Keywords: Effort, desire, pursuit, interests, values, responsiveness

Introduction to Motivation

Why do students choose to attend college, rush a fraternity/sorority, or become a resident adviser?  Higher education professionals wanting to understand the reasoning for these decisions may likely find answers by researching a student’s motivations.  Motivation has frequently been classified into two different facets under Self-Determination Theory (SDT), which was developed by Deci and Ryan (1985).  Their theory presents motivation as having both intrinsic (doing something as a result of inherent desire/enjoyment) and extrinsic (doing something due to necessity) dimensions that reside within a continuum.  The field of motivational research has often used SDT as a foundation to measure other motivational dimensions.  As motivation can frequently change topography, it is important for student affairs professionals to properly recognize the different components that incite the decisions of the students they support. 

When Would You Measure Motivation?

Student affairs professionals may want to measure motivation if their goal is to gauge:

  • A student’s reasoning for participating in a program
  • Perceptions of programmatic appropriateness across different students
  • Differences in learning due to internal/external causes
  • Students’ decision-making processes via both quantitative (e.g. responses on a motivation questionnaire) and qualitative (e.g. “think-aloud” sessions for a program’s relevance)



Those wanting to measure motivation may find it helpful to start their research by reviewing similar evidence-based literature:

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions (Ryan & Deci, 2000)

  • Building upon their original 1985 research, Ryan and Deci provide a review of their definitions and motivation and acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of more recent studies ideologies of the subject.


Do Reasons for Attending College Affect Academic Outcomes?  A Test of a Motivational Model from a Self-Determination Theory Perspective (Guiffrida, Lynch, Wall, & Abel, 2013)

  • This research focuses on understanding how a student’s motivational standpoint relates to their academic success. More specifically, they measured how different motivation orientations influenced academic outcomes, such as autonomy, persistence, and GPA.


The Impact of Community Service Involvement on Three Measures of Undergraduate Self-Concept (Berger & Milem, 2002)

  • The authors utilize a questionnaire to assess relationships amongst multiple variables, including three different types of motivation: egoistic, altruistic, and obligatory. These different forms of motivation had different types of influences on a student’s academic self-concept, as well as their amount of volunteer service.  


Motivational Orientation and Burnout Among Undergraduate College Students (Pisarik, 2009)

  • Pisarik measures student motivation alongside college “burn-out”: exhaustion, cynicism, or detachment with a student’s relationship with their academics and work. Their results provided evidence that students with higher levels of intrinsic motivation (from a SDT framework) had lower burn-out rates.


Frequently Used Instruments/Measures

The following instruments/measures have been used to assess motivation:

  • Academic Motivation Scale
  • Autonomous Motivation Scale
  • College Student Survey (CSS; Motivational Subscales)


Don’t Think This Construct Matches Your Assessment Goals? Check Out These Related Constructs: Belongingness, Engagement

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