Tag Archives: extrinsic rewards

Extrinsic Versus Intrinsic Motivation

Educating students in school relies on motivating them to learn. Studies and discussions on the meaning, application, and benefits of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are happening as digital programs are created and instructors are incorporating them into their curriculums.

Very broadly, extrinsic motivation comes from outside in the form of stimuli or rewards such as ranking, salary, badges, and praise. Intrinsic motivation is prompted by inner feelings such as curiosity, need for belonging, and satisfaction. How extrinsic and intrinsic motivation can sometimes relate to each other is the moral of a story that has made the rounds in psychology circles for years:

A group of children go every day after school to chant anti-Semitic remarks in front of a store owned by a Jewish man. One day the man comes out to the children and says, “This is what you call yelling? I can hardly hear you. If you promise to yell more loudly, I will pay you each a dime.”

The children accept and every day, after they yell for a while, the store owner gives each a dime. After about two weeks, the store owner comes out and says, “You’ve been doing a great job; but business has been bad lately, and I can only pay you each a nickel.” The children protest, but they accept the reduced payment.

After another couple of weeks,  the store owner comes out to say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t afford you anymore. You’re welcome to continue, but I won’t be able to pay you.” The children reply, “You think we are going to do this for nothing? No way,” and they never come back again.

What has happened here? The intrinsic motivation of fun or satisfaction, (no matter how twisted) that spurred the children to act in the first place was replaced by extrinsic motivation (money) and when the external reward disappeared, so did the original intrinsic motivation. This is a simplistic analysis, but the point is clear: Be careful with extrinsic rewards.

Schools have already tied learning to extrinsic rewards: grades, test scores, medals, badges, diplomas. Isn’t that enough? These rewards have robbed many students of a love of learning. We can’t let that continue.

The world of phenomenal change that we live in makes lifelong learning more important than ever. Ditto for intrinsic motivation. We need to make sure that students desire learning without all the bells and whistles.

In the past, a higher education graduate could choose a career and plan to thrive in it through experience and some professional development. Now, we are expected to learn new technologies and ways to communicate every year. Instructors are expected to integrate technology as they teach.

The best preparation for success is knowing how to learn and to want to keep learning. Creating a deep consonance between internal satisfaction and learning in students will ensure that they are able to initiate and navigate the changes at the core of 21st century life.

For a more data-based scientific explanation of how extrinsic motivation can ruin intrinsic motivation see “Extrinsic Rewards and Intrinsic Motivation in Education: Reconsidered Once Again” by Deci, Koestner, and Ryan.