How to encourage intrinsic motivation

By fostering students’ sense of mastery, autonomy, and purpose, teachers can boost their desire and dedication to learn.

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Author and researcher Daniel Pink divides intrinsic motivation into three components: mastery, autonomy, and purpose. Increasing intrinsic motivation in everyday activities yields greater satisfaction and engagement. When teachers create lessons with a focus on intrinsic motivation, they drive students to participate and excel. I use the acronym MAP to remember the components: mastery, autonomy, and purpose.

Developing Mastery

Mastery acknowledges the fact that while learning a new skill or concept, a person may need multiple attempts. In a lesson, using mastery allows a student to learn from their mistakes and try again. To increase mastery, set a clear learning objective with a mastery threshold. Learning objectives are the critical starting point for mastery learning thresholds. Learning objectives need to be specific, clear, and demonstrable: everyone must know exactly what the objectives are, and the learner must be able to demonstrate that they have learned them.

To create a mastery threshold, determine the type of demonstration a student will use for a particular objective—activities like making a presentation, solving a problem, writing an answer, or doing a project. Teachers must supply a rubric or target with the objective for students to show mastery. For example, a student might need to get 80 percent of the problems right on a quiz, or get 3 out of 4 on a presentation rubric. Keep in mind that mastery is not perfection; it is a goal for the students to show they have acquired the majority of the learning objective. Students need to know at what point they have mastered an objective. For example, a student knows they have mastered riding a bike when they can balance and pedal on their own. Having a clear objective threshold allows a student to self-assess if they are getting close to mastery.

Another way to increase mastery is through the use of feedback. Students may not know where they are making errors. Providing constructive criticism and allowing students to apply feedback increases the intrinsic motivation to master a concept. Use peer feedback, rubrics, or student conferences in a lesson to boost mastery. In my own classroom, I use a coaching feedback model. I begin by asking questions about areas of weakness. After students respond, I give constructive feedback to guide them to mastery. I might ask a student why they chose a specific character as an antagonist, listen to their reasoning for their choice, and then correct any learned misconceptions. The technique gives students the chance to explain their thinking while providing targeted reteaching at the same time. It’s important to end the meeting with one piece of positive feedback.Taking the time to point out a positive area or a way they have grown provides a boost to their intrinsic motivation.

Teachers can also increase student mastery by giving students time to apply and learn from feedback through reflection. Reflections could take place in groups, through exit tickets, or simply by charting progress on a specific concept.

Gaining Autonomy

Control is important in motivating students to engage. Autonomy provides students the opportunity to lead their learning. Adding autonomy gives students the ability to fit what’s being learned with their understanding of the world. Increasing autonomy involves looking at the amount of voice and choice provided in a lesson. Voice is giving students a say in their learning and acknowledging the backgrounds, perspectives, opinions, and beliefs of students. Lessons can be tailor-made based on student interests or suggestions. Teachers could poll student interest in given subjects and apply the information to lessons. Another quick way to add voice is by adding discussions or tailoring lessons based on student feedback. Simply asking for student input shows students they are valued and boosts intrinsic motivation in the classroom.

Instead of limiting students to one learning path, consider providing choices on how they learn the material. Choice boards allow students options to acquire knowledge. Just making sure that students have options in a given lesson increases engagement. Students can pose ideas and explore a topic independently to gain a deeper understanding of a concept.

Building Purpose

Purpose provides students with a reason to engage and learn. Students need to feel like they are working toward something worthwhile and are doing something important. One way to add purpose to a lesson is to ask students why a concept or skill would be important to learn. Allowing students to add their own spin on purpose shows them the “why” of their work.

Teachers can also build purpose into their lessons. For example, using community challenges can add purpose to a lesson. Students tackle community problems and learn their content by helping the community. They learn skills and immediately apply the skills learned in class to real-world problems. Students develop an awareness of the ways their learning can affect the world around them. Helping others through community challenges makes students feel good about their work—which reinforces the desire to keep working.

Showing how learning can improve future career perspectives can also drive learning. When my students saw a study from Yale showing that readers live longer, it motivated many of them to develop a nightly reading habit. When a student knows why or how learning can change their life, it increases engagement and motivation.

MAP is a simple acronym to increase every student’s drive to learn. Taking the time to look for and add intrinsic motivation ensures that student engagement is built into the learning process. The best part? Focusing on intrinsic motivators will give students more desire, discipline, and dedication to learn.

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Raise the excitement in your students to learn and accomplish goals.

External motivation can encourage short-term accomplishments, but it can only take you so far. Teachers need to prepare their students for the adult world, where concrete rewards are few and far between.

We want kids to be excited about coming to school, interested in acquiring new skills, and eager to explore new topics. We want them to feel good about themselves when they succeed, not because they will win an award, but simply because it gives them a sense of accomplishment. In short, we need to instill intrinsic motivation in students. But how?

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

The Limits of External Motivation

Motivating kids to learn for learning’s sake isn’t easy, which is why teachers often rely on external motivators. These can take many forms, like contests, prizes, or parties. Even grades are a form of external motivation; a student who has earned an A on an assignment is typically more thrilled by the grade itself than the successful learning it represents. External motivators aren’t necessarily bad; some of them may, in fact, encourage kids effectively. But it’s also important to encourage intrinsic motivation in students.

I once worked with a physical education teacher who solicited prizes from local businesses for the school’s annual field days. He put a lot of time and effort into accumulating prizes, including restaurant coupons, sports equipment, tech accessories, and movie tickets. I once asked him if he really needed all these rewards. “They expect prizes,” he said. “I don’t think they would participate without them. I’d have to stop doing field days.”

This teacher thought he was going the extra mile for his students, but he was actually selling them short. Most kids just wanted to be outside competing and enjoying the sunshine. The experience itself was reward enough—they didn’t need any free stuff on top of that.

Motivational Strategies

In my experience, teachers who connect with kids and give them lots of opportunities to participate in their own learning are generally successful at encouraging intrinsic motivation. When students know that their teacher really wants to hear their ideas and opinions about what they’re studying, they feel like they’re part of the learning process. If students know that today’s assignment will definitely be part of tomorrow’s discussion, they want to be prepared.

Limiting “teacher talk” and allowing more time to be spent on cooperative learning or group projects also helps. Encouraging kids to work together sends a message that the teacher trusts they can learn and find solutions to problems with minimal adult intervention.

Teachers who are successful in helping kids become self-motivated use a variety of ways to determine academic progress. A rubric, for example, is a powerful tool to help kids understand what quality work looks like and how their own efforts measure up. Likewise, teachers who want kids to participate in their own learning tell them what’s going to be on the final test at the beginning of the unit of study. This helps students understand the expectations from the get-go.

“Inviting students to have a voice in classroom decisions—where they sit, what day a test takes place, in what order units are studied, or even where a plant should be placed in the classroom—can help them develop that greater sense of control,” says teacher Larry Ferlazzo. Kids develop intrinsic motivation to succeed when they’re invested in their own learning.

The Power of Choice

Encouraging intrinsic motivation in students is a challenge, but it’s possible. According to David Palank, a principal in Washington, D.C., kids have to convince themselves that they really want to do a particular activity. For example, Palank says that before class begins, you can ask students to select one of two lines to stand in: “Ready to Work” or “Going to Misbehave.” Palank says that few children want to select the second line, but committing to the first means they have to persuade themselves that they are, in fact, ready to work.

A similar technique is to ask students, “On a scale of one to 10, how likely are you to do your homework tonight?” Students typically won’t respond with low numbers and again have to persuade themselves that they will do the homework.

Palank also suggests asking students to set a goal at the beginning of class and to read it out loud so that everyone knows what they intend to do. Goals are reviewed at the end of class to see whether students accomplished them. Asking students what they’re going to do instead of telling them what to do is a way to instill in them self-direction and, eventually, intrinsic motivation. The key, Palank says, is that students have the ability to choose for themselves.

