Motivation Monday: Expectancy-Value Theory

Motivation Monday: Expectancy-Value Theory

Expectancy-value theory North East Arrow, developed by Jacquelynne Eccles, Allan Wigfield, and their colleagues, posits that motivation (M) is the equal to the product of expectation of success and value of the goal:

Expectancy-Value Theory posits that motivation is equal to the product of a student’s expectation of success times how much the student values the task or goal.

In this equation, expectation of success (E) can be understood as how competent a student feels in completing the task or meeting the outlined goal. Eccles and Wigfield break value (V) into four sub-components:

  • Intrinsic value: How much do I enjoy this task?
  • Attainment value: How important is it that I do well on this task?
  • Utility value: How useful is this task for my life?
  • Cost: What am I giving up to complete this task?

If either factor (expectation or value) of the equation is equal to zero, then the product (students’ motivation) will also equal zero.

Why it matters for education

While expectancy-value theory does not account for all aspects of motivation, it can begin to reveal the reasons why a student is feeling unmotivated.

Students might not articulate that they do not feel like they can succeed at the task (expectation). Instead, they might see a difficult problem and not attempt to complete it. If a student feels that they won’t get the question right, this would negatively impact their motivation.

There are many reasons why a student might not value a task. Getting to the “why” behind a student’s reluctance to complete a task can determine a path forward (e.g., Does the student not have appropriate executive function strategies? Can the length of the assignment be adjusted? Can the task be made more enjoyable or relevant?). 


  • Ensure students have the strategies and scaffolds necessary to succeed at their assigned tasks. Do they know how to get started on the problem or task at hand? Can they break down what is expected of them into a checklist?
  • Sweeten the task: When it is challenging for students to see the utility value of an assignment, or if they feel it will take too much time and that they could use that time for something else, try to “sweeten the task.” At the outset of an assignment, encourage students to select a reward for themselves (e.g. snack, video break, acknowledgment that they are independently accomplishing their goals) for when they accomplish challenging or “boring” tasks.
  • Help students see the “big picture” and model your own experiences. If students can’t see the value of a certain task at the moment, show them how you (or favorite celebrities/sports stars) use the skill or executive function strategy.
  • Focus on students’ effort over ability. Remind them of their capacity to grow and persist, even when they face challenges.  


  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development: