At the beginning of last year, I asked the faculty and senior leadership of African Christian College to join me in going through a goal-setting seminar. We used Michael Hyatt’s Five Days to Your Best Year Ever. We met each morning to listen to Hyatt, then individually completed our workbook setting out goals to make 2015 our “best year ever.”
Hyatt built his system using research-based practices in psychology and business management that support goal setting. He moved us beyond “I want to be better” to imagining our future, setting goals, exploring our motivation, and creating steps for completing and assessing along the way.
Hundreds of academic and popular articles promote the benefits of goal setting. Established by Edwin Locke in the 1960s the theory has been studied, tested, and applied to many fields, especially organisational leadership.
When the necessary components are present – clear, challenging goals; motivation; feedback – significant improvement occurs.
But, is goal setting a research-based practice for educational settings?
Some limit the definition of “research-based practice” to nine practices identified by Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock in their influential book Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement published in 2001.
But I’m going to use a broader definition: a research-based practice is any practice that has been tested and provides evidence that its use improves results in learning or academic performance.
With that definition, goal setting should be considered a research-based practice in educational settings.
Bridging the gap with goal setting
One example of research on goal-setting in higher education can be found in Schippers, Scheepers, and Peterson’s recent publication: “A scalable goal-setting intervention closes both the gender and ethnic minority achievement gap” (2015, Palgrave Communications). Hat tip to David Gooblar’s blog who alerted me to this research last year.
They reference other research in education settings then share results of their goal setting with first year students in a business school in Europe.
In short, their results “highlight the potential importance of detailed, written goal setting for reducing performance inequalities in higher educational settings.”
They believe the goal setting modified student conceptions of themselves and their futures, overriding “gender and structural socioeconomic impediments.”
Leading students through goal-setting is low-cost and requires minimal time commitment. It also appears to be an easy solution to bridging the performance gap.
At ACC, I’d like to explore goal setting in my Entrepreneurship class this year. Success in this class already requires self-motivation, and it could be a helpful tool to increase their success.
Goal setting could also be implemented among all incoming students. This could prove beneficial for their overall academic performance, future conceptions, and aid in learning a skill applicable for all of life.
A word of warning
How do we get them to follow-through on goal setting so it will have an impact? The authors of this study add this observation:
“We strongly believe, however, that the probability of students participating in the intervention and completing it was increased by the fact that it was a required component of the first-year curriculum itself, complete with deadlines.”
I failed with the Best Year Ever plan last year. Why? I never finished my assignments – there was no one to make me turn them in. That’s another lesson to apply.