Objective: To succinctly summarise five contemporary theories about motivation to learn, articulate key intersections and distinctions among these theories, and identify important considerations for future research. Results: Motivation has been defined as the process whereby goal-directed activities are initiated and sustained. In expectancy-value theory, motivation is a function of the expectation of success and perceived value. Attribution theory focuses on the causal attributions learners create to explain the results of an activity, and classifies these in terms of their locus, stability and controllability. Social- cognitive theory emphasises self-efficacy as the primary driver of motivated action, and also identifies cues that influence future self-efficacy and support self-regulated learning. Goal orientation theory suggests that learners tend to engage in tasks with concerns about mastering the content (mastery goal, arising from a ‘growth’ mindset regarding intelligence and learning) or about doing better than others or avoiding failure (performance goals, arising from a ‘fixed’ mindset). Finally, self-determination theory proposes that optimal performance results from actions motivated by intrinsic interests or by extrinsic values that have become integrated and internalised. Satisfying basic psychosocial needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness promotes such motivation. Looking across all five theories, we note recurrent themes of competence, value, attributions, and interactions between individuals and the learning context. Conclusions: To avoid conceptual confusion, and perhaps more importantly to maximise the theory-building potential of their work, researchers must be careful (and precise) in how they define, operationalise and measure different motivational constructs. We suggest that motivation research continue to build theory and extend it to health professions domains, identify key outcomes and outcome measures, and test practical educational applications of the principles thus derived.
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