provide evidence for a reliable and valid interpretation of participant responses to domain-general and context-sensitive measures of FTP constructs. We first examined the internal structure aspect of construct validity to assess the structural fidelity of participant responses to the structure proposed by the theoretical constructs. We then examined the external aspect of construct validity to determine whether student responses to the items related to other variables in the nomological network in expected ways (Messick, 1989): this included examining the hypothesized top down, hierarchical relation between the measures (see Figure 1).


Figure 1. Hypothesized FTP sequence path model. CON = connectedness; DIS = distance; KB = knowledge building; PIEN = endogenous instrumentality; PIEX = exogenous instrumentality; SPD = speed.

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The hypothesized structure of the model was based on previous FTP findings (Husman et al., 2007; Husman & Shell, 2008; Tabachnick et al., 2008). Specifically, the model included the covariance among the domain general FTP variables, the mediational relation between connectedness and the two dimensions of perceived instrumentality, and the direct effect of the domain-general variables on students' reported use of knowledge-building strategies.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The FTP variable sequence
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. References


Engineering students (n = 546) from multiple mechanical and aerospace engineering courses at a large university in the southwest of the USA were recruited to participate. Approximately 16.7% of the participants were female. This was roughly equal to the percentage of female students who received engineering degrees in 2000 in the USA (Huang, Taddese, Walter, & Peng, 2000). In the sample, 1.3% self-reported as American Indian, 8.4% as Asian or Pacific Islander, 1.7% as Black, 11.5% as Hispanic, and 5.6% declined to report. The rest self-reported as White. The mean age of participants was 21 years old.


The Future Time Perspective Scale (FTPS).  The FTPS (Husman & Shell, 2008) assessed connectedness, speed, and distance. The connectedness subscale (FTPCN) consisted of six items, such as, “What might happen in the long run should not be a big consideration in making decisions now.” The speed subscale (FTPSP) consisted of three items, such as, “I need to feel rushed before I can get going.” The distance subscale (FTPDS) consisted of five items such as, “In general, six months seems like a very short period of time.”

Perceptions of Instrumentality (PI) scale.  The PI scale (Husman et al., 2004) assessed the endogenous and exogenous dimensions of perceived instrumentality. The four-item endogenous perceived instrumentality subscale consisted of items such as, “I will use the information I learn in the (selected course) in other classes I will take in the future.” The four-item exogenous perceived instrumentality subscale contained items such as, “The grade I get in the (selected course) will not affect my ability to continue on with my education.”

Student perceptions of classroom knowledge-building (SPOCK).  The Knowledge Building subscale from the SPOCK (Shell et al., 2005) assessed students' tendency to make meaning from and construct their own understanding of classroom material. The eight-item subscale consisted of items such as, “As I study the topics in this class, I try to think about how they relate to the topics I am studying in other classes.”

Procedure and analytic plan

The data for the current study were collected via an online survey. Participants were emailed a link and urged to respond. Students were offered a cash incentive ($10) for participation. For all measures, the participants responded to items on a five-point Likert-type scale. All subscales contained positively and negatively worded items.

Descriptive statistics and reliability estimates were calculated. Confirmatory factor analyses were conducted to examine the internal structure of the FTP and PI scales. Based on the existing findings as reviewed above, a three-factor solution was hypothesized for the FTPS and a two-factor solution was hypothesized for the PI scale. These tests were considered to provide evidence for the internal structure aspect of construct validity if the actual structure of the data was consistent with the hypothesized structure of the FTP and PI constructs (Springer, 2010).

A correlation matrix was constructed and a concurrent design was used to examine the results for the external aspect of construct validity. According to Springer (2010), adequate evidence is generated when correlations between different tests are low or nonsignificant and similar tests are substantial and significant. Then, the proposed sequence of variables was tested with a path analytic model, providing a more rigorous test for relations between the constructs. We followed Kline's (2005) suggestion that until many replications have been conducted in various environments it is best to leave the nonsignificant paths in the model rather than implying no paths at all.

