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Understanding the Dual Motivational Forces: Unraveling the Intricacies of Motivation

The Early Career Framework states that teachers should learn that... pupils are motivated by intrinsic factors (related to their identity and values) and extrinsic factors (related to reward). Managing Behaviour (Standard 7 – Manage behaviour effectively).

In the dynamic landscape of education, the role of teachers extends beyond imparting knowledge to cultivating a genuine passion for learning among their pupils. Central to this challenge is the understanding that students are motivated by a complex interplay of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. This blog post delves into the dual motivational forces that drive students, shedding light on the significance of recognising both intrinsic factors, linked to identity and values, and extrinsic factors, associated with external rewards.

Intrinsic Motivation: Nurturing the Seed Within

At the heart of a student's intrinsic motivation lies a deep connection to personal identity and values. Educational psychologists and researchers have long explored the concept of intrinsic motivation as a powerful driver for sustained engagement and learning (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Intrinsic motivation arises from an inherent desire to explore, learn, and master new skills, rooted in the individual's genuine interest and curiosity.

For teachers, unlocking intrinsic motivation requires a nuanced approach that taps into students' passions and aligns learning objectives with their personal values. Creating an environment where students feel a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness fosters intrinsic motivation (Deci et al., 1991). As educators, our challenge is to discover the unique aspects of each student's identity and values, providing a platform for them to connect with the subject matter on a personal level.

Understanding the importance of intrinsic motivation goes hand in hand with recognising the diverse identities and values within a classroom. Cultural responsiveness and inclusivity become essential tools in tailoring educational experiences that resonate with the rich tapestry of student backgrounds (Gay, 2010). By acknowledging and celebrating these differences, teachers create an environment where intrinsic motivation can flourish, and students see the relevance of their studies in their own lives.

Extrinsic Motivation: The Role of Rewards

While intrinsic motivation forms the foundation for a lifelong love of learning, extrinsic motivation serves as a complementary force that cannot be overlooked. Extrinsic motivation involves external incentives such as grades, praise, or tangible rewards, influencing behaviour through the promise of a positive outcome (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999). In the context of education, a judicious use of extrinsic motivation can be a powerful tool for shaping desirable learning behaviours.

Teachers must strike a delicate balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, leveraging rewards without overshadowing the internal drive for learning. Research suggests that when used appropriately, extrinsic rewards can enhance motivation, particularly in tasks where the intrinsic value may not be immediately apparent (Cameron & Pierce, 1994). This underscores the importance of aligning extrinsic incentives with educational goals, ensuring they complement rather than replace intrinsic motivation.

It is crucial for teachers to view extrinsic motivation as a temporary scaffold, gradually fading as students internalize the value of the learning process. Overreliance on external rewards can lead to a shallow understanding of the subject matter, with students focusing solely on the outcome rather than the journey of learning (Lepper, Greene, & Nisbett, 1973). Thus, strategic implementation of extrinsic motivators becomes an art in itself, requiring thoughtful consideration of when and how to introduce them.

The Interplay of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

In practice, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are not mutually exclusive but exist on a continuum. Recognizing this interplay is crucial for educators seeking to create a well-rounded motivational environment. As students progress through their academic journey, the balance between these two forces may shift, with intrinsic motivation taking on a more dominant role over time (Vallerand, 1997).

Teachers must remain adaptable, adjusting their approach to match the evolving needs of their students. A dynamic and responsive teaching style that accommodates individual differences ensures that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors are acknowledged and leveraged effectively.

Practical Strategies for Implementation

1. Personalized Learning Paths: Tailor instructional approaches to cater to the diverse identities and values present in the classroom. Incorporate culturally relevant content and provide opportunities for students to explore topics aligned with their personal interests.

2. Autonomy and Choice: Foster a sense of autonomy by allowing students to have some control over their learning. Providing choices, whether in selecting topics or determining project formats, empowers students and enhances their intrinsic motivation (Patall, Cooper, & Robinson, 2008).

3. Constructive Feedback: Balance the use of extrinsic motivators, such as grades, with constructive feedback that focuses on the learning process. Encourage a growth mindset by highlighting effort, progress, and strategies for improvement (Dweck, 2006).

4. Incorporate Gamification: Introduce elements of gamification into the learning environment to leverage extrinsic motivation. Incorporate challenges, achievements, and rewards to make the learning experience engaging and enjoyable (Hamari, Koivisto, & Sarsa, 2014).

5. Promote Collaborative Learning: Foster a sense of relatedness by encouraging collaborative learning experiences. Peer interactions and group projects create a supportive community, tapping into the social aspects of intrinsic motivation (Johnson & Johnson, 1989).

In conclusion, the recognition and understanding of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are essential for educators navigating the complex landscape of student engagement. By appreciating the multifaceted nature of motivation, teachers can create learning environments that inspire a genuine passion for learning while judiciously employing external rewards to enhance the educational experience. Embracing the diversity of identities and values within the classroom and tailoring instructional approaches accordingly sets the stage for a holistic and effective educational journey.


Cameron, J., & Pierce, W. D. (1994). Reinforcement, reward, and intrinsic motivation: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 64(3), 363–423.

Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125(6), 627–668.

Deci, E. L., Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., & Ryan, R. M. (1991). Motivation and education: The self-determination perspective. Educational psychologist, 26(3-4), 325-346.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.

Gay, G. (2010). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. Teachers College Press.

Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., & Sarsa, H. (2014). Does gamification work?--a literature review of empirical studies on gamification. 2014 47th Hawaii international conference on system sciences, 3025-3034.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1989). Cooperation and competition: Theory and research. Interaction Book Company.

Lepper, M. R., Greene, D., & Nisbett, R. E. (1973). Undermining children's intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward: A test of the "overjustification" hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28(1), 129–137.

Patall, E. A., Cooper, H., & Robinson, J.

C. (2008). The effects of choice on intrinsic motivation and related outcomes: A meta-analysis of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 134(2), 270–300.

Vallerand, R. J. (1997). Toward a hierarchical model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 29, pp. 271–360). Academic Press.

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1 Comment

Very informative. Thanks for the education.

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