Why Intrinsic Motivation Matters

Students who find motivation within themselves are likely to be lifetime learners. Reading for enjoyment, for example, will serve students well throughout their academic careers and beyond. Students who don’t find the excitement of chemistry class to be acing the test, but rather learning how the scientific process works, are setting themselves up for success later on.

As for teachers, most know that while it’s great to be recognized with an award, helping kids succeed despite the odds, and having former students return years later to say thanks, is what really matters. Most teachers don’t work hard just for the promise of an external reward, so why shouldn’t they expect the same of their students?


“Curiosity is,” said writer Samuel L. Johnson, “in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.”

This quote is a great reminder that if we can get students curious and motivated to learn, we can set them up for a lifelong love of learning. And as a teacher, you have the power to help them find that passion for learning while they are young.

In this article, we’ll go over the difference between two types of motivation—intrinsic and extrinsic—and why you should prioritize the former in your classroom. Then, we’ll provide you with a few tips and strategies for improving your students’ intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: What’s the Difference?

How to encourage intrinsic motivationBefore we explore how to motivate your students to learn, let’s go over the difference between two types: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation occurs when students are engaged because of internal rewards, like a love of learning or interest in a subject.[3] These students learn to value learning for its own merits, regardless of any external factors. An example of intrinsic motivation is a student learning new vocabulary words because they love to read.

Extrinsic motivation, however, is learning because of external factors. Students may be motivated to learn to pass a test, to gain a reward, or to avoid a punishment. An example of extrinsic motivation is a student who is studying so their parents will not ground them for poor grades.

Generally, children lose engagement after being externally rewarded.[7] This suggests that extrinsic motivation is short-term and can lead students away from an inherent love of learning. As a teacher, you can prevent this by prioritizing intrinsically motivated learning in the classroom.

How to Motivate Students: Encourage Intrinsic Motivation

How to encourage intrinsic motivationThe value of choosing intrinsic motivation over its extrinsic counterpart is clear, but it’s not always easy to know where to start. When it comes to the classroom, there are a few strategies that you can use to make sure your students are interested in your class material and ready to learn.

Elementary-aged children are highly motivated when their teachers prioritize content mastery and understanding over high test scores.[2] Although tests can be a great way to measure student progress, try to focus on helping them understand the concepts they find difficult. As they spend more time learning, they will be better able to turn their weaknesses into strengths and gain an appreciation for learning that’s deeper than test scores.

Students are also more likely to be motivated if class material is relevant to their lives and involves their interests.[10] The best way to make your curriculum relevant to your students is to get to know them. Spend time understanding their needs and what makes them light up in a classroom setting. And allow some flexibility in your assignments so students can spend some time focusing on what they personally find interesting.

Research also suggests that online learning can encourage intrinsic motivation.[1] In part, this is because online learning often involves some level of independence—and independent learning is also linked to motivated students.[12] Consider either making some of your curriculum online or including some independent learning activities, like reading or personal project time.

And finally, gamification can have an engaging place in the classroom if intrinsic motivation is prioritized.[4] In a nutshell, gamification is the use of activities and rewards to teach different learning concepts. When an activity or reward is focused around intrinsic motivation—like giving a child a calculator as a prize for winning a math contest—student engagement improves.

7 Ways to Boost Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom

Finding ways to motivate students—especially those who are currently unmotivated—can feel tough. But by knowing the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, you can make sure you’re taking the right steps to engage your students.

Here’s a quick list of 7 motivational activities and strategies you can use to improve your students’ intrinsic motivation to learn.

  1. Get to know your students and their unique interests. When possible, structure your assignments in a way that can include their interests. If you have a student who loves dinosaurs, for example, write a math problem that involves counting cartoon dinosaurs.[8]
  2. Choose rewards that encourage intrinsic motivation. If you’re holding a reading contest, for example, you could make the prize a book of the child’s choice.
  3. When students have some autonomy over their assignments, they’re more likely to be motivated.[9] Consider trying blended learning, a strategy that involves a mix of independent learning and whole-class lessons.
  4. Include some curriculum that is relevant to your students’ lives and current needs to boost motivation.[10]
  5. Give your students positive feedback on their assignments to encourage them and to reinforce that they can do well.[11]
  6. Motivation is often enhanced through curiosity.[5] Ask your students what they are curious about and help them find something that interests them about an assignment.
  7. Share your love of a subject or concept with your students. If you show why you love learning, your students are more likely to catch your enthusiasm, too.

March 09, 2017 by Guest Post

It’s been quite a while since learning experts and business coaches have taken gamification on board – to improve student/employee engagement, experiment with new motivation techniques and unlock hidden potentials in a revamped environment. Despite all benefits enclosed, a major concern here is the lack of intrinsic motivation that needs no badges, certificates of achievement or other perks to retain students’ interest. Is there any viable manner to keep the audience focused without the carrot – or the stick?

Here are a few tips for teachers willing to boost intrinsic motivation :

Empower your students with a feeling of conscious choice. You are unlikely to engage elementary students in this type of rhetoric, however, college students do have a wide range of options available. Other than paternal pressure or other imperatives that are irrelevant to this discussion, learners are free to choose. Once they’ve made up their mind, it’s only fair that they reveal due diligence and commitment to the preferred sciences.

Set a greater goal. Motivation may be easily encouraged by reaching out to extraordinary. Biting off more than one could chew – in an academic, business or personal development environment – could sometimes be an unrivaled source of inspiration.

Reinvent the system of rewards. Direct incentivization is a smart strategy for making your learners fulfill straightforward clear tasks. Go through these steps with maximum efficiency – and get your badge. An approach that doesn’t really work for complex non-linear activities that require boosted creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.

Forget negative motivation. The daunting prospect of failure might be the right stick for some unengaged individuals but it never works without a carrot. At any rate, fear leaves no room for genuine interest, understanding or research opportunity. Don’t intimidate, find the right leverage.

Beef up your learners’ self-esteem. Some people tend to fail before they even get down to the task. A proposed learning objective may seem formidable unless you get your feet wet. Make sure the students feel confident about what they do and have the right resource to complete their tasks.

Provide honest and instructive feedback. Despite a popular misconception, motivation is not all about praise. It also has to do with relevant ‘encouraging’ criticism. This may concern attitude, learning approach or particularities of the subject matter. Try to seamlessly get your students on the right track by focusing on their strengths rather than weaknesses.

Encourage collaboration. A well-tried scenario where intrinsic motivation flourishes like nowhere else is a common project. Students will enjoy sharing their knowledge or skills, helping others with their struggles or benchmark performance against their peers’ showings. Competition may also make part of the collaboration. Synergy of teamwork, individual talents and diverging impulses is what accounts for an engaging learning experience.

Employ cutting-edge technology. From that perspective, I’ve seen lots of examples when the introduction of tablets into the learning process greatly benefited students and teachers alike. That’s how you lure learners into a familiar digital infrastructure, increase engagement, provide quick visualization of concepts and ensure cost-efficiency in the long run (compared to heavy and obsolete paper textbooks).

Ask for feedback and glean personal interests . Ever wondered what your students really want to learn? Run a non-obtrusive survey and get valuable insights into your course. Asking questions is a process that goes both ways, and the result may be an authentic game-changer. Hold a manageable discussion, draw your conclusions and tweak your material for better perception.

Innovate and use change as a behavioral stimulus. Try to spruce up the teaching routine and brick-and-mortar methods and make regular updates to the learning environment and techniques. Move your lecture outside of the classroom, make inroads into e-Learning , take your folks for a stroll or to a museum, follow the trends of blended learning – and see how the students respond to the change.

Break the material down to puzzle solving. Let your audience play Dr. House or Sherlock and present arguably tedious or highly complicated matters as problems to solve. Ask elaborative questions, give specific clues and evidence for further analysis, make it fun. Gamification is not only about badges, it’s also about the pure joy of unraveling mysteries.

Show how knowledge applies in real life . Every action triggers results relevant for various industries, sciences, and walks of life. Never fail to showcase the application areas and tangible ‘products’ associated with your subject matter. Make your students believe there is a kaleidoscope of contexts where new skills and collateral capabilities play a crucial role, so it’s not just art for art’s sake. Simulations and case studies speak volumes where strict theory may fail to reach the goal.