The chi-square significance test, the comparative fit index (CFI), and the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) were used to assess the model fit. Hu and Bentler (1999) argue for using combinations of cutoff values to examine model fit. Kline (2005) echoes this point, suggesting that overemphasis on statistical criteria can be counterproductive. To determine model fit, we chose “conventional” cut-off criteria as a starting point (Hu & Bentler, 1999) and paid close attention to whether our results surpassed rigorous cutoffs (denoted in parentheses): CFI ≥ .90 (.95), RMSEA ≤ .10 (.06) (Hu & Bentler, 1999). Because the chi-square significance test is sensitive to sample size, we followed Bollen's (1989) recommendation to include an evaluation of multiple global fit indices.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The FTP variable sequence
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. References

Descriptive statistics and estimates of reliability

The descriptive statistics indicated the variables were relatively normally distributed and deviated little from expected measures of central tendency (see Table 1). Cronbach alpha reliabilities (α) for the FTPS subscales of connectedness, distance, and speed, were .81, .79, and .72, respectively; for the PI subscales perceived endogenous instrumentality and perceived exogenous instrumentality, they were .90 and .64, respectively; for knowledge building strategies it was .91.

Table 1.  Descriptive statistics for study variables
  1. Note. N = 546. FTP = future time perspective.

FTP connectedness2.335.004.130.52−0.23−0.16
FTP distance1.−0.22−0.32
FTP speed1.005.002.830.840.02−0.58
Perceived instrumentality (exogenous)−0.391.69
Perceived instrumentality (endogenous)−1.221.84
Knowledge building1.005.003.400.67−0.210.04

FTPS confirmatory factor analysis

The three-factor model examining the internal structure of the FTPS constructs (see Figure 2) met our established requirements, with the RMSEA slightly below the conventional cut off criteria, χ2(74, N = 546) = 268.60, p < .001, CFI = .92, RMSEA = .07. Examination of other global fit indices indicated the model was consistent with the data: NFI = .87, NNFI = .89, GFI = .93, IFI = .91.


Figure 2. Confirmatory factor analysis of the Future Time Perspective Scale (FTPS). Factor loadings are displayed before the items and item errors are displayed after the items. Factor loadings greater than 0.4 were considered salient. Reponses to all negatively worded items have been reverse coded. CON = connectedness; DIS = distance; SPD = speed. All parameter estimates are significant at α < .05.

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PI confirmatory factor analysis

The two-factor model examining the internal structure of the PI scale (see Figure 3) met our established requirements, with the CFI at the rigorous cutoff criteria value, χ2(20, N = 546) = 104.76, p < .001, CFI = .95, RMSEA = .09. Examination of other global fit indices indicated the model was consistent with the data: NFI = .94, NNFI = .93, IFI = .95, GFI = .96.


Figure 3. Confirmatory factor analysis of the Perceptions of Instrumentality (PI) scale. Factor loadings are displayed before the items and item errors are displayed after the items. Factor loadings greater than 0.4 were considered salient. Reponses to all negatively worded items have been reverse coded. PIEN = endogenous instrumentality; PIEX = exogenous instrumentality. All parameter estimates are significant at α < .05.

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Correlation matrix

The correlation matrix is shown in Table 2. The calculations supported the proposed relations between the variables in our sequence. Connectedness, speed, and distance were significantly and positively correlated with each other and with knowledge building strategies. Connectedness was significantly and positively correlated with both PI subscales, which were significantly and positively correlated with knowledge building strategies. The correlations between speed and the PI subscales and distance and the PI subscales were low or nonsignificant.

Table 2.  Correlations among all study variables
  1. Note. N = 546. FTP = future time perspective.

  2. *p < .05. **p < .01.

1. FTP connectedness1     
2. FTP distance.26**1    
3. FTP speed.26**.21**1   
4. Perceived instrumentality (endogenous).18**.10*.061  
5. Perceived instrumentality (exogenous).22**.02.02.23**1 
6. Knowledge building.28**.19**.20**.47**.19**1

Path analytic model

The path analytic structural equation model provided additional evidence for the hypothesized variable sequence, the final step after providing evidence for the internal structure of the scale data and correlational evidence for the hypothesized relation among the variables. The resulting model produced good fit, χ2(4, N = 546) = 3.59, p = .464; CFI = 1.0, RMSEA = .00, with the chi-square value less than the degrees of freedom. The fit surpassed the rigorous cutoff criteria. See Figure 4 for parameter estimates.


