LTL DISCUSSION: how to set ‘motivational’ goals

LTL DISCUSSION: Goals aren’t just for strikers

When I think of goals, I don’t think of Wembley or the EPL; I think of Locke and Latham’s goal setting theory and the SMART set that our managers love to ask us to state in our reports.

I actually like SMART goals. The version I use goes along the lines of:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time bound

It’s one thing to achieve a goal (any goal), but it is something else to set one. Using the SMART acronym, it is possible to narrow your focus, and subsequent energy toward purposeful and productive work that gets you closer to your larger objective. ‘Work smarter, not harder’ is a pretty admirable idea, but it is not a very good goal. ‘Work smarter, not harder’ tells you what to do, but it doesn’t tell you how to do it. SMART goals spell out the steps you need to take – and how long you’ve got.

How do SMART goals work in a language learning context?

‘Work smarter not harder’ would probably look something like this if it were put into a SMART context for a second language learner:

  • Double my vocabulary in my new second language (Specific)
  • I have been learning 55-75 words a month for nearly two months. I want to know at least 500 words by the end of next month (Measurable)
  • I currently spend 45 minutes a day (but not every day) learning new words, in order to learn more, I will not increase my study time, but I will study everyday (Achievable)
  • The more words I know, the easier it will be for me to converse in my new second language (Relevant)
  • I have until the end of next month (Time bound)

Motivated and autonomous learners will need to be goal setters, because without clear, progressive goals the learning outside of a structured class can lose focus and direction very quickly. Motivated and more autonomous learners who study in more structured or institutional contexts will also follow their own personal learning goals as well as those described in the course brochure.

Motivation is also fueled by success. Successful learners who crack the problems and learn the systems well are encouraged to crack on and keep learning; Success feeds itself, but successful learners also need encouragement and feedback in order to keep succeeding.

Locke and Latham Goal Setting Theory

Theorists Locke and Latham identified five principles necessary for motivational goals:

  • Clarity
  • Challenge
  • Commitment
  • Feedback
  • Task complexity

These five principles are similar to the SMART criteria, but Locke and Latham also place feedback and incentive among their motivational principles. Motivated and autonomous learners studying outside of a classroom are not going to get the support and feedback that learners in a class with fellow students and a teacher can enjoy. How can autonomous second language learners with no classmates and who do not live near a community of people who speak their target language manage to get feedback for their efforts and incentives to continue learning?

How do you motivate yourself to complete optional tasks, and how do you encourage yourself to do them well?

Motivation through goal setting (Locke 1996)

Read a reflection on my OWN goal setting HERE


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