Teach your students how to learn. Sometimes, it’s not only the course that matters but the entire process of knowledge acquisition and retention as well as academic formalization. Once the learners are ready to ingest and rework data to their benefit, they enable the intrinsic learning mechanisms that otherwise remain underemployed. Meet them halfway and facilitate navigation in the world of data by pointing out pertinent online and offline resources, useful technology, web-based tools, etc.

I hope these simple recommendations will help you in a momentous transition from extrinsic to intrinsic rewarding . Sparking a passion for learning and advancing rather than ‘get credits’ may seem a challenge, yet a journey of a thousand miles always begins with a single step.

Dasha is an e-Learning content developer who has transformed the teaching experience from a traditional to a virtual classroom. Before becoming an e-Learning specialist, Dasha worked as an English language teacher for children and adults. She now creates online courses for different types of audiences, including corporate and university students.

Intrinsic Motivation Infographic

Motivation can be divided into two types:

  1. Intrinsic (internal) motivation and
  2. Extrinsic (external) motivation.

Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that is centered within the student. The motivation comes from the pleasure one gets from the task itself or from the satisfaction received from completing the task.

Extrinsic motivation refers to the performance of an activity in order to attain an outcome, whether or not that activity is also intrinsically motivated. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of the individual. Students who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to engage in the task willingly as well as work to improve their skills, which will increase their capabilities.

27 Ways to Encourage Intrinsic Motivation in Your Students

  1. Share your story with your students
  2. Incorporate the student in the learning experience
  3. Spark curiosity in the subject matter
  4. Experiment with eliminating extrinsic awards
  5. Create a lesson that is free of grades
  6. Ask students what motivates them and then tap into these motivators
  7. Challenge students to find a new solution to an old problem
  8. Encourage creative ways to accomplish the same task
  9. Use teams or groups
  10. Praise students for meaningful accomplishments
  11. Practice what you teach
  12. Play a game that teaches the same principles
  13. Discover your passion
  14. Discover your students’ passions
  15. Allow time for the process
  16. Demonstrate, show, describe, and engage with a purpose
  17. Add energy to what you are doing and intrinsic behavior
  18. Create a new atmosphere for creativity
  19. Collectively set milestones to reach, and display them
  20. Create multiple skill assessments that students choose to take
  21. Allow students to measure progress throughout
  22. Create a trusting atmosphere
  23. Create a class vision
  24. Engage in community service
  25. Let students have a choice – in what they do, how they do it, and how to assess it
  26. Share with others what is happening in the classroom
  27. Incorporate the student’s life and story into the classroom

How to encourage intrinsic motivation How to encourage intrinsic motivation

At eLearning Infographics you can find the best education infographics based on a thriving community of 75,000+ online educators, teachers, instructional designers, professors, and in general, professionals that have a great passion about education.

In his TED Talk on motivation, Dan Pink says “there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.” He discusses the limitations of extrinsic incentives and encourages listeners to incorporate more intrinsic motivators into their team culture.

That talk was given in 2009 but for many leaders, the question of how to increase intrinsic motivation remains a challenge.

What is intrinsic motivation?

Before exploring 5 actions you can take with your team, here’s an easy way to think about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation :

extrinsic motivators are outside rewards or pressure used to encourage certain behavior – like a cash prize or deadline

intrinsic motivators are the positive feelings that drive an action – like satisfaction or enjoyment

Incorporating more intrinsic motivation into your team culture may take more time and effort than offering up a set of steak knives for top performance, but the benefits can be huge, fully worth the effort.

Since intrinsic motivation is related to things like performance, job satisfaction, employee engagement, turnover, and general well-being, the impact of your efforts has the potential to go beyond your team. It can also have a positive influence on your employee’s personal lives, your customers, and your brand.

Put more simply, your intrinsically motivated employees are happy employees.

How to cultivate intrinsic motivation on your team

1- Tailor your approach to each person’s motivators

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

What is fulfilling to one person might not resonate as deeply with another. Figuring out what drives each of your team members will make it much easier to customize your communication in a way that taps into their intrinsic motivation.

The Attuned motivator survey is a quick way to gain that insight, but a discussion about why that employee works, why they’ve chosen this field, and what about their role is most enjoyable to them could also help you connect with their core motivations.

From there, you can incorporate that perspective into your approach as a manager. Remembering, for example, a team member motivated by competition and another who is motivated by social relationships can both find fulfillment in the same work but may approach it with a different lens. Encouraging team members to share their motivators can also make it easier to understand each other and facilitate collaboration.

2- Talk about the impact of your work

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Connecting your team’s day-to-day effort to a greater purpose helps bring meaning to the work for everyone and increases motivation, which research links to prosocial behavior and persistence. Wanting to be helpful can also increase effort, productivity, and performance.

It’s easy to take this one for granted. We might think the impact of our work is obvious, but when was the last time you spoke about it with your team?

Make a point of discussing this with your employees regularly. Be sure to share testimonials and highlight the influence the team’s work is having on your customers’ lives. Talk about what your company is doing to bring about positive changes within your industry or even society.

3- Make it clear what great work looks like

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

The intrinsic value of learning something new, developing skills, or improving your performance is key to motivating your team. Competence (or mastery, as Daniel Pink calls it) is considered an “innate psychological need” by leading researchers on the subject of intrinsic motivation.

However, it is your role as a leader to ensure that employees are mastering the type of skills that will enable them to be successful in your team. Throughout their career the needs of the business and its customers may evolve, and your team members will be making progress to match this evolution.

To provide the most relevant feedback, start by clarifying what great work looks like in as much detail as possible. It is much easier for employees to deliver – or exceed – expectations when details like outcomes, timelines, and examples of high-quality work are shared transparently. Then, ensure that employees have everything they need to deliver work at that level and arrange regular meetings to discuss progress. Provide feedback frequently and with a focus on how to improve future performance.

4- Find ways to increase autonomy

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

One study found “that autonomy support has generally been associated with more intrinsic motivation, greater interest, less pressure and tension, more creativity, more cognitive flexibility, better conceptual learning, a more positive emotional tone, higher self-esteem, more trust, greater persistence of behavior change, and better physical and psychological health than has control.” That’s a long list of benefits!

Increasing autonomy doesn’t mean letting your team run wild, but it does require that employees are trusted to make decisions about how or when they approach certain tasks. This is easier for everyone when the expectations around great work are clear and feedback is consistent, as mentioned above.

Explore which activities must be performed in a specific way and which can be more self-directed. Bring your team into the conversation to incorporate their perspectives when defining goals, as well as how to achieve those outcomes.

5- Say thank you, and be specific

Saying thanks is one way to provide specific feedback about how your employee’s efforts positively impacted someone else, moved the team closer to its goal, or improved their skill set. Specific “Thanks” delivers valuable feedback while also expressing your appreciation. This type of recognition is external but can be used to reinforce intrinsic motivation. The key is to go beyond “nice job” to include the details of what you appreciate about their actions and why.

Another reason to say thank you is that expressing gratitude and acts of kindness are great not only for your happiness but for those around you as well. Cultivating a culture of support and positivity is great for the team environment. Research shows it increases feelings of self-efficacy and social worth, which can have a spillover effect where people continue to “pay it forward”.

Earlier today, I received a very touching message from a dad.

“Thank you for everything you do. You’re an inspiration and I’ve started to introduce my daughter to your work. I want her to grow up knowing strong women are doing amazing things.”

An awesome dad on the Internet.

Reading this made me feel incredibly happy. Lots of the work I do is not the kind of quick win that gives you that instant dopamine rush. It usually involves some of the slower, longer-term kind of grind, such as writing content and building communities. So today, after reading this, I’m feeling extra motivated.

But that’s not always the case. Some days, I wake up feeling trapped in a prison of procrastination. It feels almost impossible to get anything done.

How do you get back on track when it seems like your motivation is gone? How do you motivate yourself? Beyond the usual pep talk, I want to give you a quick overview of the current research so you can apply science-based strategies that put you back in control.

