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Learner confidence and motivation: itforum discussion

This is my edited version of the ITFORUM exchange (begun in October 1997) on learner confidence and motivation. (Link to list of ITFORUM participants.)

It was originally created to offer an immediate record, but now the regular itforum web version (which also has an index) is probably more historically accurate. The version here was re-ordered a bit and given a contents list (as opposed to an index of contributors and dates). My synthesis resulting from the discussion is now in a separate companion document.


These contents list the subtopics as I see them. If you want to access a contribution by the name of the contributor, use your browser's "find" or "search" command: contributors' names are at the foot of their pieces.

Steve asks a daft question

From steve Wed Oct 22 23:23:50 1997
To: itforum
Subject: learner confidence

Recently someone suggested to me that giving learners confidence was all that matters, and I dismissed it. Two days later, in a focus group with students asking them about the feedback they were getting on a course (in tutorials on their programming exercises) they said almost the same thing: that what mattered to them was getting some confidence from the tutor. This makes a nonsense of my concepts about levels of feedback, and indeed about all the theories of teaching and learning I usually attend to.

Does anyone have something useful to say about this? Should I abandon all content and learning objectives, and concentrate on confidence-giving?

Steve Draper

Itforum replies...

I'm not going to try to get involved in much theory. However, it seems to me that _MOTIVATION_ to learn precedes almost everything else. If the students are not intrinsically motivated to learn then they are likely to see study/learning as an extrinsic task which they carry out to satisfy the teacher (thus pushing them in the direction of a surface approach to learning and all that it implies — see Marton, F., Hounsell, D., and Entwistle, N. (Eds.). (1996) The Experience of Learning (2nd edn.). Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press — which obscure publisher probably is quite close to Steve's institution!!). The issue of learner confidence (in their ability to learn/master this subject) probably is an essential component of motivation.

Perhaps when students say that confidence is _ALL_ that matters, what they are really saying is that it is the first necessity and they are unable to see beyond this gate until they have passed through it — confidence allows them (in the Aussie vernacular) to "have a go". Other teaching/learning issues then become relevant.

Geoff Isaacs
The Teaching and Educational Development Institute (T.E.D.I.)
The University of Queensland

I think this [Geoff's message] is right, but I think it's richer. They need to have confidence to experiment and explore. That's why I think Alan Shoenfeld's work (which I only really know through Collins, Brown, & Newman's Cognitive Apprenticeship) is so important. He models the processes, including making mistakes, backtracking, and revising. This shows that it's not a one-pass success or fail. It's probably also important to give learners an early success to help build their confidence. (Which, it suddenly and horribly occurs to me, is something I probably do wrong with my first assignment when I try to shake their complacency. Sigh. Live and learn. Next year, folks!)

I think that with confidence and time, students could explore and learn anything. With confidence and then support for self-learning skills, efficiency in search, representational facilitation, etc, they might even be able to learn something in the artificial timetable of the average university subject!

Dr Clark N. Quinn
Director of Education Technology, Access Australia Cooperative Multimedia Centre

Language learning: confidence building is central

A great deal of research in language teaching has shown the importance of relevant content and positive feedback. (Read any language teaching or ESL journal). If you have ever tried to learn a language (try Chinese) in which the teacher spent the first 12 months drilling grammar, vocabulary (and tones) and only told you when you were wrong, you wouldn't need to ask this question.

Dr I.E. Hart, Director, Centre for Media Resources, University of Hong Kong

I have taught foreign language in several countries. My two cents comment is that the role of confidence is so apparent in oral language learning perhaps because performance is so readily observable and it also requires the learner to assume or mimic another linguistic identity. These are two behaviors most people don't do readily. I recall a study reported about 20 years ago where it was found that small amounts of alcohol "loosened the tongue" as it were improving language learners readiness to perform linguistically in the foreign tongue. (I believe the study was conducted at U of Chicago, Illinois, USA).

Once you've got the language learners feeling okay about speaking like someone else, they've still got to have some structure as to what they are learning.

My vote: Both confidence and a plan are as necessary as when studying algebra or literature.

Dr. Henryk R. Marcinkiewicz, Center for Teaching, Learning, & Faculty Development Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Michigan

Henryk R. Marcinkiewicz writes:
>............ the role of confidence is so apparent in oral language learning perhaps because performance is so readily observable and it also requires the learner to assume or mimic another linguistic identity. These are two behaviors most people don't do readily.

