Thursday, August 18, 2011

Beyond IQ Series # 3: Importance of individual learner characteristics (and relevant theories)

Background comment regarding this series

Interest in social-emotional learning and resiliency training (click here and here for just two examples) in education has shown a recent uptick on activity. Given this activity, IQs Corner is starting a series to explain the previously articulated Model of Academic Competence and Motivation (MACM), which was a model ahead of it's time (IMHO). The imporance of non-cognitive (conative) characteristics in learning have been articulated since the days of Spearman, the father of the construct of general intelligence. Richard Snow's work on the concept of "aptitude," which integrates cognitive and conative individual difference variables, is the foundation of the Beyond IQ MACM. Non-cognitive (cognitive) characteristics of learners are important for learning and are more manipulable (more likely to be modified via intervention) than intelligence. Thus, the MACM components make sense as potential levers for improving school learning and pursuing more well rounded life-long learners. This material comes a larger set of materials on the web (click here).

Current MACM Series Installment

This third installment in the Beyond IQ series builds on the prior "big picture" model of school learning post, and "drills down" on the learner characteristics component of most all models of school learning. [All installments in this series (and other related posts and research) can be found by clicking here].


Current MACM Series Installment: Models of School Learning--The Importance of Learner Characteristics

Inspection of the previously posted figure that outlined the major models of school learning, and Walberg's theory of educational productivity in particular, indicates that despite differences among the major models of school learning, significant commonalities exits across the models. According to Walberg (1980), all models specify certain conditions prerequisite for effective instruction, characteristics of the teaching-learning process, and the quantifiable outcomes of schooling with which they are concerned. In addition, several theorists discuss environmental conditions which include teacher background, curriculum and institutional factors, and cultural context. All theorists recognize the contribution of certain intrinsic learner characteristics in the form of cognitive (e.g., aptitude, ability to comprehend instruction, prior achievement) and attitudinal (e.g., perseverance, motivation, self- concept as learner) variables. As summarized by Wang et al., the major categories of learner characteristics important for academic learning are learner demographics, history of educational placement, social and behavioral outcomes, motivation and affective, cognitive, metacognitive, and psychomotor abilities (Gerlach, Aaside, Humphreys, Gade, Paulson & Law, 2002).

Five of the seven learner characteristic domains (social and behavioral, motivation and affective, cognitive, metacognitive, and psychomotor) reflect intrinsic traits or states of the learner. Although serving a valuable heuristic function for model- based research and literature integration, each of these five learner characteristic categories refer to separate broad and complex multivariate domains of human behavior. For example, Carroll’s (1993) recent meta- analysis of the extant factor analysis research on human cognitive abilities suggests that the cognitive domain alone includes, under a single general intellectual ability (g), at least eight broad cognitive domains and 70+ narrow or specialized cognitive abilities. Similar broad multivariate taxonomies have been presented in the other broad learner characteristic domains. The breadth of potentially important learner characteristics (and potential valued educational outcomes) for learners with and without disabilities is staggering.

Clearly these non-cognitive characteristics are those that should be targeted for assessment, intervention, or that should be designated as valued outcomes of school learning, must be circumscribed and prioritized. An assumption of this author is that the identification of the broad and narrow MACM domains and proposed organizing framework must emerge from the extant empirical research and theoretical literature, and not from the advocacy, policy, nor political arenas.

A limitation of the Walberg model is the macro focus on monolithic domains, domains that fail to convey the richness, multivariate complexity, and specificity needed for scientifically-based applied research and intervention. A review of the literature reveals a burgeoning of MACM research during the past 30-40 years. The primary MACM variables identified in the current review are listed and briefly defined in the table below (double click to enlarge or click here for on-line version). The table reveals a richness of variables lurking beneath Walberg's broad domain of student characteristics.