The science of motivation

I have already written about the neuroscience of procrastination, but the neuroscience of motivation is slightly different. Research suggests that motivation finds its roots in the dopamine pathways in our brain.

When we do something that feels good, that’s dopamine kicking in. And, in the case of motivation, imagining the reward we’d get by acting gives us a little shot of dopamine, just as if we actually acted already.

According to psychologists, there are two main types of motivation.

Extrinsic motivation: the most common sources of extrinsic motivation are external rewards, such as earning money, winning a prize, or getting good grades. Extrinsic motivation can also be negative, for example being scared of getting fired or of having a fight with your partner. While extrinsic motivation works great in the short term, it will only last as long as you consider the external rewards to be satisfying. Not interested in money anymore? There goes your motivation.

Intrinsic motivation: according to science, intrinsic motivation is the desire to seek out new things and new challenges, to test and analyse your abilities, and to achieve your goals in and for themselves—for example, learning something new. It was first discovered in animals engaging in playful and curiosity-driven behaviours, even without a given reward. With intrinsic motivation, the reason why you act is internal. While intrinsic motivation takes longer to build, it also has longer-lasting positive effects on performance.

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

How do you build more intrinsic motivation into your life?

According to research, you need two main ingredients to build intrinsic motivation: the first is self-determination (believing that you have the choice and the freedom to act however you want to), and the second is a feeling of increased competence (believing that the task will teach you something new and make you a better, more performant person overall).

The first is obviously very hard to teach. But what’s great about the second—this feeling of increased competence—is that it can also help you pick the right goals to pursue. In the long run, the tasks that will make you grow are also going to be the easiest ones to motivate yourself to act on.

Proactive motivation

Instead of waiting for intrinsic motivation to just miraculously appear, there are a few steps you can take to motivate yourself through internal motivation factors. I call them the 3 Ms of Motivation.

  1. Manage your mood: there is absolutely no way to feel intrinsic motivation if you are in a bad mood. Before trying to find ways to motivate yourself to complete a task, take a bit of time to practice self-care and deal with your negative emotions. This could be through meditation, treating yourself to a nice, healthy meal, or having an interesting conversation with a peer.
  2. Measure your progress: if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Measuring your progress can be as simple as maintaining a spreadsheet where you count the number of words you have written, the number of days you have coded, or the number of times you went to the gym. Creating a streak can be extremely motivating—you won’t want to break it. Generating graphs can also make your progress easier to visualise.
  3. Make it public: this is one of the most efficient ways to be motivated. Working on a goal with intrinsic motivation *and* adding the extrinsic motivation of a public commitment is a powerful combo. This could be as simple as telling a friend about your goals or tweeting your intent.

Manage your mood, measure your progress, make it public. Three simple steps that can greatly help you get motivated, and more importantly, stay motivated so you can achieve your goals.

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How to encourage intrinsic motivation


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Intrinsic motivation occurs when an individual is able to focus on internal drivers as the impetus for doing something. For example, an intrinsically motivated employee will stay late to finish every last detail of an important presentation. She does this not because she wants the overtime pay, as would be an example of an extrinsic motivator, but because she feels a personal sense of accomplishment in doing the job to the best of her abilities. Intrinsic motivators in the workplace grow when employees feel challenged, capable, valued and have a general enjoyment of their jobs.

Challenging Work

Employees who are challenged in a positive way become intrinsically motivated to push themselves to be their best. Providing challenging assignments and giving employees leeway to make decisions about how they approach projects creates a sense of control. This control leads a sense of ownership in the project, and employees are motivated to succeed by a desire to step up to the challenge.

Ability to Choose

Employees have different core skills, different values and individualized approaches to completing tasks. Giving employees the opportunity to choose assignments best matched with their personal preferences and areas of strength is an internal motivator. Employees feel their skills are being used in the most effective way and the ability to select projects of personal interest increases the chances the final project will be successful.

Opportunity for Advancement

Employees who feel they have a bright professional future ahead of them are more intrinsically motivated than employees who feel they are stuck in a job that will never change or inspire them. Employees who see a clear path to career advancement have a vested interest in the company and are motivated to contribute to its success, and therefore, to their own success.

Mentoring and Education

Employees who are mentored and given the opportunity to expand their knowledge through participation in professional development seminars and training sessions feel an increased sense of worth. This internal motivator makes employees feel they are valued by the company, which makes them value the quality of their work.

Regular Feedback

Employees who know where they stand with regard to performance measurements feel more control over the stability of their jobs and the quality of their work. Taking time to give employees regular feedback and constructive criticism creates a system where employees feel they are able to constantly improve their performance.

Participation in Decision Making

Employees who are engaged in the corporate decision-making process are intrinsically motivated because they have a sense of camaraderie as well as a stake in the success of the company. Employees view themselves as being valued members of the collective team and that their intellect and input is noticed and appreciated.

Written by: Charlie Heidrick, Ph.D., Research Manager, Research & Strategy, BI WORLDWIDE
(View Author Bio)

The question of how to motivate employees is a top priority of leaders and managers across nearly every organization. So which one is most effective – extrinsic or intrinsic motivation?

As a leader in your organization, have you ever considered how to best motivate your employees? Of course you have! The question of how to motivate employees is a top priority of leaders and managers across nearly every organization.

There are two primary types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic .

Intrinsic motivation refers to a drive to engage in a task because of the enjoyment or interest in the task itself. Take the example of someone who likes to read novels in their spare time – they are likely engaging in that behavior simply because they like to, not necessarily because they get some reward for doing so or because they’ve been told to do it. This person reads novels primarily because they are intrinsically motivated to do so.

Extrinsic motivation , on the other hand, refers to motivation to engage in a task because engaging in that task increases one’s chances of receiving a reward (or, in some circumstances, avoiding a punishment). For example, let’s say someone’s health insurance plan decreases by $20 a month if they check-in at their gym at least eight times a month, and this person really wants to save that $20. Their motivation for going to the gym and exercising is mostly extrinsic motivation since they are engaging in that behavior to receive some reward outside of the behavior itself, which in this case is $20 off their health insurance costs.

We surveyed over a thousand U.S. employees of large organizations this past June to better understand their current work experience and what motivates them. We asked questions about some of the main elements of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation:

  • Intrinsic motivation: interest in job, enjoyment of tasks the job requires and mastery of skills
  • Extrinsic motivation: recognition and compensation

Our research showed the importance of both types of motivation. Just one isn’t enough for employees to work hard, be inspired and stick around for the long haul. When an employee feels high levels of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, they are more likely to:

❶ Feel a healthy sense of challenge in their jobs
❷ Feel a sense of teamwork with their coworkers
❸ Find meaning and purpose in their work
❹ Avoid burnout and feel a sense of wellness in their jobs
❺ Have a good relationship with their manager
❻ Feel their organization and its leaders are transparent
❼ Take initiative at work when situations call for it

Additionally, when it comes to key outcomes from employee engagement,
high levels of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation have a positive impact on:
❶ How hard employees are working
❷ How inspired employees feel at work
❸ How committed employees are to their organization

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are not the same though and we do see differences in their effect on employees: extrinsic motivation tends to be more important for commitment and employee retention, while intrinsic motivation tends to be more important for inspiration and employee engagement. This makes sense intuitively – factors such as fair compensation and feeling valued are essential to keep good employees and to inspire employees, they need to be interested in and care about what they do.

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

To increase intrinsic motivation, much of what influences the employee experience is around finding the right people who have a good job fit with the position. We define job fit by a person’s skills and interests matching those actions that come along with a particular role.

There is also much we can control after an employee is hired to cultivate intrinsic motivation. Have we communicated the meaning in their role in a manner that sparks interest? Are we providing employee training and learning opportunities for employees to further their abilities in skills that are important to them? Have we added gamification to those trainings to make them more interactive and enjoyable?

Extrinsic motivation at work comes down to two main factors: meaningful employee recognition and at least fair compensation. When employees do good work, does anyone notice? Do employees feel appreciated? Is their compensation, which encompasses both pay and benefits, enough for employees to justify the work they are doing?

