Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 11/11.6.2

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Generating Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Student Motivation

By Vanessa Rutter

"A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success.

- Anonymous

Learning Targets[edit]

The student will be able to understand the definition of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

The student will be able to provide an example of the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

The student will realize the pros and cons of using each type of motivation

The student will be informed of how age and ethnicity also play a part in using these two types of motivation

Intrinsic versus Extrinsic[edit]

Example of treats rewarded for good behavior.

Do you remember what motivated you as a student? Was it pizza parties, fun Friday activities, or encouragement from a great teacher that cared?

When working as a boss, with a pet, as a personal trainer, or even coaching after school sports, there is one thing that is very apparent. Motivation is needed when instructing or teaching.

There are many types of motivation but here the focus will be on intrinsic and extrinsic in the classroom environment.

In a fifth grade classroom, a teacher decides that giving her students an external reward of “winner circles” (pieces of paper shaped into coins) for making good grades in her class will be more of an incentive to work hard. Not only will the students feel satisfied with good grades, they will also get some type of external reward when they cash in their paper coins for small prizes. Are these external rewards okay or should there only be internal motivation? What does this really teach students?

Defining Two Types of Motivation[edit]

What is the difference between intrinsic verses extrinsic motivation? The definition of motivation is “Forces acting either on or within a person to initiate ‘behaviour’. The word is derived from the Latin term motivus ('a moving cause')” (Motivation, n.d.).

Intrinsic can be defined as “Belonging to the essential nature or constitution of a thing” (Intrinsic, 2004, p. 383). An example of this would be praise, encouragement, and “high fives”. "Intrinsically motivated behaviors were defined as those that are not energized by physiological drives or their derivatives and for which the reward is the satisfaction associated with the activity itself. Intrinsic motivation thus represents engagement in an activity for its own sake" (Deci, 1971, 1975). When a teacher tells a student that he or she knows that the student can improve and do better, the teacher is given the student intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic can be defined as “Not forming part of or belonging to a thing: external” (Extrinsic, 2004, p. 255). An example of this would be stamps, stickers, or candy. "Extrinsically motivated behavior is defined as engaging in an activity to obtain an outcome that is separable from the activity itself" (deCharms, 1968; Lepper & Greene, 1978). Children that receive a physical reward would not be related to inner feelings such as self accomplishment.

Can internal and external motivation be incorporated together or is one better than the other?

What's Good and What's Bad about Intrinsic Motivation?[edit]

Intrinsic motivation has many advantages. A strong advantage for intrinsic motivation is that it costs nothing to provide. Teachers do not have to pay anything to be able to reward their students with encouraging comments or feedback on how students can improve on a subject. As students excel in the things they do by being given intrinsic motivation, they will feel more comfortable taking on new tasks. When a child can read out loud in front of their peers, be competitive in a spelling bee, or say all the letters in the alphabet, this helps the child to have a feeling of self worth, confidence, and accomplishment. This in turn gives them motivation to excel in other subjects as well when they feel good about themselves.

A study was conducted to see how two different groups of participants would act. One group was given rewards for the activity they were involved in and the other group did not receive anything. The results showed that the group that received the extrinsic reward showed less interest in what they had participated in and enjoyed it less when compared to the group with no reward (Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Deci, 2006).

According to Vansteenkiste (2006),"Indeed, intrinsically motivated activity is the natural basis for learning and development"

Another example would include “Adding an intrinsic causal explanation for doing well on a task likely could solidify and extend performance gains achieved through extrinsic rewards” (Stockdale & Williams, 2004). Just by letting a student know what they need to improve on will enhance their performance and show them the areas they could improve on. In some cases, once external rewards phase out from learning the basic knowledge, school kids transitioning to learn a greater depth in another subject will feel rewarded intrinsically from mastering the next subject that was built on from the basics (Stockdale & Williams, 2004).

There are cons that exist for intrinsic motivation as well. Sometimes saying good job may not be good enough. If children’s interest does not lie in that specific subject, then it may take a physical reward to spike their engagement (Vansteenkiste, et al., 2006). Another con could be that a child that has put a tremendous amount of effort into a science project and only receives a pat on the back when they may feel that they deserve more than that.

What's Good and What's Bad about Extrinsic Motivation?[edit]

Example of extrinsic reward (riding the shuttle)for good behavior

The advantages of extrinsic motivation apply as well. A prime example would be when a child shows no interest in a subject that seems mundane to them that could include memorizing how to spell new vocabulary (Stockdale & Williams, 2004). In this instance, rewards to get children interested in a subject such as spelling would help them intrinsically later on in other subjects relevant to spelling like writing. According to Stockdale and Williams, “Operating from the premise that extrinsic rewards are most valuable when children show little interest in a potentially useful activity, the teacher might employ external rewards to get child to engage in and work hard on that activity” (2004). Grades also count as extrinsic motivation because grades promote students to do a better job if they know there performance will be judged (Stockdale & Williams, 2004). Extrinsic motivation may sometimes work better than intrinsic motivation depending on the situation.