Ten years ago I was lucky enough to have a 6 month attachment to the University of Poitiers with an assignment to make a number of video programs for French teaching in Australia. We planned out the usual list of topics: Food, Markets, Chateaux... but after our children had been in the local country school for a few days it became obvious that there was only one story worth filming - being an Aussie kid in a French country school. Back home I took the videos to an in-service conference of language teachers and if I'd had a truck I could have sold all the tapes off the back that day.

These weren't great movies, but they had one very attractive feature. They showed normal Australian children succeeding in communication in French. In spite of gross and frequent misuse of the subjunctive, their friends understood them. (The dirty secret of language teaching is that people will understand you if even you don't speak proper, so long as you have the confidence to speak in the first place.) Most language videos use native speakers as models, and a 15 year old, shy, pimple-scarred adolescent from Wagga Wagga is going to have great difficulty identifying with the svelt and fluent Yves De Bois in "À la France!".

We conducted a follow-up survey on these videos and teachers reported that attitudes to learning were very obviously affected: a move as dramatic in once case from "belligerent hostility" to "I could do that!" In other words, confidence.

Of course confidence without content is like pre-selling non-existent apartments in Shenzhen: you get found out in the end. But in language learning it get you going, keeps you talking and facilitates learning.

As for Henry's Uni of Chicago study on liquor and language learning... maybe that's the second dirty secret of language teaching.

Dr I.E. Hart, Director, Centre for Media Resources, University of Hong Kong

Confidence one factor interacting with others

My own approach is to try to do both. We are damned if we do or don't being labelled as being soft and coddling learners if we spoon-feed them; conversely, as being elitist, uncaring, unmindful of all peripheral life responsibilities learners now bring with them to our classes, etc.

From my perspective, we teach because we care. Some care mostly about their areas of "expertise" while others put inordinate amounts of effort into caring about their learners (I think I fall into this latter category), but the transactions in and out of our classrooms will increasingly for many, be conducted at a distance. It is in this environment wherein I see a major role for confidence-building, for motivating, for yes, even inspiring.

Dick Cornell, Instructional Systems, University of Central Florida

Confidence smacks of scam, but trust and, more important, ownership of those learning objectives and increasing ownership of the content involved - by the learner rather than the instructor - make all the difference. That is the process of instruction - in "warm-feeling" vocabulary - just as it is the process of salesmanship or the process of leadership. "Inspiring confidence" among students, buyers, or followers is not that warm and fuzzy goo the rhetoric implies: it is actually transforming your knowledge into theirs. That they do not know how to express this in language which meets IT standards ain't their fault.

Joe Beckmann (oekosjoe@IX.NETCOM.COM)

I think confidence is important. If the learners are not confident that they have mastered a skill I have taught, then how can they go back to the "real world" and apply those skills? That is not to say that content is not important. But learner confidence must be incorporated into the learning process.

In my classroom, if I hear a learner say "oops," I remind them that oops is not a confidence building statement. I suggest "hooray" as an alternative, because they found something that didn't work. In other words, I'm attempting to turn a negative into a positive and hopefully build confidence.

Just my $.02 worth
Jill Ullmann (

Following this strand has been interesting, but why should confidence weigh in any higher than attention, relevance or satisfaction (as in Keller's ARCS model)? The function of motivation is to sustain effort as in Carroll's model of school learning, degree of learning is a function of (effort * time allowed) - over - (quality of resources * aptitude * ability to learn).

Indeed learning is a complex equation requiring learner effort AND a facilitating learning environment.

Walter Wager, Instructional Systems, Florida State University

Dr. Wager (and other list participants),
Its not that confidence weighs in more heavily, but confidence is antecedent to some of the variables in Carroll's equation. Higher levels of confidence result in greater levels of effort. Higher levels of confidence will lead individuals to allot greater amounts of time to learning (if some amount of learner control is available).

With regard to ARCS, a similar arguments can be made. Without confidence, attention will be low. From a cognitive dissonance perspective, I might suggest that those with low confidence will view the material as less relevant (if that's too hard for me to learn, it must not be that important).

I'm not suggesting that confidence is a dominant factor, I am merely suggesting that a great deal of research in educational psychology suggests it may be overlooked by instructional designers. An interesting argument coming from an organizational psychologist ;-)

I'd be curious to hear your reaction to these thoughts.

Kenneth G. Brown, M.A., Doctoral Candidate, Department of Psychology, Michigan State University

I would agree that confidence is confounded with the other variables, but I don't know if I would agree it is antecedent. One can gain confidence during the process of learning but would still have to apply effort - even before that confidence was gained. For example, I could have low confidence in my ability to land a plane, but through the process of practicing many landings with an instructor by my side, gain the confidence I initially lacked. The instructor wouldn't have to build my self-confidence, simply give me feedback as to what to do to make a better landing next time — somehow I think I will know when I have finally learned.