While you find ways to foster motivation through the strategies above, keep in mind that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are key for your employees. When employees feel supported in both types, they will love the work they do and feel rewarded for that same work – and who wouldn’t work hard in that situation?

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Verywell / Joshua Seong

Why do we do the things we do? What drives our behavior? Psychologists have proposed different ways of thinking about motivation, including looking at whether motivation arises from outside (extrinsic) or inside (intrinsic) an individual.

Researchers have found that each type has a different effect on a person’s behavior and pursuit of goals. To better understand the influence of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation on human behavior, it will help to learn how each type works.

Is It Extrinsic or Intrinsic Motivation?

What Is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation is when we are motivated to perform a behavior or engage in an activity because we want to earn a reward or avoid punishment.   You will engage in behavior not because you enjoy it or because you find it satisfying, but because you expect to get something in return or avoid something unpleasant.

What Is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is when you engage in a behavior because you find it rewarding. You are performing an activity for its own sake rather than from the desire for some external reward. The behavior itself is its own reward.  

Participating in a sport to win awards

Cleaning your room to avoid being reprimanded by your parents

Competing in a contest to win a scholarship

Studying because you want to get a good grade

Participating in a sport because you find the activity enjoyable

Cleaning your room because you like tidying up

Solving a word puzzle because you find the challenge fun and exciting

Studying a subject you find fascinating

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation: Which Is Best?

Extrinsic motivation arises from outside of the individual while intrinsic motivation comes from within. Research has shown that each type has a different effect on human behavior.  

Studies have demonstrated that offering excessive external rewards for an already internally rewarding behavior can reduce intrinsic motivation—a phenomenon known as the overjustification effect.

For example, in a 2008 study, children who were rewarded for playing with a toy they had already expressed interest in playing with became less interested in the item after being externally rewarded.  

This is not to suggest that extrinsic motivation is a bad thing—it can be beneficial in some situations. For example, extrinsic motivation can be particularly helpful when a person needs to complete a task that they find unpleasant.

Additionally, external rewards can:

  • Be a source of feedback to let people know when their performance has achieved a standard that is deserving of reinforcement
  • Induce interest and participation in an activity an individual was not initially interested in
  • Motivate people to acquire new skills or knowledge (once these early skills have been learned, people might become more intrinsically motivated to pursue an activity)

Extrinsic motivators should be avoided in situations where:

  • An individual already finds the activity intrinsically rewarding
  • Offering a reward might make a “play” activity seem more like “work”

Motivate a person to learn something new

Make a person more interested in an activity that they are not interested in

Provide feedback to people to let them know their performance is worthy of recognition

A person is already interested in the topic, task, or activity

Offering a reward would make the activity feel like “work” instead of “play”

When to Use Extrinsic Motivation

Most people assume that intrinsic motivation is best, but it is not always possible in every situation. Sometimes a person simply has no internal desire to engage in an activity. Offering excessive rewards can be problematic as well.

However, when they are used appropriately, extrinsic motivators can be a useful tool. For example, extrinsic motivation can get people to complete a work task or school assignment that they are not interested in.

Researchers have arrived at three primary conclusions regarding extrinsic rewards and their influence on intrinsic motivation:

  1. Intrinsic motivation will decrease when external rewards are given for completing a particular task or only doing minimal work.   If parents heap lavish praise on their child every time they complete a simple task, the child will become less intrinsically motivated to perform that task in the future.
  2. Praise can increase internal motivation. Researchers have found that offering positive praise and feedback when people do something better than others can improve intrinsic motivation.  
  3. Unexpected external rewards do not decrease intrinsic motivation.   If you get a good grade on a test because you enjoy learning about a subject and the teacher decides to reward you with a gift card to your favorite pizza place, your underlying motivation for learning about the subject will not be affected. However, rewarding in this situation needs to be done with caution because people will sometimes come to expect rewards.

How Do Intrinsic Motivation and Extrinsic Motivation Influence Learning?

Both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation play a significant role in learning. Experts have argued that education’s traditional emphasis on external rewards (such as grades, report cards, and gold stars) undermines any existing intrinsic motivation that students might have.

Others have suggested that extrinsic motivators help students feel more competent in the classroom, which in turn enhances their intrinsic motivation.  

“A person’s interest often survives when a reward is used neither to bribe nor to control but to signal a job well done, as in a “most improved player” award. If a reward boosts your feeling of competence after doing good work, your enjoyment of the task may increase.

Rewards, rightly administered, can motivate high performance and creativity. And extrinsic rewards (such as scholarships, admissions, and jobs that often follow good grades) are here to stay.”

A Word From Verywell

Both extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation drive human behavior. There are several key differences between motivation that comes from external rewards and the kind that is driven by an individual’s genuine interest, including the influence of each type on a person’s behavior and the situations in which each type will be most effective.

Understanding how each type of motivation works and when it is likely to be useful can help people perform tasks (even when they do not want to) and improve their learning.

According to, the word “intrinsic” is an adjective that means “belonging to a thing by its very nature.” Some synonyms for intrinsic are: essential, built-in, constitutional, inherent, integral, inner, internal. This naturally puts us at a disadvantage when trying to develop intrinsic motivation in our students, because we are on the outside. The challenge is to find pathways from the outside to help students become more motivated within themselves.

How to encourage intrinsic motivationWe all want our students to love school and to enjoy the process of learning. We seem to always be searching for ways to encourage our students to put forth their best efforts in everything we ask them to do. We desperately want each student to be self-motivated to learn and to follow the rules, and we employ a variety of strategies to promote rule-following behavior and high academic achievement. We often become teachers because we loved school ourselves, so it can be difficult for us to understand why some students don’t. Teachers can have excellent classroom management and still struggle with engaging and motivating all the students in their care. We know that to grow academically and socially, children need us to recognize and encourage their strengths and positive efforts. What is the best way to offer recognition and encouragement that will help develop intrinsic motivation in all our students?

Essential First Step

Our first step in encouraging a student to become more intrinsically motivated is to create the optimal environment that provides interesting, gratifying, personally meaningful learning experiences. When students feel a sense of purpose in their work, they are more likely to investigate and expand into new areas of learning and to persevere when faced with challenges. Limiting the amount of “teacher talk” by asking more questions allows students to actively work on solving problems and finding answers, giving them a greater sense of control.

Providing Choices

Giving students choice is also critical to increasing engagement, ultimately leading to the development of intrinsic motivation. We offer many different kinds of choices during the school day, such as where to sit and read in the classroom, to work with a partner or alone, to use markers or colored pencils. These choices give students a degree of control over their daily life at school, contributing to their sense of autonomy.

Academic Choice

In addition to these types of choices, we can provide students with choices in their learning with a strategy called Academic Choice. Students become highly engaged and productive when they have choices in what or how they are learning. They’re likely to think more deeply and creatively, work with more persistence, and use a wider range of academic skills and strategies.
Academic Choice is a powerful three-part strategy for motivating students’ learning that involves planning, working, and reflecting. When we use Academic Choice, we present the goal of the lesson or activity, then give students a list of options for what to learn and/or how to go about their learning in order to reach the defined goal. Finally, the lesson ends with reflection so students can consider their work and the choices they made. This three-part structure mirrors the natural learning cycle, which involves setting goals, enacting on those goals, and then reflecting on what was learned.

Students with intrinsic motivation will engage in activities because they want to, not because the teacher told them to. Creating an optimal learning environment and providing regular opportunities for choice throughout the school day allows students to work with a sense of competence, autonomy, and satisfaction. The structure of Academic Choice helps students practice valuable skills for lifelong learning, such as how to make wise choices, how to follow through on those choices, and how to adjust and adapt when needed. All of these factors together contribute to the development of intrinsic motivation.

