Assessing Theory X and Theory Y Assumptions in the Classroom: Are Student Objectives Aligned with Instructors’ Expectations?

Nora Johnson

Abstract


The well-known management framework of Theory X and Theory Y1 identifies two differing assumptions that managers may have of employees. One assumption suggests that “the average human being has an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it if he can”;2 the other suggests that “the expenditure of physical and mental effort in work is as natural as play or rest”.3 This study aims to apply McGregor’s theory to the classroom. A longitudinal empirical design investigates whether or not students’ assumptions about their own motivation are impacted by professors’ Theory Y / Theory X assumptions. Three survey questionnaires, based on McGregor’s work, are used in the analyses. Hypotheses suggest that professors’ views of student work ethic will have a direct influence on the way in which those students develop self-perceptions of their own motivation. These expectations are rooted in theory consistent with the self-fulfilling prophecy,4 and support the idea that professors’ assumptions and expectations for students largely determine students’ motivation and performance. Consistent with the hypotheses, results have shown that professors with Theory Y assumptions influence students to develop stronger Theory Y perceptions of their faculty. Additionally, professors with Theory X assumptions influence students to develop stronger Theory X perceptions of their own motivation. These results, which are consistent with hypotheses, demonstrate the influential impact of faculty expectations. Findings have strong potential to help leaders in higher education better understand the ways in which faculty themselves truly impact student motivation.


Keywords


Theory X / Theory Y; Motivation; Expectations of Students

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