I strongly agree that designers should look at what might increase confidence (including feedback - both corrective and reinforcement for performance). Reinforcement for effort should lead to greater learning, if other parts of the equation are held constant, and effort is directed at learning rather than simply "looking engaged".

Walter Wager, Instructional Systems, Florida State University

I'm enjoying this discussion so much I had to post one more time...

I whole-heartedly agree that confidence can be built over time during training, just as in the example that you present. And, as you suggest, increases in confidence are a natural result of task mastery (or enactive mastery as Bandura would put it).

My focus was on the issue of a learner's choice to engage in learning activity in the first place. It seems like we take the presence of trainees (students) for granted most of the time. Those really low in confidence we probably never see because they see no possible benefit from learning efforts. And, those that do arrive to our doors (terminals, etc.) with low confidence are likely to set low standards that result in fewer experiences of mastery, and so on.

To use the plane example that you brought up... you went out of your way to find an airport and instructor who would teach you those skills. You might not have exerted those efforts (and paid the cash) if you had thought that you could never learn all the things pilots know, or pass the final liscensing exam. I think its easy for researchers, academics, instructional designers, and teachers to forget this because, as a set of professions, we do what we do because we both value learning and feel confident in our ability to do so.

By the way, as a disciplinary "outsider" trying to get a handle on new literature(s) and paradigms, I want to point out that I've found this listserve and discussions on it enjoyable and (even more importantly) useful. Thanks!

Kenneth G. Brown, M.A., Doctoral Candidate, Department of Psychology, Michigan State University

Social Cognitive perspective

From the social cognitive perspective (e.g., Bandura, 1986, 1997), the idea of self-efficacy influencing learner effort makes a great deal of sense. After all, if you were unsure whether you COULD learn something (or ever be effective at it), how much effort would you invest to learn it? There is pretty good research evidence for the relationship between self-efficacy and goals (i.e., higher efficacy, harder goals). Research in industrial/organizational psychology (my discipline) generally focuses on performance goals, but the same logic can be applied to learning efforts. Schunk has done some interesting work in this area, including a book chapter in a book you may find useful (cite below).

But, motivational effects from self-efficacy do not invalidate concerns for objectives and other instructional design concepts. After all, if we do succeed in motivating trainees (or at least sustaining the motivation they come to us with), then we need to ensure that the effort they invest is productive!

The importance of learner confidence does suggest a need to be sensitive to the type of feedback we provide (as teachers, instructional designers, programmers of CBT) during different stages of skill acquisition. During early stages of skill acquisition, we should consider helping trainees build confidence that they can succeed. If they have confidence, at least they will try.

Zimmerman, B. J. & Schunk, D. H. (1989, Eds.). Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: Theory, research, and practice. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Kenneth G. Brown, M.A., Doctoral Candidate, Department of Psychology, Michigan State University

I wonder what relationships exist between lack of confidence in an educational context and the construct called "learned helplessness" that is found in the psychological literature? If anyone is interested, there is a Learned Helplessness Forum listserv and several web resources. For more information, see the following URL:

Thomas C. Reeves
Dept. of Instructional technology, University of Georgia

Someone on the list (I don't know who as I erased the post) wondered how confidence might be related to learned helplessness. This humble grad student would like to suggest that it relates extremely well. Learned helplessness occurs (if I remember correctly) because the learner has lost the faith that what they do enables them to change their situation. Confidence comes from appropriate informational feedback that helps the learner by confirming what is correct and correcting what is not.

Steve Sturgess, University of Alberta

There is a sizable body of literature supporting the importance of the construct "sense of efficacy" for both students and teachers. Teachers' sense of efficacy has been found to be significantly positively correlated with various positive outcomes including student achievement. There is an organization called "The Efficacy Institute" which is concerned with students' sense of efficacy — primarily that minority students are programmed for low achievement by teachers and others who instill in such students low expectations. This is certainly not "all that matters", however. Content and learning objectives are still important. The importance of learner confidence/sense of efficacy is easilly undervalued though.

Charles Hawkins

>There is a sizable body of literature supporting the importance of the construct "sense of efficacy" for both students and teachers.

I've just been reading the interview with Jeff Howard, founder of the Efficacy Institute that Charles mentions. Interesting stuff!

Jan Robbins
Study Skills Centre, The Australian National University, Canberra, AUSTRALIA

To echo some of the other comments, but add some further conceptual support. Motivational Systems Theory, (Motivating Humans, Martin Ford, 1992, Sage) suggests that both Goals and Personal Agency Beliefs (PABS) are critical components for human motivation. As Martin is an educator first and psychologist second, his ideas are very relevant to us as instructional technologists.