Dr. Felicia Bolden

  • August 11, 2020
  • Professional Development

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

“The term intrinsic motivation refers to energizing behavior that comes from within an individual and develops due to an inherit interest in the activity at hand” (Chaudhuri, 2019). According to Gottfried (2019),

Academic intrinsic motivation is an enjoyment of school learning, and performance of activities for students’ own sake, in which pleasure is inherent in the activity itself. It is characterized by an orientation toward mastery; curiosity; persistence; task-endogeny; and the learning of challenging, difficult, and novel tasks. (p. 71)

When students believe in their learning interests and are able to perform academic tasks without external factors or promises of tangible objects or favors in exchange for work completed, they are intrinsically motivated. These students also have a sense of self-efficacy that propels them to achieve their goals. They are goal-oriented, self-driven, and normally do not work for instant validation from peers or educators. Intrinsically motivated students are usually high performers and can master personal and academic goals with minimal support or encouragement from others.

Students who are excited about learning and contribute to the classroom culture in a cheerful and compliant way are generally intrinsically motivated. Furthermore, they automatically take an interest in the curriculum without having to be prompted. Intrinsic students know their purpose for education and are determined to be successful. They are deep thinkers and problem solvers. Intrinsic students have a growth mindset and look forward to learning that is challenging and self-gratifying.

Benefits of Promoting Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation can be beneficial to both students and educators. The most powerful skillset an educator can have is to promote intrinsic motivation in all students. Some students arrive to school with the skillset, and others need to be taught. Everyone can experience intrinsic motivation when they give themselves permission to do so. When all learners exhibit intrinsic motivation, classrooms become safe havens for learning. Students experience success by collaborating and supporting their learning and the learning of their peers as well. Productivity increases and inevitably all learners contribute to the culture of the classroom through collective efficacy when intrinsic motivation is present. Students tend to perform academically well and thrive when they are intrinsically motivated.

Classrooms and schools with a high number of intrinsically motivated students and educators tend to have a positive culture and climate. Educators are able to focus on instructional strategies to best help students work at deeper and more complex levels, rather than dealing with nuisances of discipline issues, low performance, and the possibility of having a limited number of instructional resources. Professional development for staff is also more productive and conducive to increasing rigor for all learners. External barriers do not plague learning environments when there is a high level of intrinsically motivated learners.

Strategies for Promoting Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom

Educators must intentionally create learning environments that encourage and promote intrinsically motivated students. Allowing students to take risks and explore learning through the natural process of inquiry yields a safety net of trust. According to Purnomo, Kurniawan, & Aristin (2019), “Intrinsic motivation can be enhanced in the classroom by providing a challenge, curiosity, fantasy, and control” (p. 263). Educators should allow student choice to maximize learning potential based on their interests.

Administering an interest survey is a great way to identify factors that directly provoke intrinsic motivation in students. Then the data can be used to plan effective instruction and to improve the classroom learning environment. For example, if educators know of a student who wants to be an astronaut, and his or her eyes light up every time space is mentioned, it is the educator’s duty to find resources and literature about space to continue to help the student exude intrinsic motivation when completing tasks.

According to Purnomo, Kurniawan, & Aristin (2018), some additional strategies educators can use to increase intrinsic motivation of learners are to:

  • Challenge learners by assigning tasks at a gradual difficulty level from very easy to very difficult,
  • Use the students’ own personal experiences to arouse curiosity,
  • Use fantasy/imagination as a strategy to stimulate the thinking power of learners beyond the current conditions,
  • Improve learners to become active participants in learning,
  • Provide assessment feedback and use praise that rewards effort and improvement, and
  • Be supportive and attentive to learners. (p. 263)

Educators who take the time to know students and acknowledge the factors that intrinsically motivate them contribute to their overall success in the classroom.


Intrinsic motivation is important to the overall well being of all students, and they need to feel the autonomy of having ownership of their overall learning goals (Blankenstien, Saab, van der Rijst, Danel, Bakker-van den Berg, & van den Broek, 2019). Students are most creative when they can tap into their personal skillsets and apply them to new learning. Students who are intrinsically motivated tend to maximize their learning to their fullest potential and are highly innovative. Implications for further studies are to determine how intrinsic motivation affects students in different regions and educational settings, and to explore how intrinsic motivation directly or indirectly impacts teacher performance.

February 21, 2022

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Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are important ways of driving behavior. When you understand the differences between the two types of motivation, you also gain a better understanding of how to encourage people.

Knowing how to motivate yourself and others is imperative to getting things done and reaching goals. Identifying your internal and external motivators can help you be more efficient, feel more satisfied and achieve growth in your career. In this article, we define intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, discuss their differences and explore how they can be used effectively in the workplace.

What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is when you feel inspired or energized to complete a task because it’s personally rewarding. In other words, you’re performing the activity because of some internal drive as opposed to an external force or reward. With intrinsic motivation, the behavior itself becomes the reward.

What is extrinsic motivation?

Extrinsic motivation is when you’re inspired to perform a task either to earn a reward or to avoid punishment. In the case of extrinsic motivation, you’re not completing the task because you like it or find it satisfying. Instead, you’re completing it because you think you’ll avoid something unpleasant or you’ll get something in return.

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation

The main difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is that intrinsic motivation comes from within and extrinsic motivation comes from outside. However, the two types of motivation can also differ in their level of effectiveness.

Extrinsic motivation is beneficial in some cases. For example, working toward a reward of some kind can be helpful when you need to complete a task you might normally find unpleasant.

While extrinsic motivation is helpful in certain situations, it may eventually lead to burnout or lose its effectiveness over time. Intrinsic motivation is typically more effective long term for completing tasks and achieving goals in a way that makes you feel fulfilled.

Here is a comparison of the two types of motivation:

Intrinsic motivation Extrinsic motivation
Cleaning your house because you like it tidy Cleaning your house so your roommate doesn’t reprimand you
Playing a game of soccer because you enjoy the sport Playing a game of soccer because you want to win a trophy
Reading a book about a subject that interests you Reading a book because you want to get a good grade in school
Putting together a puzzle because you like the challenge Putting together a puzzle because you want to win a prize

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in the workplace

While intrinsic motivation may generally be preferred, sometimes you can use both types of motivation in the workplace to complete a task. For example, if you’re completing a project, you might be extrinsically motivated to finish it to earn recognition, and you might be intrinsically motivated to finish it because you enjoy the project and therefore want it done well.

Intrinsic motivation

You can apply intrinsic motivation in several ways at work. Providing and receiving positive feedback is often an effective way to increase motivation. If you’re interested in fostering intrinsic motivation among your team, consider the following:

For managers: To support intrinsic motivation among your team, be intentional with your feedback. Constructive criticism can help your team understand your standards and expectations while working together to achieve a goal or complete objectives effectively. Be sure you’re not giving an abundance of praise for work that’s not meaningful to your team.

For contributors: As a contributor, you should consistently tell managers when and how their feedback helps you to be motivated. Consider positive feedback when their guidance was particularly helpful, which can help intrinsically motivate them to continue managing you successfully because they feel satisfied about the positive effect of their efforts.

Extrinsic motivation

In some settings, extrinsic motivation is necessary for day-to-day work. Extrinsic rewards like bonuses, commissions or prizes may be the preferred way to promote interest in certain difficult or unfulfilling tasks. To successfully use extrinsic motivation, consider the following:

For managers: When you want to use extrinsic motivation as a manager, it’s important to offer rewards strategically. While external rewards can effectively motivate your team to take on a new challenge, learn a new skill or hit a quarterly goal, you should also make sure you’re giving them the resources necessary to take on projects and skills they’re passionate about.

For contributors: Work for the rewards that please you, but be aware of your limits and take breaks when you need them. Reflect on what is motivating you and notify your manager about any lack of resources or misdirection that impedes the proper motivation, and therefore, reward.

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Most parents know that getting kids to do things on their own—be it homework, chores, or helping around the house—might be a struggle. You might even be asking yourself, Ugh, how do I motivate them to do anything? on a regular basis. This constant battle is no fun for anyone.

So, finding a way to authentically motivate kids becomes paramount. However, “Motivation is complicated and has many influences,” Aliza Pressman, Ph.D., co-founding director and director of clinical programming for the Mount Sinai Parenting Center tells us. And it turns out that there are technically two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

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What do these mean, how can they help kids get the job done, and is there a style that’s more effective? Well, we spoke to an expert to find out.