A review of the extant literature reveals that most student characteristic related research has focused on single behaviors or traits in isolation, have studied the same characteristic at different levels of generality (e.g., motivation vs. intrinsic motivation), or have not been integrated into an overarching taxonomy or model. The diversity of behaviors and traits listed in the table below (double click on image to enlarge or click here for another on-line version) suggests an “embarrassment of riches” in our understanding of MACM variables.

The remainder of this series on the MACM framework articulates a model for identifying the non-cognitive (conative) characteristics that might be targeted in order for all learners to maximize their educational attainment. These collective essential learner facilitators are referred to under the umbrella term of "Model of Academic Competence and Motivation" (MACM).

Theoretical/Conceptual Foundations of MACM Domains

Finally, for those who want to know more about the theoretical/conceptual foundations listed in the above table, brief definitions of each are provided below:

Need for Achievement Theory. Originally proposed by McClelland (McClelland, Atkinson, Clark, & Lowell, 1953), this theory hypothesizes that all humans have a distinct internal motive to seek achievement, attainment of realistic (but challenging) goals, and advancement. Individuals are believed to posses a strong need for feedback regarding their achievement and progress, and a need for a sense of accomplishment.

Intrinsic Motivation Theory. Intrinsic motivation theory postulates that “when individuals are intrinsically motivated, they engage in an activity because they are interested in and enjoy the activity. When extrinsically motivated, individuals engage in activities for instrumental or other reasons, such as receiving a reward”(Eccles & Wigfield, 2002, p. 112).

Self-determination Theory. According to Deci and Ryan (1985), self-determination theory explains 2 main components of human motivation—“(a) humans are motivated to maintain an optimal level of stimulation (Hebb, 1955), and (b) humans have basic needs for competence (White, 1959) and personal causation or self-determination (deCharms, 1968)”(Eccles and Wigfield, 2002, p. 112). Deci and Ryan argue that self-determination plays a role in both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The basic premise of the theory, is that a person will feel a sense of self-determination when they are able to determine the activities they will engage in and feel competent with during task performance.

Goal Theory. Researchers have proposed a number of models to describe how individuals develop and display goal-directed behavior. Bandura (1997) and Shunk’s (1990) research suggests that “specific, proximal, and somewhat challenging goals promote both self-efficacy and improved performance” (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002, p. 115). Cognitive goal theory is based on the hypothesis that “all actions are given meaning, direction, and purpose by the goals that individuals seek out, and that the quality and intensity of behavior will change as these goals change”(Covington, 2000, p. 174). Goal theory focuses on the role that “purpose” plays in motivation attitudes and behavior (Anderman & Maehr, 1994; Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Maehr, 1999; Snow et al., 1996; Urdan & Maehr, 1995). In an academic context, a person’s achievement goal orientation deals with a student’s reason for taking a course, wanting a desired grade, etc. (Anderman et al., 2002). Although the specific terminology may differ across researchers, goal theory typically proposes 2 general goal orientations (Covington, 2000; Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2002a). The underlying commonality among the different models is a distinction between a goal orientation driven by a concern for personal ability and normative social comparison (performance goal orientation) versus an orientation with a focus on task completion, understanding, developing and learning new skills, and mastery (learning goal orientation).

Goal Setting Theory. According to Locke and Latham (2002), goal-setting theory, which is largely an inductively derived theory (emerged from empirical research), is based on the premise that conscious goals affect action. Goal setting theory focuses on understanding the relationship between conscious performance goals and subsequent levels of task performance.

Interest Theory. Contemporary interest theory makes a distinction between individual and situational interest. “Individual interest is a relatively stable evaluative orientation towards certain domains; situational interest is an emotional state aroused by specific features of an activity or a task” (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002, p. 114). The domain of individual interest is often differentiated further into the categories of feeling-related (based more on feelings) and value- related (based more on personal significance of a situation) interests (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002). For the most part, research on situational interest has focused on “characteristics of academic tasks that create interest (e.g., Hidi & Baird, 1986)” (Eccles &Wigfield, 2002, p. 115). Research on individual interest, on the other hand, has focused more on the quality of learning and how it is related to interest.