Figure 4. Future time perspective (FTP) sequence path model. Variables are averaged item scores for respective constructs. CON = connectedness; DIS = distance; KB = knowledge building; PIEN = endogenous instrumentality; PIEX = exogenous instrumentality; SPD = speed. Reponses to all negatively worded items have been reverse coded. N = 546; *p < .05.

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  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The FTP variable sequence
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. References

Successive approximations toward untangling the various dimensions of FTP have established a widely used set of measures (deVolder & Lens, 1982; Gjesme, 1979; Husman et al., 2004; Husman & Lens, 1999; Husman & Shell, 2008; Malka & Covington, 2005; Tabachnick et al., 2008). The goals of this study were to provide evidence for the internal structure of the domain-general and context-specific components of FTP, and to provide evidence for the hypothesized top-down structure of FTP theory (Lens & Rand, 1997; Lens & Tsuzuki, 2007; Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999).

The results of the confirmatory factor analyses suggested that researchers can make appropriate inferences from student responses to the measures. The findings represent a rigorous test in a large, representative sample of the target population. Data from both scales produced evidence of the internal consistency of the student responses, as well as the structural fidelity of the student responses to the theoretical propositions. The items related to their respective constructs hung together well, the model fit met our minimum established cut-off criteria, and the parameter estimates provided evidence of relations that were consistent with the extant literature.

The results of the path analysis supported our hypothesized domain-general to context-sensitive sequence (Bandura, 1986; Marsh, 1992; Nuttin & Lens, 1985; Urdan & Schoenfelder, 2006; Vallerand, 1997, 2000). The fit of the path model met the most conservative recommendations (Hu & Bentler, 1999). The parameter estimate between endogenous perceived instrumentality and the use of a knowledge building strategy was stronger than the parameter estimates between the three domain-general variables and knowledge building strategies. This pattern of results specifically supported the proposed structure. Postsecondary students might espouse a generalized FTP that directly and indirectly influences their perceptions of their course work and their willingness to engage in knowledge building strategies.

Additionally, the results indicate that students' use of knowledge building strategies may be influenced by both their domain-general imagined futures and the perceived intrinsic value of coursework. These results support other motivation findings with partially mediated structures (Tabachnick et al., 2008). However, the results of these types of studies have not been uniform, with fully mediated findings surfacing in other FTP research (Shell & Husman, 2008). The mixed results may be due to sample characteristics or classroom level influences. Future research with consistent measures in similar samples and classrooms will provide stronger evidence for the reasons behind the mixed findings.

The path model contained a nonsignificant parameter estimate between exogenous perceived instrumentality and the use of knowledge building strategies. Although the nonsignificant parameter could be due to low reliability, it also supports previous findings which indicate that performance-oriented motivation is less adaptive than mastery-oriented pursuits (Patrick, Ryan, & Pintrich, 1999; Vansteenkiste, Simons, Lens, Soenens, Matos, & Lacante, 2004). Students who are focused on the long-term importance of their grade, rather than learning the content, may not be as likely to use deep learning strategies (Wolters, Yu, & Pintrich, 1996). Given prior research indicating that pragmatic students who are focused on the importance of grades may use surface learning strategies, it would be interesting to examine the relations between different types of students' PI and their use of both deep and surface learning strategies.

Final comments

The results provide convincing evidence that student perceptions of their present learning may be influenced by domain-general perceptions of the future. This conclusion is consistent with prior research (Lens & Tsuzuki, 2007; Tabachnick et al., 2008) and should be expanded in the future to consider possible reciprocal relations between students' context-sensitive PI and the development of FTP over time (Luyckx et al., 2010). Our findings support traditional models of FTP: students who operate from an FTP that is conducive to strong connections between imagined futures and present activities easily find value in their school work and attempt to develop elaborate knowledge structures.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The FTP variable sequence
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. References
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