What is extrinsic motivation?


How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation is being encouraged to do something because of outside (extrinsic) forces. Said motivation could be positive or negative, meaning they can be encouraged to do something to receive a benefit or praise or discouraged to do something out of fear of consequences.

Examples of extrinsic motivation:

  • Playing a sport in order to win a prize.
  • Finishing schoolwork to be able to watch TV.
  • Helping around the house so they can go play with friends.

Why you use extrinsic motivation.

Of course, there are valid reasons that you may encourage kids by dangling a prize in front of them—and, of course, actions have consequences, so often you may need to discipline them when they misbehave. Not to mention, rewards can offer a signal to your kid that they did a good job and you are proud of them, which is a good thing, no?

“When you do not care if the child internalizes the motivation for doing something, for example, you just really want them to go to bed and stay in bed because you are so tired! You can set up a rewards system if you are OK that they aren’t going to care about actually doing something,” says Pressman. “Also if there is no concern that in the long run, they will be stuck needing extrinsic rewards in order to do something.”

The problems with extrinsic motivation.

However, the problem comes up when the motivation ends there. Kids, and people in general, can only operate so well if their validation comes solely from the outside. This, too, is backed up by research: In one study, toddlers were given rewards after playing with a toy—a toy they previously expressed interest in. After they were given said reward, they became less interested in the toy that they were previously interested in.

Not only that, but if you continually offer external rewards for positive behavior, you may be sending the wrong signal to your kids as they grow up: that good behavior always gets you an award—and that’s simply not the way life works. This is why experts encourage you to help build intrinsic motivation when you can.


What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is what happens when kids act accordingly because it feels rewarding to do so. You are doing something because you want to do it, not because you’re being forced to or because you are craving praise. “Intrinsic motivation means that for reasons inside of you, you are motivated to do or learn something,” says Pressman. “When someone has the internal drive to do something, they feel better and have more agency over their life.”

Examples of intrinsic motivation:

  • Practicing at a sport diligently because they enjoy the activity and they feel happy when they get better.
  • Completing homework on time because it makes them feel proud when they complete their tasks.
  • Understanding that housework helps other members of the family, and so they make sure to get their chores done.

How to develop intrinsic motivation.

So the problem is it’s challenging to develop intrinsic motivation. Few people naturally enjoy tidying up, no? So how can you get kids to feel internal validation when said task isn’t always appealing?

“Motivation comes from a set of neurochemical networks that develop over time, as a result of the experiences we have,” says Pressman, noting that you can develop motivation through these experiences. “The best way to sustain motivation is to support internal drivers with the right kind of external feedback: not a lot of it, focused on process, and remember that if a child is fully internally motivated, don’t interrupt it much with your external commentary or they might lose sight of their internal drive.”

Her tips for developing internal motivation in kids:

  • Help them choose achievable goals and challenge children just enough.
  • Focus the planning process, encourage kids to identify something specific that they want to accomplish. Most important is that the goals are meaningful to your child and not established by others.
  • Remind kids to periodically monitor their behavior and consider whether they are doing the things they planned and whether these plans are achieving the goals they identified.
  • Give children agency—if they are capable of doing something themselves, let them. If they are almost capable, help them a little.
  • Give incentives/rewards only when necessary to start a new habit that is hard to motivate internally and that you aren’t concerned will have long-term implications.
  • Praise process, not outcome: You want kids to be motivated for working hard and sticking with it, not for getting to the end goal.
  • Maintain a close connection, particularly with adolescents.
  • Pay attention to language—when you or a child say, “I’m not good at xyz” shift it to “I’m not good at this yet.” Be open to the possibility that practice makes you smarter.
  • Monitor your own behavior: Think about how you fail in front of your kids. (We know all about being a role model for success, but what about being a good *failure* role model?)

The takeaway.

Encouraging kids to develop intrinsic motivation will ultimately help them in the long run find joy, value, and reward in their tasks. Of course, there is a time and place for extrinsic motivation, but it shouldn’t be used as your sole incentive.

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How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Boosting workplace motivation is a tricksome thing for all managers. It is an integral part of their day to day work, which helps people to improve and do great things in newer ways every day. Quite probably, doing that is the toughest challenge that managers have to face.

Pay hikes act as an excellent motivator for the workforce. But it can’t always be the key to employee happiness and satisfaction. There are a variety of ways to motivate employees.

Thus to motivate your employees effectively, you must understand the different types of motivators. Also, depending on their needs, your people will respond to your efforts differently.

Generally, there are two types of motivation in the workplace- Intrinsic and Extrinsic.

There are lots of debate about the whole Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic motivation debacle. But first, let’s know the primary difference. Intrinsic motivation refers to the personal willingness of the employees to overcome challenges and perform better. They gain satisfaction and enjoyment from what they do.

Contrarily, extrinsic motivation needs external factors like money, fame, and praise.

In this blog, we will apprehend the concept of intrinsic motivation at work, which helps people stay enthusiastic about their nine-to-five.

Getting Deeper Into Intrinsic Motivation In The Workplace

Intrinsic motivation is defined as doing an activity for its inherent satisfaction rather than for some separable consequences.

An intrinsically motivated employee works for the enthusiasm and challenge involved, rather than the external benefits. Here, the reward is the opportunities that employees get to learn, grow, and use their potential. Undoubtedly, it is a more vibrant and more in-depth concept as compared to extrinsic motivation.

Companies generally focus on providing employee satisfaction solely through extrinsic motivators. However, emerging research on workplace motivation suggests that it is better to concentrate more on intrinsic motivation. It is because of the ever-changing needs and demands of the dynamic workforce. To know in detail, let’s understand the varied aspects that explain the why and how of intrinsic motivation in the workplace.

Top 5 Factors That Unlock Intrinsic Motivation In The Workplace

1. Autonomy

When employees get the freedom of how to accomplish their work, it makes the most sense to them. Allow your employees to make a few of their own decisions on the job, using their best judgment. It will give them a definite feel of pride and ownership of their work with a purpose.

Flexible work time is the perfect example where employees can decide to work as per their choice. However, you still need to have limits and propose the most practical work plan.

In the whole approach, you will be responsible for making it work in ways that seem appropriate for your business goals.

2. Challenge

Often, employees don’t want to take up challenges because they are not motivated enough. But the people who get positively challenged always stay intrinsically motivated.

Extrinsic rewards are good motivators but don’t necessarily make employees take up added responsibilities. Also, you may not want to offer a completely different role to someone all of a sudden.

But sometimes you can give them additional tasks which interest them. It is where the concept of talent management comes in. Letting them use their talents in the workplace can provide them with a chance to test themselves. And this will motivate them from within.

3. Recognition

Creating a culture of recognition is the first right step towards intrinsic motivation in the workplace. Although companies choose to recognize external rewards, employees feel internally motivated. It helps in better achievements and boosts employee engagement.

Research shows that the presence of a recognition program keeps 66% of employees motivated at their job. It is another excellent way of saying that the work done is valued and that the employees are an essential part of the company.

Are you looking for an exciting reward and recognition program for your employees? We can help you here. Visit Vantage Circle- the one-stop rewards and recognition platform. It’s easy to use, and is fully customizable to meet your employee needs.

4. Mentorship

Employees seek knowledge and chances to develop themselves. High performing mentors can be a great source of motivation. Connecting your employees to them can help them grow and master their skills. Also, they help to recognize the strengths of individuals empowering them to be more independent.

Open communication, up and down the chain of hierarchy, is essential for intrinsic motivation in the workplace. In-house mentorship or training programs broaden this line of communication too.

At the same time, intrinsically motivated employees love to share their knowledge with their peers. Thus, mentorship programs can be an excellent resource for the company if used properly by the employees.

5. Assessment

When you start following a diet plan, you consider assessing yourself after a few months. It helps you to review your diet chart and keeps you going. It’s similar in case of intrinsic motivation in the workplace.

