Paas, Tuovinen, van Merrienober, and Darabi (2005) draw on research related mental efficiency and the tenets of Keller’s ARCS model of motivation to arrive at a rather startling deduction; the idea that the results of the mental efficiency calculation, when plotted on a Cartesian axis, provide insight into a learner’s involvement as well as the instructional efficiency of a learning experience. The primary assumption underlying their work is that motivation (or involvement), mental effort, and performance are positively related, i.e., if one of these increases, the others do as well.
Paas et al. use the term “instructional involvement” (I) to refer to their motivational construct. The most interesting result of their assumption is that the “neutral” condition for instructional involvement runs perpendicular to the line representing “zero efficiency”. These two lines and the corresponding regions are combined in the image below.
The red area represents the area that, presumably, should be targeted by the instructional designer. But where should one focus, assuming they have the ability to dynamically monitor mental effort and performance. Further, are instructional experiences within one area of this continuum more beneficial based on the goals of instruction? What sort of trade-offs should one expect if choosing to target point A rather than point C? Does point E represent the “best of both worlds”?
Measures of motivation are numerous: self-efficacy, goal orientation, and attribution theory are three of the most prevalent. Paas et al. don’t propose that their construct replaces these ideas, but that it provides an overall measure of involvement. They leave it to researchers of motivation to determine the underlying reasons why a learner’s involvement is at a measured level.