Interview with EARLI Motivation and Emotion SIG 2016 Lifetime Award Recipient Stuart Karabenick

Dr. Stuart Karabenick is a Professor Emeritus in the School of Education at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (associated with the Combined Program in Education and Psychology) and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Eastern Michigan University. He is an international highly recognized researcher, particularly in the field of student and teacher motivation and self-regulated learning. His research interests include (a) how teachers’ beliefs about their professional responsibilities are related to their approaches to instruction, (b) motivation for professional development, (c) parent, student and teacher motivational influences on help seeking and achievement, (d) how motivation affects self-regulated learning (SRL), and currently (e) the role of help seeking and other forms of SRL in the field of learning analytics.

His work on motivation and self-regulated learning began when he was an undergraduate and has taken many forms since then. During his studies at the University of Michigan (UM), he spent most of his time in Jack Atkinson’s lab, which he joined after connecting with his student Bernie Weiner, a graduate student instructor in one of his psychology classes. His publications include numerous peer-reviewed empirical and theoretical articles in top-level international peer-refereed journals. In addition, he published two books about help seeking: Strategic Help Seeking (Karabenick, 1998) and Help Seeking in Academic Settings (Karabenick & Newman, 2006).

Dr. Karabenick began attending EARLI in 2003 where he participated in a session honoring his colleague Paul Pintrich and joined the SIG 08 in 2004. He was elected as SIG co-coordinator at the 2005 EARLI meeting and served in that capacity until 2009 — the first American to hold that office. During that time, he established (with Marold Wosnitza) the SIG Student Research Awards. He was active in SIG attempts to increase EARLI fiscal transparency and more equitable SIG financial support from EARLI.

In light of these achievements, Dr. Karabenick was awarded the EARLI Motivation and Emotion SIG Lifetime Award in 2016. To learn more about his career, motivations, and research, we asked him several questions. His answers are based on excerpts from his reflections published in the Education Review on Acquired Wisdom (Karabenick, 2020). For the full text, please see:

Personal career

What do you consider your most memorable early career accomplishment?

That would be my first published study, with a colleague, continued in the Atkinson tradition. It nicely confirmed the model’s predictions that performance depended on task difficulty and motives both to approach success and to avoid failure (Karabenick & Youssef, 1968). It was quite memorable since our paper was accepted immediately and the editor was very complimentary.

How/why did you start academic research career?

I remember always being interested in science. Science kits, science classes, building, electric circuits; just to see how things work. I remember drawing a world map when in middle school and “discovering” how the South America and Africa coastlines fit together.

I studied architecture for a short time at University of Michigan (UM). Well, let’s just say that dream was short-lived after experiencing how dull the classes were and realizing how restricted the architecture program was, but even more so after exposure to the university’s exciting array of intellectual opportunities. Flipping through the catalogue there was just so much more to learn – and of course more science – a thirst that has never been quenched. It did not take me long to gravitate to the College eventually like so many other students, to psychology.

After a couple of introductory courses, an invitation to join the new psychology honors program sealed my commitment. The program provided personal exposure in small classes to many of the major researchers in the field at that time. These scholars spanned almost every area, including my honors advisor, Bob Zajonc, in social psych. However, most of my time as an undergrad was spent in Jack Atkinson’s lab, which I joined after connecting with his student Bernie Weiner, a graduate student instructor in one of my psych classes. Being socialized into the motivation world, and having already taken psychology graduate classes as an undergrad, I turned down Stanford to stay at UM, to which, as it turns out, I returned toward the end of my career.

I was socialized in the McClelland- Atkinson tradition based on personality, assessed by the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), and with the person-situation interaction approach, exemplified by Jack’s expectancy-value risk-taking model, in which incentive values of success and failure were weighted, respectively, by motives to approach success and avoid failure. Atkinson and Birch also developed a creative Dynamics of Action model of motivational “forces” to understand persistence and change in activities. My dissertation was based on that theory, but I did not pursue it further.

Tell us about a person/mentor who made an impact on you or set you on your present path?

You could say Bernie Weiner became my first mentor. He was a graduate student instructor in one of my psych classes.

Why did you decide to start a researcher career?