PABs, like Bandura's concept of self-efficacy can be activated by positive encouragement from an influential "other". By encouragement, I mean specific feedback that identifies exactly what the learner did correctly, what needs to be changed, expresses a belief that the learner is, indeed, capable of such change, and identifies contextual mechanisms (for example the availability of the instructor for additional clarification) that will support their progress. (This concept of encouragement is distinctly different than "praise", as has been pointed out by the National Training Laboratory for the Behavioral Sciences).

But a critical point Ford makes is that "personal agency beliefs only matter if there is some goal in place". Clearly you can't activate the PAB as a cognitive and affective process if there is nothing to direct it towards. IMHO here is where the teacher can help provide this activation by setting good instructional objectives which are at some level explicitly known to the learner. After all, if you can't see where you're supposed to be going, how can you possibly feel competent and confident about getting there?

All of this presupposes that the learners are somewhat instrinsically motivated to be in the classroom at all which, as those of us who have instructed both in academic and corporate settings know, is often a dream. But I have personally found that, even those learners who enter the classroom and look at you with the expectation that you will magically pour "learning" into them, can have their level of motivation enhanced by clear objectives supported by encouraging feedback and support.

I'm not suggesting that we should try and turn ourselves into psychologists in order to help our learners achieve the objectives that we set for them. Just that we apply common-sense and caring, whilst being aware of these concepts.

Keep working to make a difference!

Mike Kostrzewa


It has been my experience that students who have learned about studenting via a system that relies heavily on rewards and punishments feel most comfortable in that kind of situation, and have "forgotten" — or never learned — how to rely on their own inner standards as to a) their own objectives for the course and consequently of course, b) how to know whether what they're doing is any "good" or not. Depending on your own objectives for the course, you might want additionally to include teaching them, or guiding them in re-learning, how to self-assess...

Heather MacLean []

Now I may just be a cynical, almost finished, undergraduate but I hope that Steve Draper has not been the victim of "working the tutor".

Everyone knows that you get better marks if you get the confidence of the tutor - right? So it might not be getting confidence from you, but getting your confidence that counts.

When I return to my role as teacher, I try to be aware of it being done to me, but am always admiring of a good technique, hey I might use myself when I return to my role as student!

Barbara Simmons
TAFE NSW, Australia

Interesting debate! There are two other aspects to student confidence that I can see.

First, how often have others, like myself, been greeted by blank stares and inability to perform in a class on a topic you taught to them in the previous year, only to have them turn around and say "Oh that's what you mean, yes, we knew that all along." when the penny drops. Confidence seems to me to relate partly to "knowing that you know" and it seems very important to have it in order to be able to access and use information.

Secondly, confidence can be an indicator for students that they HAVE learnt something. It is now integrated and usable if they feel confident (although sometimes this opinion needs revision in the light of further testing).

These are both outcomes of learning, unlike the previous uses which seem to relate mostly to confidence in one's ability to learn. So don't throw away the content and learning objectives, they could be essential to the development of the confidence

Jan Robbins
Study Skills Centre, The Australian National University, Canberra, AUSTRALIA

Much of the reading by Deci and Ryan and others that I have done concerning feedback suggests that it must be, above all, informational. Otherwise it will be considered to be manipulative. The information in the feedback could be offered in a variety of ways but must be directed at helping the student to understand what he/she has done wrong or right and they will use that information to their advantage. Feedback that confirms what they believe they know to be correct builds confidence. IMHO, abandoning learning objectives and all content would of course be counter-productive. Students need the content but the feedback must always reflect their understanding of that content in an informational way.

Steve Sturgess (


I have enjoyed this discussion very much. I am particularly interested in the question of whether hypertext course materials contribute to student confidence (of self efficacy) because they are interactive, self-paced and self-accessed. Or perhaps hypertext (which is not linear) confuses learners who are not already confident with that medium.

Beverley Oliver, University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle WA 6160

Beverly, I share your doubts about hypertext. There is a lot of information (category, level of generalisation/detail) contained in the structure of a discipline or a discourse, and most hypertext does not usually indicate it. I also think it only really works with learners who are already confident, if not with the medium, then with the subject. Also let's be clear, not all hypertext is interactive, and not all interactive material is hypertext. But perhaps hypertext works better with reference, rather than teaching material.

Jan Robbins
Study Skills Centre, The Australian National University, Canberra, AUSTRALIA

I am writing to let you know of a site by Dust. This site is not an edu commissioned or focussed one, but I feel he has created an innovative approach for getting people to stretch their knowledge of their humble html doc. This site helped me to see my own learning of html functionality as an adventure.

It is not easy and I was not a complete beginner when I came across it.

I did it together with someone else who was trying from another machine.

We were sharing our breakthroughs using IRC Chat.

The reason I am posting it is that I found it a fun process and think that more of this game type approach to learning html (and learning other technology based vehicles for learning) could be useful.

I also learned html coding and general use of the internet through a regular webchat page. Once again learning through a fun social experience.

MOO MUD type environments are probably one flavour of techno tool (that I know of) which often seems to be started with a game facade or learning stage. These environments are also used for more serious interaction once people are confident with the functionality.

I am also looking around for my own local wine appreciation and language centre.!! Sounds great!

Janet Reid
Educational Designer Open Learning Institute, Wagga Wagga Campus, Charles Sturt University, Australia

Affective learning objectives

I wouldn't abandon the other objectives for your course but you might add objectives in the affective domains, which include self-confidence and motivation.

John Rueter
Assistant Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Professor, Department of Biology
Portland State University, Portland, Oregon 97207-0751

Just one last piece to this thread:
I teach people to search databases in libraries and on the net (search engines). Information retrieval has become very complex since we got rid of card catalogs. Much of my research has been with novices learning to use information technology to retrieve information for various purposes. I have focused on affective variables like confidence and self-efficacy (à la Bandura) and have found that in this context they are significant.

Regardless of prior experience, people in my studies who rate themselves as highly confident in their abilities to search always have superior scores on retrieval variables including efficiency and satisfaction variables. One study (others found similar results in other studies) uncovered an interesting dynamic: novices want confirmation (what you refer to as feedback) even when they already know that their choice of actions/their decisions is correct. They want the system to say something like: your search strategy has no errors in it, but systems do not provide any type of constructive feedback at this time, much less this type of validation feedback.

Related to this is the finding that after a 2.5 hour hands-on instructional searching session with a renowned expert in this area (not I), novices searched on their own for five sessions over a period of a few weeks, and throughout these sessions asked an average of 1 question per minute. In the first two sessions the average was 3 questions per minute about how to proceed in their searches. These systemic information needs are related to affective variables like confidence because 40% were simple validation questions. I believe they play a role in stimulating continuous motivation needed by searchers who are prone to frustration and discouragement throughout the search process.

I have come to focus on writing learning objectives in what I call integrated ACS information behavior units (affective/cognitive/sensorimotor) on the assumption that affective variables always accompany cognitive and motor behavior and provide a filter for selecting cognitive decisions. Low confidence and low motivation negatively affect cognitive decisions directly in searching. In short, I believe that confidence-building is effective in helping novice searchers develop their skills. If you're interested in this area, I have some articles on my web site

Dr. Diane Nahl, Information and Computer Sciences, University of Hawaii

Steve's first reply

The question for me came from a context of students learning how to program computers on a conversion MSc course, where a) there is a big range of prior ability, so I see many students who don't need any confidence boosting, but also many that do. b) programming gives the intrinsic feedback of whether the program runs which seems to me (from of course a perspective of confidence) to be enough.

Your answers give me a somewhat better grasp on that difference. For me part of the puzzle is or was that by "motivation" I usually mean a decision on how to spend one's time e.g. if coursework is for credit, then effort, in not then none. And these students do not lack motivation in the sense of desire for success and willingness to make an effort. So it isn't obvious to me that confidence is at all a related issue. But some of the reminders you sent it in fact are making a connection across that gap from deciding I could do it but don't think it's worth my time, to deciding that it's not worth my time because I couldn't do it successfully.

Steve's second response:
Ambiguities in 'confidence' and 'motivation'

I think that "confidence" has multiple meanings in this area, which I hadn't at all understood before. However it is not clear to me whether this is:

The meanings of "confidence" I identify (mainly from the collective contributions to this discussion here) are:

This is related to an ambiguity in the use of "motivation". If in the context of crime I see "X had a motive for the crime", it refers to (b): having some desire for an outcome. If in the context of sport I read that a team wasn't motivated enough, I also know it is referring to having an insufficient quantity of (b). But in the literature around self-efficacy, learned helplessness, and instrinsic motivation if I see "motivation" this does NOT mean (b) but the net resultant sum of (b) minus (or divided by) (c). I don't think this is a mistake, but a pointer to a real psychological phenomenon that, as someone remarked, means that if I have a bad time learning math and find it difficult, then I will usually experience that as not wanting to learn math. Nevertheless, it is hard for me to absorb this, since in other areas I do not experience a lessening of desire just because there are costs: instead I may decide it is not worth acting, not that it is worthless. (E.g. taking the time to write messages to ITFORUM, making money, searching for love.) A rational being would store estimates of benefits (b) and costs (c) separately; but the Bandura-type literature tells us that people often only store the net sum. Throwing away information would seem to be silly and likely to be non-functional. It is also surprising to find it in the area of education, since education requires effortful learning, and students are usually well aware of the both rewards and efforts. It seems like a defect in the design of human minds that they/we should experience difficulty in learning as a desire not to learn, rather than as a need to make an effort which they would then decide in each case whether it was worth it.

I think there are further issues here. I suggested that when we measure motivation or confidence we usually tap into a measure of the resultant of a learner's internal estimates of costs and benefits, even though a rational model might keep track of these separately and only combine them at each decision time. In addition, in education, the costs for a learner are mainly about the process, while the benefits are mainly about final outcomes (extrinsic motivation e.g. getting a qualification). That is, perhaps confidence is about process i.e. a learner's estimate (confidence type (d)) about the efficacy of their study skills in this topic; while motivation type (b) is about their extrinsic goals. So "motivation" is confounding process and product too. Also, it is one thing for me to have a model of factors determining learning, and another for a learner to have their own model and to make decisions (and answer "motivation" questionnaires) on the basis of that model. In other words, theories may not be making the right allowances for the fact that learners are self-governing and must do so on the basis of their own theories of learning.

I think this is closely related to the discussion Walt Wager began, when he said surely motivation was just one factor multiplied with others. That is how I would expect it to work as in a nice physics model; that is what I am calling "rational" here; and if I were the creator that is how our minds WOULD work. But I think the SocPsy literature is telling us that real human minds work differently. (And so Carroll's model must be rational but wrong?)

(And it's also related to my original puzzlement: if students were rational, surely they would see they were getting it right AND were learning from basic informational feedback: why did they say their priorities were different from that? I'm sure Geoff Isaacs was close to the mark in suggesting that for them, the major issue was the internal decision about whether this stuff was learnable by them at all. Yet why were they on the course at all? It seems as teachers there our first task must really be to convince them they were on the right course ....)

What do you think of this? (Can YOU make sense of it? Is there something wrong with this analysis?)

More from itforum

Three more types of confidence

I have just completed my PhD on generating agreement in electronic groups. Here is a penny's worth from that. The review I have done suggests there are three types of confidence:
  1. Individual confidence based on intellectual analysis - "My thinking convinces me this is true" not as common as one might think, since how many of us are truly independent thinkers?
  2. Confidence which is conveyed from another person whom we trust and believe in - such as a teacher. "I believe this because the teacher said so, and I trust them". This requires a person-to-person interaction.
  3. Confidence arising from holding the same position as a group we identify with. "Everyone believes this, and so do I". When my subjects found that they were in agreement with the group, confidence went up, even though the computer-mediated interaction was anonymous, so personal trust could not be a cause.

So which type of confidence do we wish to instill in our students?

Brian Whitworth
Dept of Information Systems, Manukau Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand

How about: "I believe this to be so based on the documented research (journal articles, expert interview, etc.) I studied." IMHO, that is the best type of confidence we can obtain.

Brett Bixler
The Jack P. Royer Center for Learning and Academic Technologies (C-LAT)
Univ. Pk., PA 16802

Most of what I have read about motivation refers to what we do for individuals and how individuals respond. Is there a social aspect to confidence and motivation? Maybe our jobs as teachers and instructional designers is to create a culture that initiates learners into the language of a particular discipline and introduces them to the way in which that specialized language represents things they already know and do in their everyday lives. If learning is a social activity, then doesn't there have to be some mechanism for creating a culture in which the members of the group can participate with some degree of confidence that they know the language, knowledge base, rules, ethics, etc. of the group? Can that kind of environment overcome other factors that cause learners to feel unmotivated or inconfident? Can an environment that doesn't provide that kind of enculturation cause learners to act irrationally?

Terri Buckner

John Keller and the ARCS model

I just joined the Forum, so I have not read all the background notes that led to Steve Draper's summary titled "Ambiguities in 'confidence' and 'motivation'", although David Nelson and Walt Wager brought some of the points to my attention. Without going back to read all of that material, there are several points I would like to make in regard to Steve's summary, and I realize that some of my points may have been discussed previously.

First of all, his summary makes many good points and I was quite impressed with what he pulled together based on what appears to have been in the previous discussion. For example, he makes a good point in suggesting that "confidence" is multidimensional (he uses the word 'ambiguous'). The multidimensionality of the concept does result in ambiguity when its meaning in a specific context is not made clear.

Second, in the inferences he draws from the previous messages, he has hit upon some of the basic elements of expectancy-value theory. This theory helps explain many aspects of motivation. It postulates that people will be motivated to the degree that there is an opportunity or goal that they desire (value) and that they have some level of positive expectancy of achieving the goal if they exert effort (expectancy). Both the cost and benefit factors that Steve mentioned are included in this theory, which was originally developed in England many years ago in the context of philosophy and economics. Furthermore, costs and benefits do fall into two separate categories as Steve suggests would be valuable. Costs relate more to expectancy in terms of how hard will I have to exert myself to achieve my goal (which makes this one element of a general conception of confidence), and benefit relates more to values (how much do I really want this goal, how useful or satisfying will it be to me?).

Each of these concepts can be viewed as subsuming many of the specific concepts and theories of motivation. For example, the expectancy dimension, which I call confidence, includes one's belief that effort exerted toward accomplishing a goal has a reasonable chance of resulting in a successful performance (attribution theory), and that if my performance is good it will lead to a desired outcome (locus of control and attribution theory). This concept of confidence also encompases perceptions of self-efficacy and some other dimensions. It is also worth noting that failures to learn which are attributable to the confidence dimension can be due to over-confidence as well as under-confidence. When people are over-confident, they make the false assumption that they already know the content or skills, which means that they do not perceive themselves as having gaps, and they do not make an effort to learn — at least not until they discover that they do, indeed, have a gap. Over-confidence is not the same as high-confidence wherein learners correctly assume that they already know or can learn the material.

The value dimension, which I call "relevance", relates to the perceived benefits of a given opportunity or goal. The benefits can be in terms of utility (how useful this learning experience is to me now or will be in the future) or one or more of several other factors. For example, when the structure of learning activities and instructional content are appealing to a person's personal interests or learning style, they will often be motivated even if there is no extrinsic utilitarian benefit. For example, people who are high in need for achievement tend to enjoy having a high degree of control over their studies and how they prepare their assignements. Unless there is a necessity for it (such as, "I don't really want to do this anyway, and if I am in a group, maybe it will be easier and quicker"), they tend not to enjoy collaborative learning assignements. When their performance is being graded, they prefer to work alone and will be motivated by that type of learning condition. The concept of authenticity in the constructivist literature is another important dimension of relevance. Either actual relevance to a "real world" setting, or a simulated and/or vicarious relationship as in some highly motivating micro-world activities contributes to the motivation to learn.

One of Steve's dimensions of confidence, "b) Strength of desire to achieve knowledge of a topic", is more of a dimension of relevance, or value, than of confidence.

It is generally assumed that the relationship between value and expectancy, or in current terms, relevance and confidence, is multiplicative. That is, if either term goes to zero, a person will not be motivated. This helps explain why neither confidence nor relevance can be considered to be the most important element of motivation, although various writers have championed one over the other. One can be highly confident of success in a given area, but if that area has absolutely no value (intrinsic or extrinsic) to the person, then the person will not be motivated by that goal or activity. A similar situation exists with regard to relevance.

Another point to be made in regard to motivation is that relevance and confidence do not subsume all of its important elements. There is also curiosity, or attention, which is related to relevance, but has some distinguishing properties. Attention producing activities are best explained by arousal theory and the literatures on curiosity and boredom. Attention, or curiosity at some level, is prerequisite to the other elements of motivation. Also, attention as a motivational factor is distinguished from attention in the learning literature. Simply stated, the motivational concern is for getting and sustaining learners' attention. The learning concern is for directing attention to the appropriate cues, prompts, or other aspects of a learning environment.

Still another major area of motivation factors concerns outcomes. Both a learner's expectations about what will happen as a consequence of trying to learn and perform, and what actually does happen will influence a learner's continuing motivaton. It includes aspects of what Steve listed under point "a)" in his listing. This dimension of motivation includes the use of reinforcement contingencies and feedback combined with the learner's cognitive evaluation of outcomes based on perceived dissonances or congruities with expectations. These result from the learner's reflective evaluations and perceptions of equity. The equity perceptions are another place where cost/benefit perceptions are incorporated. The learner's feelings of satisfaction with a learning experience will depend in part on whether he/she feels that what he got was worth the effort (cost in terms of blood, sweat, tears, and cash). If a learer feels that he/she learned something interesting and/or useful (depending on what the learner's goals were at the beginning), that they have mastered it sufficiently relative to their goals, and that the results were worth the effort, then there will be a positive effect on continuing motivation.