Here are some of the disadvantages of extrinsic motivation. In the example mentioned before about a teacher giving out children winner circle’s in the fifth grade, this could teach children to expect something for doing a good job and not just be proud of themselves. So what will children expect when they get to sixth grade? Will it be bigger and better rewards? So teachers should be cautious when it comes to external rewards because of the dependency factor (Stockdale & Williams, 2004). Students that have to read a particular book where they know they will be expected to later write a report on the information may not enjoy the book as much as if they had a choice to read it on their own.

Other Factors to Consider[edit]

“People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily.”

-Zig Ziglar

When it comes to motivation in a classroom there are many factors to consider. School is for children around the age of five all the way up to adult years. With that in mind, schools manifest children with different ages and ethnicity. As children or even adults progress in levels of education, how does the type of motivation fluctuate? Do these factors really matter when it comes to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation?

A study showed that when children get older they tend to desire less intrinsic motivation, where extrinsic motivation stayed about the same (Lepper, Corpus, & Iyengar, 2006). An example of this is in later years when college is not required by the state like primary and secondary schooling, many people go to college because careers that pay well require a college degree. Most universities stay in business because of the extrinsic motivation behind schooling which is to have a good paying job to live a better life and not primarily for the reason that an education makes people feel good about themself which would be intrinsic motivation. This was an example of how intrinsic motivation decreases as children get older.

A study conducted on Western cultures and Eastern cultures showed results in an Asian community that intrinsic motivation was high in students when their parents made most of their choices for them compared to a European community where students felt higher intrinsic motivation when they had made decisions for themselves. Another study between Caucasian and Asian students showed that Asian students have more of a desire for intrinsic motivation from their teachers opposed to Caucasian students who desired less intrinsic motivation from their teachers (Lepper et al., 2006). Norms can be different all over the world. This also applies to society's view on what's important and widely accepted.

Conclusion [edit]

"Intrinsic and well-internalized extrinsic motivations, in turn, are expected to promote adaptive learning outcomes (Vansteenkiste, et al, 2006). It is imperative that intrinsic motivation is needed as well as extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic is rewarding by receiving recognition for something verbally or visually, a parent telling a child how well they did at something, or encouragement for a job well done. Whereas extrinsic motivation can be used to provoke children's interest to learn something they may not otherwise have cared for or show appreciation for a reward a child for extra hard work. Extrinsic motivation can also encourage students to pay better attention if there could be a test afterwards. Extrinsic motivation can help to emphasize praise or punishment. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation help teachers provide students with the knowledge that is required for them to understand.

Overall, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can both work hand in hand or separately.

What did you learn?[edit]

1. What are some examples of intrinsic motivation?

A) Cookies, candy, and bubble gum

B) Grades, winner circles, and report cards

C) Encouragement, praise, and "high fives"

D) Pencils, pens, and notebook paper

2. According to Stockdale, what type of motivation should be used if students are not interested in a useful activity?

A) Extrinsic

B) Intrinsic

C) Good

D) Bad

3. Can intrinsic and extrinsic rewards be used together?

A) No

B) Yes

C) Never

D) Always

4. If a teacher is providing a student with feedback on how to improve a bad grade they received for an assignment, what type of motivation would this be?

A) Intrinsic

B) Extrinsic

C) Mean

D) Uncalled for

5. What is a disadvantage of only using extrinsic motivation?

A) Children will be happy to show their grades to their parents

B) Students will feel rewarded with treats

C) Children that weren't interested will become interested in a topic/subject

D) Students will expect external rewards


DeCharms, R. (1968). Personal causation: The internal affective determinants of behavior. New York: Academic.

Deci, E. L. (1971). Effects of externally mediated rewards on intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social psychology, 18, 105-115.

Deci, E. L. (1975) Intrinsic motivation. New York: Plenum.

Extrinsic. (2004). Frederick, C. M. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (p. 255, 6). Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.

Intrinsic. (2004). Frederick, C. M. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (p. 383, 6). Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.

Lepper, M. R., & Corpus, J. H., & Iyengar, S. S. (2005). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivational orientations in the classroom: Age differences and academic correlates. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97 (2), 184-196. Retrieved from EBSCO database.

Lepper, M. R., & Greene, D. (1978) The hidden costs of reward. Hillsdale, NJ: lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Motivation. (n.d.) In Encyclopædia Britannica online. Retrieved February 7, 2009, from

Stockdale, S. L., & Williams, R. L. (2004). Classroom motivation strategies for prospective teachers. The Teacher Educator, 39 (3), 212-30. Retrieved February 6, 2009 from Wilsonweb database

Vansteenkiste, M., & Lens, W., & Deci, E. L. (2006) Intrinsic versus extrinsic goal contents in self-determination theory: Another look at the Quality of Academic Motivation. Educational Psychologist, 41 (1), 19-31. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.


1. C

2. A

3. B

4. A

5. D

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