Expectancy and Value Theory. Contemporary expectancy-value theories of motivation are based in Atkinson’s (1964) expectancy- value model, in that they link achievement performance, persistence, and choice most directly to an individual’s expectancy-related and task-value beliefs. The expectancy component of the theory focuses on an individual’s beliefs about their competence, efficacy, expectations for success and failure, and feelings of control over the outcomes of situations. The value component focuses on an individual’s incentives, motivations, and reasons for engaging in activities. Most contemporary expectancy-value theories believe that expectancies and values are positively related.

Self-efficacy Theory. Self-efficacy theory can be traced to Bandura’s social cognitive model of motivation. “Bandura defined self- efficacy as individuals’ confidence in their ability to organize and execute a given course of action to solve a problem or accomplish a task; he characterized it as a multidimensional construct that varies in strength, generality, and level (or difficulty)”(Eccles & Wigfield, 2002, p. 110). The focus of self-efficacy theory is on expectations for success (outcome expectations—a belief that certain behaviors will result in certain outcomes) and efficacy expectations (beliefs of whether one can perform the behaviors necessary to attain a certain outcome).

Attribution Theory. Attribution theory deals primarily with an individual’s interpretation of their achieved outcomes, rather than how specific motivational dispositions or realized outcomes affect subsequent achievement strivings (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002). “Attribution models include beliefs about ability and expectancies for success, along with incentives for engaging in different activities, including valuing of achievement (see Graham & Taylor, 2001)”(Eccles & Wigfield, 2002, p. 117). The key achievement attributes, as identified by Weiner and associates, are ability, effort, task difficulty, and luck (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002). These attributes are further described along the dimensions of locus of control, stability, and controllability.

Control Theory. Control theory is another type of expectancy-value theory and focuses on the hypothesis that an individual can only be successful to the extent they feel they have control over a situation (Eccles &Wigfield, 2002). Connell & Wellborn (1991); have also integrated control beliefs into a broader framework that includes 3 basic psychological needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. This theory posits a link between control beliefs and competence needs—individuals who believe they are in control of their achievement outcomes will feel more competent.

Self-worth Theory. Self-worth theory seeks to link motivational behavior to ability-related and valued-related constructs, as well as focusing on mental health “as a key determinant of the relation of expectancies and values to achievement behaviors” (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002, p. 122). Covington (1992, 1998) hypothesized that establishing and maintaining a positive self- image (i.e., a positive view of self-worth) is a primary human motive.

Social Awareness Theory. According to Greenspan (1981a), “the term social awareness may be defined as the individual’s ability to understand people, social events, and the processes involved in regulating social events. The emphasis on interpersonal understanding as the core operation in social awareness indicates that this construct is a cognitive component of human competence” (p. 18). Social awareness is a multidimensional hierarchical construct that includes: social sensitivity (which subsumes the subdomains of role-taking and social inference); social insight (subdomains of social comprehension, psychological insight, and moral judgment); and social communication (subdomains of referential communication and social problem- solving). Social awareness is one component of a larger all-encompassing model of personal competence that also includes emotional competence, physical competence, conceptual intelligence, and practical intelligence.

Social Cognitive Theories of Self-Regulation, Volition, & Motivation. In general terms, social cognitive theories of self-regulation focus on “how motivation gets translated into regulated behavior, and how motivation and cognition are linked” (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002, p. 124). A self-regulated student would be described as an individual who is “metacognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally active in their own learning processes and in achieving their own goals” (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002, p. 124). Multiple determinants of self-regulation have been suggested and include environmental, personal, and behavioral components, as well as context. The primary processes hypothesized to occur during self-regulation include self- observation, self-judgment, and self-reactions (Eccles &Wigfield, 2002).

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