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Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

In a world with conflicting recreational activities and a plethora of entertaining content, parents and teachers are finding it more challenging to keep students engaged with their education. Somewhere in between playing video games and burying themselves in books, children are motivated by a varying degree of factors.


On one end, some children require a set of rewards or consequences to motivate them to complete the task. On the other, some children are driven by internal rewards, such as the ability to engage in behaviour that innately arises from their need to satisfy a desire to achieve something for their own personal satisfaction.


Extrinsic motivation: also known as the 'carrot or stick' approach is a type of motivation that is driven by a fixed set of rewards or consequences. While this can be effective for achieving a set outcome, this approach is often tiresome for teachers and parents. Imagine for a moment that the only reason your child does their homework is because they fear you will take away their video games or look forward to you treating them with a new game. In the short term, this might seem like a good idea as it produces a more immediate output, but in the long run, this may give your child a false pretence about how the world works.

Intrinsic motivation: also known as the innate desire to perform for its own sake and personal rewards. It is a type of motivation driven by one's desire to do something for reasons that aren't influenced by external drivers. What would day-to-day life be if your child does their homework and whatever else you require them to, just because? Being intrinsically motivated, both short and long term, has positive effects on students, parents and teachers. In addition to providing a positive academic output, having intrinsic motivation can also help improve a student’s self-esteem as they’re not constantly comparing themselves to others. On the contrary, students driven by extrinsic motivation often look outside of themselves for validation, which results in unhappiness when that validation is not readily available, thus negatively impacting their self-esteem.

Does this mean extrinsic motivation is bad? Some common sense dictates that too much of anything is not healthy. Like with anything else, balance is the key to success. Extrinsic motivation, particularly in situations where students need to complete a complex task that they find unpleasant, can be extremely beneficial. Like with all things in life, there are many things we have to do that, if given the choice, we would not. Sometimes, the right incentive serves as a key driver to get students really invested in learning. Above all, we have to be mindful of finding balance in our approach to motivate the children.


How do we as educators spark intrinsic motivation in our students?

  • Know our students: Getting to know our students as individuals and understanding what they’re interested in and how they learn best. The role of the educator here is to ensure that lessons are designed and facilitated to best engage students and their capacity to learn. Our programs have been designed to incorporate brain breaks, games and interactive activities that help foster engagement.

  • Give them a solid foundation: By empowering our students to grasp foundational concepts and the knowledge to build upon. Our role in any environment is to ensure that all our students can learn to the best of their abilities and begin the journey of conquering complex tasks. Unlike the rote-learning style of the education sector, our learning philosophy echoes the sentiment of teaching our students concepts over drills, which results in the empowerment of confidence in a student’s ability to solve complex problems, both in and out of the classroom.

  • Set goals: Harness the potential of setting goals with - not for - our students. Research spanning decades has shown that setting goals together improves both motivation and achievement and encourages students to have a growth mindset, whilst preparing them for their future careers. The EX Learning journey begins with us understanding where and how our students are so that we can partner with them and their parents to set the right goals in order to achieve the right outcomes.

  • Giving robust feedback: Rather than simply telling our students that they’ve done a great job and move on, we guide them through how and why they’ve specifically done a great job to affirm confidence in themselves. As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure students are given robust feedback so that they can improve on their performance. Whilst there is no silver bullet to giving perfect feedback, check out our blog which elaborates on the point of giving robust feedback.

  • Recognise students’ innate curiosity: Education shouldn’t just be about getting good grades, which lead to an abundance of good opportunities. It is also about the thirst for knowledge and the desire to continuously self-develop. One could argue that the meaning of life is the continuous search to answer the meaning of life itself. Our programs incorporate segments such as open discussions and extension homework which tease young minds into the nature of thinking itself.

In an ever-changing world crowded with competing distractions, it becomes crucial for educators to understand intrinsic drivers of their students in order to achieve an optimal learning outcome. While there are some visible benefits of the traditional extrinsic model of motivation, by encouraging students to only be driven by rewards or the fear of punishment, it teaches them the idea that tasks should only be completed if there is a clear outcome at the end. On the contrary, by honing in on intrinsic motivation, our teaching style encourages students to focus on the internal rewards of satisfaction and enjoyment, so that they can continue to be curious and become life-long learners.

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