October 27, 2015

What do you choose: mastery goals or performance goals?

An important distinction in psychology is the distinction between mastery goals and performance goals. Mastery goals are goals which focus on learning new knowledge and skills. Performance goals are about achieving and competing for outcomes. This distinction is important for education. Should you focus on teaching students to set mastery goals or is it wiser to teach them to set performance goals? What works better?

In many educational contexts there is a strong emphasis on performance goals. In such contexts testing, grades, competing with each other and demonstrating competence are the primary focus of attention. Other contexts put more emphasis on mastery goals, mastering subject matter, and striving for improvement.

Roughly, research suggests that performance goals in education are less effective than mastery goals. With performance there are more negative effects on self-confidence and intrinsic motivation of students but also on achievements. Mastery goals are associated with more intrinsic motivation, deeper learning, and better outcomes (see for example Meece et al., 2006; Lau & Nie, 2008; Murayama & Elliott, 2009; Nie, 2015). Research by Benita et al. (2014) showed that positive effects of mastery goals happen in particular in autonomy-supportive environments. .

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