In a world of unlimited instantaneous access to information, motivating learners to engage in classroom training has become increasingly difficult. However, it is possible to increase motivation and engagement through a targeted design approach to the learning experience. Researchers Carole Ames and Joyce Epstein created the TARGET framework and strategies for supporting mastery goals in the classroom — in other words, motivating learners to learn intrinsically.

Mastery goals are continuous goals with no end, while performance goals have fixed outcomes. Mastery goals are motiving, but they require the right learning environment — which is where the TARGET (task, authority, recognition, grouping, evaluation and time) framework comes in.


Creating activities and tasks that are challenging but also have a purpose is important for motivation in the classroom. Learners must see the value in what they are doing and how it relates to a bigger picture. Tasks without a purpose or that do not directly connect to outcomes can feel like a waste of time. Create activities that have a direct correlation with and relevance to the learner’s job.


More and more, the concept of autonomy, or authority, is promoted as a key tactic to foster problem-solving skills and improve performance. Authority is just as important when it comes to promoting engagement and motivating learners to work toward mastery goals in the classroom. When they have autonomy, learners feel a sense of responsibility for their own learning outcomes, which, in turn, makes it more likely that they will successfully complete the training. This sense of control, according to Ames, has a significant impact on independent thinking and the learning experience. You can give participants the opportunity to own their own learning by giving them choices in the classroom.


The type of recognition or feedback that a trainer provides to learners is key to driving motivation while promoting growth and performance. Recognition must be specific and targeted so that learners can make any necessary changes and be successful. The timing of the feedback should also be strategic. The more quickly the trainer can deliver recognition, the more motivated the learner will be to make a change and continue the learning process. Recognize learners for their effort and progress, and use language that promotes a growth mindset.


Adult learners thrive on social interaction and learning from their peers. In their book “Learning Together and Alone: Cooperative, Competitive, and Individualistic Learning,” David Johnson and Roger Johnson write that social learning has psychological health benefits and increases the achievement of the whole group. Designing training to include both individual and group activities makes for a more motivating and engaging learning environment.


To promote mastery goals, training must provide opportunities for learners to improve throughout the course and receive timely feedback. Create opportunities during training for learners to self-evaluate or for the trainer to evaluate them based on clear standards and expectations.


The length of time it takes to complete a task or learn a concept varies from learner to learner, so it is important to make sure that the pace and workload of the training can accommodate individual differences. Importantly, Ames notes that the quality of engaged time is more important than the total duration of training. Instructors should observe the time learners spend on a task to determine how flexible they need to be with timing. Create activities and tasks that vary in length, and provide extra attention to those who need it, so that all learners can complete training successfully.

When used strategically, the TARGET model can increase the intrinsic motivation of all learners in the classroom — leading to a focus on mastery goals and higher overall performance.