After my dissertation I took an attractive position close by in a new psychology department at Eastern Michigan University (EMU). Several factors led to my decision to remain there, including the opportunity to shape the program that had just split from a highly respected education college. It also allowed me to maintain connections with UM faculty. EMU also offered access to large numbers of students for research who were more representative of the general population than the thin slice of upper SES students at UM. Teaching such a diverse student population required adjustments to make psychology and research methodology relevant.

Why did you focus your research on student and teacher motivation and self-regulated learning?

As fate would have it, awareness of my work on help seeking, published in education journals, prompted an invitation from Bill McKeachie and a recent (and at the time relatively unassuming, if you can believe it) UM PhD – Paul Pintrich – to join the National Center for Research to Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning (NCRIPTAL) that had just started at UM. It vastly expanded my intellectual horizons, professional network, and more generally shifted my work to adopt a more applied educational psychology perspective compared to the more controlled but less directly applicable experimental and lab studies I had been conducting. Although the invitation came on the heels of my studies of help seeking, my involvement quickly expanded into the full self-regulated learning (SRL) spectrum operationalized by the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ). This was an inflection point in the development of the SRL-motivation relationship – the skill and the will – as Paul Pintrich liked to phrase it. Attended by faculty and students from several universities (some international), meetings became a fertile breeding ground for the exploration of theory and research in all phases of motivation and SRL in education, primarily framed by expectancy-value theory.

Despite an extremely productive five-years that generated numerous motivation- and SRL-related products and a significant presence in research and theory in higher education more generally, NCRIPTAL funding was not renewed. The effort came to a screeching halt. However, there was no turning back, and Paul Pintrich, Bill and I continued to meet with others in our College Research Group. My work continued with two additional studies on help seeking.

The NCRIPTAL experience also increased my desire to promulgate its research. Given the increased focus on college teaching and learning at the time, my education school colleague Jan Collins-Eaglin and I decided to establish the Research on Teaching and Learning (RTL) program at EMU. RTL provided funding for faculty to conduct research on teaching and learning in their own area of expertise. The curriculum included many of the resources produced and frameworks promoted by NCRIPTAL, and a crash course on research design, motivation, and SRL, and classroom assessment techniques. Most of the faculty created credible studies. One significant study with a clinical psychology colleague provided evidence that SRL strategies mediated the effects of psychopathology on academic performance (Brackney & Karabenick, 1995).

Research in your field

What have been major changes in the field of motivational research since you have been working on it?

All the while the motivation world was shifting, and I continued to struggle with that reality. Relatively stable motives did remain in the motivational lexicon, for example, as Andy Elliot subsequently incorporated approach and avoid achievement motives into his goal model, and David Winter and Oliver Schultheiss continued to work on implicit motives that were assessed with the TAT. However, for many, the dominance of relatively stable personality variables in motivation theory was over given theoretical competition. One highly attractive alternative was Weiner’s attribution theory. Based on Fritz Heider’s work, it prompted a couple of my studies on how locus of control beliefs influence the valence of success and failure (Karabenick, 1972) and relations between locus of control and self-esteem (Fish & Karabenick, 1971). Another was Expectancy-Value Theory (EVT), although one could claim that it had yet to reach its full potential in motivation theory at the time.

The decline in theory and research based on relatively stable personality characteristics meant reaching out for new ways to understand motivational influences on learning and performance, which, in addition to attribution theory, led to the emergence of achievement goal theory (AGT). AGT had a seismic impact on the field (and my own development), due in large part to the creative work by John Nicholls. Achievement goal theory represented a true paradigm shift in the classical sense by providing an alternative conceptual framework in which person and situation dynamics could be more adequately understood, including its major constructs – personal goal orientations and achievement goal structures – that were more malleable than were relatively stable achievement motives. In addition to the “cognitive revolution” occurring at the time, many consider that AGT was the final blow to the McClelland-Atkinson approach to achievement motivation. During my last meeting with Jack I tried to suggest ways to adjust to the new reality, to increase his awareness of emerging AGT research, and hint at how there might be ways to adapt his models, or to at least think about it. My efforts were to no avail, and I was one of his last students.

