One concept that resonated with me when reading Barkley’s text was the one of Expectancy. Specifically summed up: “Students’ expectations are inextricably linked with their self-perceptions. Students must have confidence that, with appropriate effort, they can succeed. If there is no hope, there is no motivation.” Cross and Steadman (1996) p.11 in Barkley’s text.

Barkley then goes on to list/discuss three motivational theories that address student expectations:

  • Self-efficacy theory: that a students’ belief about the ability to succeed at learning a task is more important that the actual skill level or the difficulty of the task (Barkley, p.11)
  • Attribution theory: students attribute success or failure to a variety of factors and their belief is shaped by perceptions of why they have succeeded or failed in the past (Barkley, p.12)
  • Self-worth model: students are motivated to preserve their sense of self-worth – they would have people question their effort rather than their ability. (Barkley, p.12)

The phrase “if there is no hope, there is no motivation” breaks my heart a little bit. It really activates my compassion for those students who have lost hope, or who are not in a place where they feel safe enough to try and fail. What a painful place that must be.

This phrase makes me think of people I went to school with in high school who obviously hated being there and every day was an assault on their self-worth. I wasn’t one of those people – I loved school and was good at it. But I still noticed those who didn’t share that experience with me, and I was sometimes put in a position for helping those students – sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not. I went to a small high school and the cliques were very obvious. The people who had no hope – or who were ruled by fear – were in a circle all their own.

The self-worth model is the theory that resonates most with me – it makes sense that some students would rather not try than try and fail.  I think we can all identify with this feeling – the feeling of fear essentially – but we all react differently to it. Some people engage in self-defeating behaviors (sabotage), some will procrastinate, and some will surprise themselves (and everyone else) and will knock it out of the park. (Principles of Learning)

In our society there is a pervasive tendency to equate accomplishment with human value—put simply, individuals are thought to be only as worthy as their achievements. Because of this, it is understandable that students often confuse ability with worth….In essence, then, self-worth theory holds that, psychologically speaking, school achievement is best understood in terms of maintaining a positive self-image of one’s ability, particularly when risking competitive failure. (Covington, 1998, p. 78).

I feel like this is a reflection of the human condition – we all want to be accepted. In school, you can attain this by being an achiever – academically or physically or musically or whatever it is that will give you that acceptance. But if you have no confidence in your ability, many people feel it’s not worth the risk to try and fail and potentially face exclusion forever.

We can see the implications of this feeling having an impact on virtually unlimited things in the learning environment – the worst case scenario being failure or drop-out. This is disastrous when we see the connection between education and success later on in life.

I think the best thing instructors can do is start from minute one of a class to create a safe and supportive atmosphere, and not allow any negative reflection on the student who is afraid to try and fail – or on any student. If the fear is removed from the situation, students will feel free to experience the situation and fail/succeed as the situation dictates.

In an online program, this is easier to monitor in a way because you have access to the forums and you are moderating the online meetings. But you do not have access to messages, emails, texts, etc. that are exchanged when students begin to form connections outside the virtual classroom. The only thing you can do is to constantly reinforce and demonstrate that the classroom is safe for everyone. You can do this by giving examples of situations that had harmful outcomes for the students involved, by consistently responding positively to ALL efforts, and by paying a bit of extra attention to those students who you may perceive as at risk for this kind of fear.


Sites.google.com,. ‘Self-Worth Motivation Theory – Motivation At A Glance: An Ischool Collaborative’. N.p., 2015. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.


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