A Closer Look at Motivation, Part 2

gif_Education-037-bwMotivation is a vital component of school success. This week, let’s look at two different types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation as relates to student learning is learning for learning’s sake, where the student has a desire to learn and master academic tasks. When a student is intrinsically motivated there may be moments of frustration, such as when tackling a difficult problem, but the overall tone is positive and the student has a curiosity and interest in learning and mastering content.

Extrinsic motivation as relates to student learning is when a student learns as a means to an end. Extrinsic motivation is typically driven by external rewards or avoidance of punishment. Examples of rewards are: gold stars on your paper, money earned for good grades, ice cream parties, prizes, getting good grades to get into college. Examples of extrinsic motivators that are in the form of punishment are: being placed on restriction for certain grades, getting privileges taken away such as video games or television, missing recess at school, missing out on key activities, etc.

What do we know about students and intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation?

  • Typically, intrinsic motivation is the highest for younger students and the lowest for older students; studies looking at third to ninth graders showed intrinsic motivation to be the highest with the third graders and gradually declining as students got older. (One of the reasons why we love those sweet young eager learners!)
  • A couple downsides of extrinsic motivators are: when they are discontinued the behavior being motivated can disappear, and they may also teach that the behavior is not worthwhile in and of itself.
  • Students who have a genuine interest (an intrinsic motivator) in a subject maintain longer lasting motivation to do well and learn about a subject for the sake of learning versus students who are interested because the learning is made fun through a game or exciting lesson plan. (That does not mean it is okay to have boring lesson plans!)

Researchers point out that for most things we do, it is a combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. For example, we typically pick a major in college that we like, but we also want the benefit of the degree; both motivate us.

Dr. Temple Grandin, who is a leading animal scientist on the spectrum, was wisely told by her high school teacher that she had to pass the subjects she was not interested in so she could go to college and learn about the things she was interested in—and this worked!

We will talk more about motivation in Part 3!

A Closer Look at Motivation, Part 1



We have all had students who have or who have not been motivated to do well in school. As such, I thought we should take a closer look at motivation.


What is student motivation? Student motivation can be defined as a general expectancy that includes:

  • Students’ belief in their ability to perform a task.
  • How students value goals and beliefs about the importance and interest of tasks.
  • Students emotional reaction to tasks given.

The word motivation means “to move” and is derived from the Latin verb movere. Motivation includes goal setting, self-efficacy, and self-regulation. It is situational, varies, and contextual. Motivation can be intrinsic and/or extrinsic.

The important takeaway for this week is:

Possessing the skills to perform school tasks is insufficient; these skills must also be coupled with the necessary motivation to regulate cognition and effort. Likewise, motivation alone, without the necessary skills to perform the school related tasks, is also insufficient.

More on this next week!