Adult learners such as Sam and Clara exemplify the diverse goals possessed by adults who enter adult education programs. They also illustrate the often subtle ways in which adults' motivations for literacy learning can shift over time as adults achieve success in literacy learning (Brown, 1989). Like many nonpersisters in ABE programs, Sam and Clara have more reasons not to participate in basic education than to continue. They both work all day yet still come to class in the evenings and work hard to improve their reading. Sam's stated goal was to learn to read, and his initial motivation was the fear of losing his job, accompanied by public shame at his lack of reading skill. Thus, his actions reflect a mix of performance and mastery goal orientations. He has met the goal he first set for himself, and the threat of losing his job no longer looms. He is more confident of his reading abilities and less fearful of those occasions when he must read a work order or fill out a form in his doctor's office. As Sam reflected on his successes, he developed new goals to pursue in his education, and his "motivational style" (Houle, 1961) shifted as he experienced success in the program. Consistent with his emergent mastery goal orientation, Sam viewed himself as an advocate for those who have returned to school to learn to read-as he did.
Clara's goal was to earn a GED, and her motivation in doing so was to throw a surprise party that everyone would attend. Thus, the locus of her motivation was external to herself, rooted in her need to be with and to socialize with friends and family, and perhaps to draw attention to herself. Attaining the GED is, for Clara, analogous to a public performance. It is a good reason to have a party for oneself, from her point of view. Clara will, undoubtedly, feel some pride and satisfaction in her accomplishment when she earns the GED. Yet, given her performance goal orientation, it seems unlikely that she will maximize her opportunities for additional education. Clara, in fact, never expressed to the interviewer a desire to pursue further educational goals.
Understanding the role of motivation in adults' learning and achievement is a complex enterprise (Wlodkowski, 1998). Motivation is a multifaceted construct, and the field is cluttered with a number of similar, often contradictory, concepts. Acquiring sufficient knowledge of how various aspects of motivation operate, and how instruction can be shaped, to influence learning requires diligence on the part of adult educators (Strategies for motivating students). Educators need to understand the diversity of adults' motivations for learning and work within the constraints of these idiosyncratic goals. Attempts to persuade adults to adopt learning goals that teachers identify as important or that ABE programs recognize as significant outcomes are likely to meet with resistance on the part of students and result in frustration for everyone.