How Motivation Affects Learning and Behavior (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Extrinsic Versus Intrinsic Motivation

Not all forms of motivation have exactly the same effects on human learning and performance. Consider these two students in an advanced high school writing class:

Sheryl doesn’t enjoy writing and is taking the class for only one reason: Earning an A or B in the class will help her earn a scholarship at State University, where she desperately wants to go.

Shannon has always liked to write. The class will help her get a scholarship at State University, but in addition, Shannon truly wants to become a better writer. She sees its usefulness for her future profession as a journalist. Besides, she’s learning many new techniques for making what she writes more vivid and engaging.

Sheryl exhibits extrinsic motivation: She is motivated by factors external to herself and unrelated to the task she is performing. Learners who are extrinsically motivated may want the good grades, money, or recognition that particular activities and accomplishments bring. Essentially, they are motivated to perform a task as a means to an end, not as an end in itself.

In contrast, Shannon exhibits intrinsic motivation: She is motivated by factors within herself and inherent in the task she is performing. Learners who are intrinsically motivated may engage in an activity because it gives them pleasure, helps them develop a skill they think is important, or seems to be the ethically and morally right thing to do. Some learners with high levels of intrinsic motivation become so focused on and absorbed in an activity that they lose track of time and completely ignore other tasks—a phenomenon known as flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, 1996; Schweinle, Turner, & Meyer, 2006).

Learners are most likely to show the beneficial effects of motivation when they are intrinsically motivated to engage in classroom activities. Intrinsically motivated learners tackle assigned tasks willingly and are eager to learn classroom material, more likely to process information in effective ways (e.g., by engaging in meaningful learning), and more likely to achieve at high levels. In contrast, extrinsically motivated learners may have to be enticed or prodded, may process information only superficially, and are often interested in performing only easy tasks and meeting minimal classroom requirements (A. E. Gottfried, Fleming, & Gottfried, 2001; Reeve, 2006; Schiefele, 1991; Tobias, 1994).

In the early elementary grades, students are often eager and excited to learn new things at school. But sometime between Grades 3 and 9, their intrinsic motivation to learn and master school subject matter declines (Covington & Müeller, 2001; Lepper, Corpus, & Iyengar, 2005; Otis, Grouzet, & Pelletier, 2005). This decline is probably the result of several factors. As students get older, they are increasingly reminded of the importance of good grades (extrinsic motivators) for promotion, graduation, and college admission, causing them to focus their efforts on earning high grade point averages. Furthermore, they become more cognitively able to set and strive for long-term goals, and they begin to evaluate school subjects in terms of their relevance to such goals, rather than in terms of any intrinsic appeal. In addition, students may grow increasingly impatient with the overly structured, repetitive, and boring activities that they often encounter at school (Battistich, Solomon, Kim, Watson, & Schaps, 1995; Larson, 2000).

Extrinsic motivation is not necessarily a bad thing, however; often learners are simultaneously motivated by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors (Cameron & Pierce, 1994; Covington, 2000; Lepper et al., 2005). For example, although Shannon enjoys her writing course, she also knows that a good grade will help her get a scholarship at State U. Furthermore, good grades and other external rewards for high achievement may confirm for Shannon that she is mastering school subject matter (Hynd, 2003). And over the course of time, extrinsic motivation may gradually move inward, as we’ll discover in Chapter 12 in our discussion of internalized motivation.

In some instances, extrinsic motivation—perhaps in the form of extrinsic reinforcers for academic achievement or productive behavior—may be the only thing that can get students on the road to successful classroom learning and productive behavior. Yet intrinsic motivation is ultimately what will sustain students over the long run. It will encourage them to make sense of and apply what they are studying and will increase the odds that they will continue to read and learn about writing, science, history, and other academic subject matter long after they have left their formal education behind.

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