Sunday, 15 July 2012


Management theory tends to be a mandatory field of learning for all students of business studies. They will be introduced to organisational theory, leadership theory and motivational theory, among other fairly esoteric topics. But can an understanding of managerial theory help with the management of learning in the classroom?

One such motivational theory was first advocated by Victor Vroom in 1964 and has subsequently been refined by Lyman W. Porter and Edward E. Lawler. This concept is commonly known as ’expectancy theory’. In simple terms, this theory contends that individuals choose particular behaviours based on the outcomes that they perceive such behaviours will lead to. The three main elements of the theory are as follows:

1.      Expectancy-the belief that effort will lead to desired performance. Factors associated with expectancy are self-efficacy, goal difficulty and control.

2.      Instrumentality-the belief that a reward will be forthcoming should the performance expectation be met. Factors associated with instrumentality are trust, control and policies

3.     Valence-the value that the individual places on such rewards. Factors associated with valence are values, needs, goals and preferences

From an educational perspective:


Having a clear understanding of our students’ abilities, the tasks that we set them, as well as the level of ownership that we provide can have a positive effect on the relationship between effort and performance.


Being supportive and providing clear, constructive feedback contributes to a clear reward system for good performance. If the structure of the curriculum is based on a rudimentary ‘grading’ system, then it is up to the teacher to provide the recognition and praise required to provide correlation between performance and reward.


We must articulate clear ‘value’ in knowledge and the application of knowledge. Students who have a low value perception, possibly borne out of a bad personal experience or little parental encouragement, are unlikely to be motivated to ‘learn’. Furthermore, a recent study by Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People (SCCYP) highlights the link between ‘poverty’ (and its characteristics) and poor achievement/attainment.

I realise that these studies were generated to understand and improve industrial productivity and I for one would not want to suggest that we treat classrooms like production lines! I do, however, believe that there is some mileage in the psychological and sociological appreciation of such theories and that they provide another beneficial point for debate.

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