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The significance of goals in management of academic study

Volet, Simone E.ORCID: 0000-0001-8450-6663 (1988) The significance of goals in management of academic study. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis is concerned with the centrality of goals in university students' on-going management of their academic study. The theoretical perspective on the significance of goals was inspired by theories and research on mental representations, self-regulation of learning and adult learning. Although most cognitive theorists emphasise the significance of goals for providing direction to cognitive activities, to date there has been little systematic investigation of the nature and function of goals in management of academic study. Duncker's theory of productive problem-solving provided the rationale for analysing the function of goals, and perceptions of difficulties to work on a new course of study.

Management of study is characterized as a dynamic and complex task occurring over time and under the direction of students' goals. Goals, as students' explicit individualised intentions or as the tacit acceptance of instructional objectives, are proposed to provide direction and criteria for the management of study, and for overcoming perceived difficulties in the way of the achievement of these goals. The proposed approach stresses the interactions of goals with students' background characteristics, specifically domain knowledge, and educational experience with age, and their mediating role in the on-going handling of various tasks involved in a course of academic study.

Three studies were designed to examine the significance and function of goals in relation to students' background, perceptions of study difficulties and working plans. The methodology involved in-depth qualitative and quantitative analyses of groups of targeted students over their courses of study in educational psychology and statistics, in order to encompass students' representations of their study as it occurs naturally over time. Data sources were clinical interviews, sample study activities, questionnaires, students’ examination summaries experimental tasks and course performances. Qualitative data were reduced to diagrammatic and tabulated forms to show the stabilities and changes in students' goals and management strategies over time and data sources.

The first study revealed differences, over six weeks, in goals expressed as individualised intentions and course-related objectives, perceived difficulties, and working plans of more and less successful students. The second study showed how goals involving different levels of commitment to the pursuit of instructional objectives and study management throughout a whole course mediated effects of background knowledge differently according to age. The third study addressed the issue of stability and change in goals, and the relation of goals to students' own evaluation of their study. Complex networks of causal relations were identified between students' goals, perceptions of obstacles and routes taken to achieve goals and deal with difficulties. Individualised goals were used by students as criteria for assessing their own effectiveness on the course.

The studies supported the case for the significance of goals in management of academic study. Goals were significant for giving direction to the continuous interplay between learner and task variables, for mediating effects of background knowledge, and for providing criteria against which to assess own performance. It is argued that the concept of goal is crucial for uncovering causes in on-going adaptive or maladaptive adjustments to study tasks, and for understanding individual differences in adult learning. Re-adjustments of goals themselves over time emphasise the dynamic and adaptive nature of study management over a total course of study.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Lawrence, Jeanette
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