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Background: The type of academic goals pursued by students is one of the most important variables in motivational research in educational contexts. Although motivational theory and research have emphasised the somewhat exclusive nature of two types of goal orientation (learning goals versus performance goals), some studies (Meece, 1994; Seifert, 1995, 1996) have shown that the two kinds of goals are relatively complementary and that it is possible for students to have multiple goals simultaneously, which guarantees some flexibility to adapt more efficaciously to various contexts and learning situations.

Aim: The principal aim of this study is to determine the academic goals pursued by university students and to analyse the differences in several very significant variables related to motivation and academic learning.

Sample: Participants were 609 university students (74% women and 26% men) who filled in several questionnaires about the variables under study.

Method: We used cluster analysis ('quick cluster analysis' method) to establish the different groups or clusters of individuals as a function of the three types of goals (learning goals, performance goals, and social reinforcement goals). By means of MANOVA, we determined whether the groups or clusters identified were significantly different in the variables that are relevant to motivation and academic learning. Lastly, we performed ANOVA on the variables that revealed significant effects in the previous analysis.

Results: Using cluster analysis, three groups of students with different motivational orientations were identified: a group with predominance of performance goals (Group PG: n = 230), a group with predominance of multiple goals (Group MG: n = 238), and a group with predominance of learning goals (Group LG: n = 141).

Conclusions: Groups MG and LG attributed their success more to ability, they had higher perceived ability, they took task characteristics into account when planning which strategies to use in the learning process, they showed higher persistence, and used more deep learning strategies than did the students with predominance of performance goals (Group PG). On the other hand, Groups MG and PG took the evaluation criteria more into account when deciding which strategies to use in order to learn, and they attributed their failures more to luck than did Group LG. Students from Group MG attributed their success more to effort than did the other two groups and they attained higher achievement than Group PG. Group LG tended to attribute their failures more to lack of effort than did the other two groups.