All of these elements of motivation can be combined, not in an ecletic, piecemeal manner, but in an holistic and inclusive manner. By taking a systems perspective of the motivational, learning, and performance behaviors of a student over time and including both internal psychological factors and environmental factors (social influence, availability of appropriate information and resources, feedback, etc.), one can include all of these theories within the context of those aspects of behavior that they are best able to explain. Together, they can contribute to an holistic understanding and lead to clearer, more testable conceptions of the elements of motivation.

This has been a long message in which I have tried to summarize a few of the things that I have learned about motivation and that form the basis of what I have published as the ARCS model. It includes the four dimensions listed above which are incorporated in the acronym "ARCS" (Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction). I welcome reactions, and if anyone wants references to articles that talk about some of these things, I will be glad to provide them.

John M. Keller
Florida State University,

Keller's References around ARCS

References pertaining to learning motivation:

Keller, J.M. (1979). Motivation and instructional design: A theoretical perspective. Journal of Instructional Development, 2(4), 26-34.

Keller, J.M. (1983). Motivational design of instruction. In C. M. Reigeluth (ed.) Instructional Theories and Models: An Overview of Their Current Status. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, pp.383-434.

Keller, J.M. (1984). The use of the ARCS model of motivation in teacher training. In Shaw, K., & Trott, A.J. (Eds.). Aspects of Educational Technology, Volume XVII. London: Kogan Page, pp. 140-145.

Keller, J.M. (1987). Strategies for stimulating the motivation to learn. Performance & Instruction, 26 (8), 1-7.

Keller, J.M. (1987). The systematic process of motivational design. Performance & Instruction, 26 (9), 1-8.

Keller, J.M. (1987). Development and use of the ARCS model of motivational design. Journal of Instructional Development, 10(3), 2-10.

Keller, J.M., & Kopp, T.W. (1987). Application of the ARCS model to motivational design. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional Theories in Action: Lessons Illustrating Selected Theories. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum, Publishers, 289-320.

Keller, J.M., & Suzuki, K. (1988). Application of the ARCS model to courseware design. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Instructional Designs for Microcomputer Courseware. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum, Publisher, pp.401-434.

Keller, J.M., & Keller, B.H. (1991). Motivating learners with multimedia instruction. Proceedings of the International Conference on Multi-Media in Education and Training (ICOMMET '91). Tokyo, Japan: The Japanese Association for Educational Technology and the International Society for Technology in Education.

Keller, J.M. (1992) Enhancing the motivation to learn: Origins and applications of the ARCS model. Reports from the Institute of Education (Sendai, Japan: Institute of Education, Tohoku Gakuin University), 11 pp.45-67.

Keller, J.M., & Burkman, E. (1993). Motivation. In M. Fleming (Ed.), Instructional Message Design, 2nd Edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Press.

Astleitner, H., & Keller, J. (1995). A model of motivationally adaptive computer-assisted instruction, Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 27 (3), 270-281.

Keller, J.M. (1996). Motivational design and multimedia: Beyond the novelty effect. Proceedings of the International Symposium on New Technologies of Instruction, 1966. Taipei: Taiwan: National Taiwan Teacher's College. (This document is available in English and Chinese.)

References pertaining to workplace motivation

Keller, J.M. (1992). Motivational Systems. In H. Stolovitch, & E. Keeps (Eds), Handbook of Human Performance Technology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers.

Keller, J.M. (1994). Trends and tactics for employee motivation, HR Horizons, 115 (Winter 94), 5-10.

General References

Dweck, C.S. (1986) "Motivational processes affecting learning" American Psychologist vol.41 no.10 pp.1040-1048

Vallerand, R.J. & Bissonnette, R. (1992). Intrinsic, extrinsic and amotivational styles as predictors of behavior: A prospective study. Journal of Personality (60), (3), 599-620.

Vallerand, R.J., Pelletier, L.G., Blais, M.R., Briere, N.M., Senecal, C., & Vallieres, E.F. (1992). The Academic Motivation Scale: A measure of intrinsic, extrinsic, and amotivation in education, Educational and Psychological Measurement, 52, 1003-1017.

Vallerand, R.J., Pelletier, L.G., Blais, M.R., Briere, N.M., Senecal, C., & Vallieres, E.F. (1993). On the assessment of intrinsic, extrinsic, and amotivation in education: Evidence on the concurrent and construct validity of the Academic Motivation Scale. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 53, 159-173.

Bev Taylor's Bibliography on motivation and learning