With Intrinsic Motivation Your Students Learn More and Better

Intrinsic Motivation. Need Motivation? It's Right Inside of You.

Intrinsic Motivation.  Need Motivation? It's Right Inside of You.Keeping a room full of students interested in anything can be tough, but using intrinsic motivation in education can make a big difference. Tapping into students’ interests and making the information relevant can help them learn more, and better. But is it possible to keep your whole class intrinsically motivated? How can a teacher create a positive learning environment based on these principles? The challenge may be more than our educators have bargained for. 

So what exactly is intrinsic motivation? It is an internal drive to pursue a certain subject or activity for its own sake, without expectation of external rewards. Intrinsically motivated students enjoy learning a subject because it interests them and they feel that it is relevant. They can also be driven by a sense of accomplishment at mastering a difficult task or subject. 

While fostering intrinsic motivation in the classroom may be ideal, it can also be quite a challenge. This strategy requires teachers to really know their students so they can properly build motivation in each child. While some kids may be truly fascinated by the subject, others might require more hands-on projects and demonstrations that will prove the subject’s relevance in the real world. This also requires teachers to be excited about the material. If an educator wants the students to be interested in a lesson, he has to be (or at least seem) interested himself. The more engaged the teacher is, the more likely that the students will be engaged as well. 

Intrinsic motivation in education works very well with project-based learning. When students are challenged to work together and take initiative to pursue knowledge, they have the opportunity to inspire each other, see the relevance of a subject firsthand, and experience a sense of accomplishment for seeing something through from start to finish. This can take a lot of careful planning and supervision on the part of the teacher, but the teamwork and problem-solving skills that are built as a result are much more applicable to students’ lives than memorization and rote learning. 

So what is the alternative? Extrinsic motivation which relies on external reinforcement such as others’ 

Intrinsic Motivation Sign

expectations, reward and punishment, and grades. While these may be real motivators for many students, they are much less applicable to life outside of school. When learning is based on reward and punishment, educators must constantly be upping the ante to keep students going. And what happens when the reward is over or the test is finished and the grades have been given? Students have nothing pushing them to continue learning unless there are intrinsic motivators as well. 

While grades and incentives may get your students to learn in the short term, the long term goal of creating lifelong learners will be missed. Intrinsic motivation gives students the drive to keep learning long after the class has ended. While it may take more effort on our part, we can take comfort in the knowledge that we aren’t just teaching the material, we are teaching students to love learning and build real world skills.

What motivates your students? Do you use intrinsic motivation in your classroom? Can it ever replace the traditional reward/ punishment model of extrinsic motivation in education? Please share your thoughts below. 

2 Responses to With Intrinsic Motivation Your Students Learn More and Better

  1. Intrinsic motivation is critical to “real” learning, of the kind that “changes you”, adds to your skills and grows who you are. Comparing this to when we remember something to pass a test to please someone else.
    There is a lot to intrinsic motivation. At the heart of it I believe is the notion of engagement. Without being engaged in what we do, we will not want to come back to it. We need to better understand engagement of the kind we all experience when we are pushing to keep going at what we are doing ( think of video games, for eg). Once we do that, we will get a better understanding of intrinsic motivation

  2. Erit Rabinowitz says:

    Thank you for your insights Andrew. I agree that engagement is key to intrinsic motivation. This applies to students as well as teachers. It would be interesting to see to what extent teachers’ engagement is reflected in the engagement of the students as well. A passionate teacher can certainly get “lost in the moment” and watch a lesson quickly fly by. How can this excitement be passed along to the students as well? How can educators measure or detect this type of engagement in our students?

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