My connection with the Combined Program in Education and Psychology (CPEP) at UM continued to deepen. It can arguably be considered one of the major centers for research on motivation at the time. Colleagues included Jacque Eccles, Marty Maehr, Carol Midgley, Phyllis Blumenfeld, and their graduate students who continue the motivational lineage, and with whom I have subsequently collaborated, including Avi Kaplan (Kaplan, Karabenick, & De Groot, 2009) Thus, I was surrounded by colleagues and students in the 1990s during the ascendency of AGT, EVT, and SRL.

Significant as well were increasing connections with the motivation community of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). Including Dale Schunk who had co-authored with Paul Pintrich their influential motivation in education text, Phil Winne along with Nancy Perry, a major force in SRL research and theory, and Allan Wigfield, who with Jacque, profoundly influenced the degree and range of EVT. Also emerging from that period of SRL expansion was the influential volume that Paul Pintrich edited with Monique Boekaerts and Moshe Zeidner, the Handbook of Self-Regulation. At about the same time as did Barry Zimmerman, in one of my favorite, and I believe most important work, John Knapp and I demonstrated that “better” learners were more rather than less likely to seek help when necessary, as well as to use other formsof cognitive, metacognitive and resource- management strategies (Karabenick & Knapp, 1991).

Without doubt an even more pivotal set of events occurred when Paul Pintrich and Marty Maehr were asked to submit a proposal to the Math and Sciences Partnership Program (MSP) of the Education and Human Resources (EHR) directorate of NSF on what at the time they considered “non-cognitive” influences on learning and achievement. Paul Pintrich and I wrote the proposal – the Math and Science Partnership-Motivation Assessment Program (MSP-MAP) – that was immediately accepted. They even asked us to increase the budget! This was the first EHR motivation proposal that exemplified Pasteur’s Quadrant of use-inspired basic research (Stokes, 1997). In addition to conducting our own research, the project’s role was to act as a resource to provide consultation on the motivation research conducted by other MSP grantees, including ways for them to assess motivation and SRL.

In addition to numerous publications emanating from MSP-MAP, the project was an opportunity to focus on how to ensure maximum effectiveness of self-report surveys. We used cognitive interviews to establish cognitive validity (as distinct from construct validity), and to assess the degree to which respondents interpreted items as researchers intended.

Future research in general

How did you start your affiliation with EARLI?

Continuing on my intellectual journey, in addition to playing a larger role in AERA, including the Motivation in Education and the Study and Self-Regulation (SSRL) SIGs, and the American Psychological Association (APA), another consequence of the NCRIPTAL connection was further opening the door to the international motivation and SRL communities. This began with my participation in a Pintrich memorial session at the 2003 European Association of Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI) meeting. That event resulted in my integration into the Motivation and Emotion SIG, which was primarily due to Simone Volet and Marold Wosnitza, that was combined with the International Conference on Motivation (ICM). Although Paul Pintrich and Bill McKeachie had frequently extolled the virtues of their international experiences, I cannot begin to describe the full significance of direct connection with the EARLI community. Although I was familiar with numerous non- U.S. researchers who attended APA and AERA, from the first conference it was crystal clear that EARLI was an opportunity to expand understanding about motivation and SRL in ways not captured by the primarily U.S.-based meetings. It was also a time of expansion of the primary EARLI journal, Learning and Instruction (JLI). My involvement in EARLI significantly increased when I was elected co-chair of the Motivation SIG (the first from the U.S.), and my subsequent appointment by Anastasia Efklides as an associate editor of JLI. Both even further expanded my grasp of motivation theory and research. This also exponentially increased my international contacts, particularly graduate students globally, and broadened the audience for my research related to motivation and SRL, especially in Europe.

In your opinion, what will be the most important questions you are continuing to work on?

Motivation and SRL continues to be a major focus for me in two ways: one theoretical, the other applied. The theoretical component concerns sources of motivation in SRL. Despite their differences, goals are considered the primary determinant of motivation, which can be labeled as outcome based. However, models of the process have not taken the motivational influence of the strategies themselves into consideration – that some strategies are more worthwhile or cost more than others. New studies indicate that this strategy motivation can more adequately explain students’ use of strategies, as reported in my recent EARLI keynote. The two applied efforts fuse motivation and SRL to improve college students’ learning and performance. The first involves being part of an interdisciplinary team that designed a new student dashboard to accompany learning management systems. For example, EVT principles were brought to bear when determining the cost-benefit ratio of using information, and SDT autonomy principles contributed to providing users the capacity to customize how information is presented. We found more motivated and strategic students were more likely to take advantage of information the dashboard provided (Kia et al., 2020). That the research used both self-report and online tracking is an example of the ongoing controversy about the relative value of these sources of information. A second project to begin soon will test effects on help seeking and other variables like identity and persistence when students are provided a “back channel” to ask their own questions and anonymously observe others asking question during large interpersonal introductory STEM classes. The study design even includes the potential to determine effects of backchannel access on metacognitive monitoring. And so the work continues.

What does being the recipient for the Lifetime Award mean to you?

Receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the EARLI Motivation and Emotion SIG was a wonderful capstone to the entire experience. I am truly humbled by the recognition since there are so many other colleagues who I believe are equally deserving, and it truly never occurred to me that I would be so honored. Awards are nice, of course, but it’s all about the exciting opportunity to pursue one’s passions and share them with others.

Could you give us some valuable suggestions for future scientists?

  1. As should be obvious from the history of my career, I believe collaboration is important. There is so much to be gained by working with others: peers, junior researchers and students.
  2. Explore other disciplines and ways of thinking.
  3. Don’t be discouraged! As in every science, setbacks are the norm rather than the exception.
  4. Some of the most important findings are those unexpected.
  5. In our Google world there is no excuse for not keeping up with the literature. It’s really disheartening when reading journal submissions and articles that omit important work.
  6. Applied work can be frustrating and may not result in publishable research, but it can be enriching in ways that are not always predictable.
  7. You will be frustrated by the publication process, but remain committed. I have finally published articles that required more than one journal and multiple revisions. That’s just the nature of the process. Not all reviewers are as perceptive as you are, but those who take their time to provide constructive criticism are to be applauded.
  8. Being a journal editor requires a major time commitment but is worth the effort.
  9. Cultivate and sustain positive connections with colleagues.
  10. You are never finished; there is always something more to learn.
  11. Colleagues are critical to your success in so many ways.
  12. Finally, celebrate the opportunities this lifestyle affords. Few occupations provide the chances to make contributions to knowledge and the satisfactions that come with it, and the opportunities to mentor and continue to “pay it forward.”

Martin Daumiller & Julia Morinaj


Brackney, B., & Karabenick, S. A. (1995). Psychopathology and academic performance: The role of motivation and learning strategies. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 42, 456–465.

Fish, B. A., & Karabenick, S. A. (1971). Relationship between self-esteem and locus of control. Psychological Reports, 29, 748.

Kaplan, A., Karabenick, S. A., & De Groot, E. V. (Eds.). (2009). Culture, self, and motivation: Essays in honor of Martin L. Maehr. Information Age Publishing.

Karabenick, S. A. (1972). Valence of success and failure as a function of achievement motives and locus of control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 21, 101–110.

Karabenick, S. A. (Ed.). (1998). Strategic help seeking: Implications for learning and teaching. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Karabenick, S. A. (2020, June 3). On the rewards of being open to opportunities and their challenges. Acquired Wisdom Series, S. Nieto, F. Erickson & P. Winne (Eds.). Education Review, 27.

Karabenick, S. A., & Knapp, J. R. (1991). Relationship of academic help seeking to the use of learning strategies and other instrumental achievement behavior in college students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83, 221-230.

Karabenick, S. A., & Newman, R. S. (Eds.). (2006). Help seeking in academic settings: Goals, groups, and contexts. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Karabenick, S. A., & Youssef, Z. I. (1968). Performance as a function of achievement motive

level and perceived difficulty. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10, 414–441.

Kia, F. S., Teasley, S. D., Hatala, M., Karabenick, S. A. & Kay, M. (2020). How Patterns of Students Dashboard Use Are Related to Their Achievement and Self-Regulatory Engagement. International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge, Frankfurt, Germany, March 23–27, 2020 (LAK ’20), 340–349.

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