Looking back at the targets and the achievements, employees know where they stand. They can measure their performance, and quality of work. Constructive feedback from you can help your employees feel that they can improve continuously.

Final Words

Understanding motivation in the dynamic workplace is a crucial step towards creating a sense of purpose in employees. Every company has its unique method that motivates people, but above all, intrinsic factors play a more significant role. However, striking the right balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation might be the key to overall business success.

A teacher recently wrote me an email asking for some advice about student motivation. She graciously agreed to let my answer morph into a blog post.

I just finished listening to your ASCD webinar about language. I found your presentation thoughtful, informative, and practical.

My question for you is, how do you think a teacher (or school) can help facilitate intrinsic motivation when the students are being sent very different messages at home? It is very evident through student and parent anecdotes, that negotiation and bribery are common practices at home.

I am witnessing student motivation decrease, and I would love suggestions on how to combat this problem effectively.

Ashley Waggener, Alexandria, VA

This is a question I hear a lot as I work in schools around the United States. I also had this issue in my own teaching. It was common for parents in the schools in which I taught to use extrinsic motivators. (I remember one father getting really upset at a PTO meeting when he realized he owed his kid over $200 for the latest report card. We had just switched from traditional grades to standards-based ones, and there were a lot more categories!)

It can be challenging when students are getting different messages about why they should be motivated about schoolwork at home and school. Here are a few ideas to consider.

Limit Homework

Things get complicated when the worlds of schoolwork and homework overlap. That’s when you get kids being bribed to read or work on projects (which often leads to power struggles and demotivation). This can undo the intrinsic motivation we’re trying to cook into work and lead kids to stop working or to do the bare minimum. Instead, let’s keep work at school . If parents want to use extrinsic motivators to get their kids to take out the trash and clean their rooms, at least it won’t have a direct impact on their learning.

Teach Students to Code-Switch

Code-switching is when you behave differently in different settings or situations. I used to talk with my fifth graders about this all of the time. I’d tell them, if you and your friends like to swear when you’re hanging out together–let ’em rip. But when we’re at morning meeting, or you’re having a writing conference, or you’re on the school playground where some kids (and most adults) don’t want to hear swearing, then you’ve got to hold back. So, after you’ve told the class it’s time to clean up base-ten blocks from math and line up for art class, if a kid says, “My mom pays me $5 to clean up,” you can respond, “Yep. There are different systems at school and home. It’s time to clean up.”

Bake Intrinsic Motivation Into Activities, Lessons, and Units

Remember the five intrinsic motivators I shared in the webinar (autonomy, purpose, mastery, belonging, and fun)? Make sure at least one (hopefully more) is present in whatever kids are doing. For example, if you’re all working on multiplying fractions, you might…

  • give students choices about practice sheets or individual problems to solve (autonomy, mastery)
  • have students create a class bulletin board to highlight their learning (purpose, belonging, mastery)
  • have kids create (and then play) games to practice multiplying fractions (fun, mastery, purpose, autonomy, belonging)

When the work itself has intrinsic motivators present, there’s no longer a need to rely on stickers, food, prizes, or grades to motivate behavior.

Watch Out for Demotivators

Sometimes, we accidentally use practices in school that have the reverse of the intended effect. For example…

  • Data walls that publicly post which students have mastered key skills or competencies are meant to inspire students, but (especially for struggling students) they can raise anxiety and cause humiliation.
  • Another common example is certain kinds of praise. When teachers praise students’ intelligence (“You’re so smart!”), students may experience anxiety, causing them to take fewer learning risks. When teachers use teacher-pleasing praise (“I love how hard you’re working!”), students might worry so much about making their teacher happy that they make learning decisions based on what they think their teacher wants instead of what they actually need as a learner. (Instead, teachers can praise what students are doing: “Wow! Look at the progress you’re making! You’re really learning how to multiply fractions!”)
  • And, of course, resist the urge to use extrinsic motivators when kids are struggling with motivation. Instead, have kids lend a hand in thinking of ways to make the work more meaningful, fun, etc. When you cave and use stickers/candy/grades/etc. to motivate in the moment, you erode long-term intrinsic motivation.

Focus on Long-Term Gains, Not Short-Term Ones

Stickers, pizza parties, gems in jars, and other extrinsic motivators are seductive because they appear to “work” in the moment. They often elicit a gasp of excitement and a burst of focus and energy from students. Be careful though. Like a caffeine and sugar high that quickly fades after you guzzle a Coke, student enthusiasm rapidly erodes, leaving kids less motivated in the long run. Motivational gimmicks also don’t teach skills. Kids who struggle with self-control or academics need practical strategies to support success.

Mike Anderson has been an educator for more than 25 years. A public school teacher for 15 years, he has also taught preschool, coached swim teams, and taught university graduate level classes. He now works as a consultant providing professional learning for teachers throughout the US and beyond. In 2004, Mike was awarded a national Milken Educator Award, and in 2005 he was a finalist for NH Teacher of the Year. In 2020, he was awarded the Outstanding Educational Leader Award by NHASCD for his work as a consultant. A best-selling author, Mike has written nine books about great teaching and learning. His latest book is Tackling the Motivation Crisis: How to Activate Student Learning Without Behavior Charts, Pizza Parties, or Other Hard-to-Quit Incentive Systems. When not working, Mike can be found hanging with his family, tending his perennial gardens, and searching for new running routes around his home in Durham, NH.

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

“He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

While at LeAD I have worked as a coder for the LeAD Assessment Center workshops, and as an intern at the LeAD Research Lab. I am particularly interested in researching the “Passion and Purpose” component of the LeAD 6P leadership model and the motivational processes behind leadership development. Great leaders can make an enormous impact in their organization and may even inspire a whole new generation of leaders. So how must one see oneself as such a leader? What makes someone want to become a leader? How would someone go about developing into an influential leader, and what are the reasons for wanting to become such a high impact leader in the first place?

I propose that people aspire to become leaders mainly for either intrinsic or extrinsic reasons. Intrinsic reasons include a desire to grow as well as interest in changing some aspect of one’s environment. The desire to learn and grow comes from the realization that growth is both necessary and enjoyable. Complex and challenging activities, along with effective and constructive feedback, can encourage a person to grow. Developing one’s own leadership abilities can be fun, and growing as a leader can be rewarding because of the benefits of higher intrinsic rewards such as well-being, and the intrinsic motivation of wanting to improve one’s surroundings. Such intrinsic motivation includes leading to help improve the lives of others – accomplishing an objective for others is rewarding in and of itself. Servant leadership and authentic leadership are examples of the intrinsic desire to lead.

Leaders can also develop for extrinsic reasons. Such extrinsic reasons include, but are not limited to, social connections, for gaining or avoiding a certain outcome, economic benefits, as well as desire for power. The desire to learn and grow from an external standpoint comes from the awareness of one’s social standing in a particular environment. External rewards and recognition can encourage a person to grow. Developing one’s own leadership abilities can be rewarding due to the benefits of recognition, higher extrinsic rewards such as higher status, and the extrinsic motivation of wanting to have more influence in one’s surroundings. Such motivation has outer motives and accomplishing an objective with a group is for a particular purpose. Charismatic leadership and transactional leadership are examples of the extrinsic desire to lead.

The passion and purpose of leading can originate from intrinsic or extrinsic motives. What fuels a leader’s passion to lead and why a leader chooses to lead in the first place may be for primarily intrinsic reasons, extrinsic reasons, or a balanced combination of the two. This is important because those who lead for extrinsic reasons may no longer have the desire to lead once their extrinsic goal has been fulfilled. They must constantly fuel their purpose by creating new extrinsic goals. While this may seem like a good strategy for goal setting, it can create a feeling of emptiness once goals are reached. This often comes in the form of: “Ok, so now what?” Intrinsically motivated leaders, however, do not have that problem. Intrinsically motivated leaders have the passion and purpose that extends beyond the immediate external goal for leading. Their desire to lead is like a well that overflows for the passion for leading others to achieve a mission, and their intrinsic desire to lead does not dry out once that goal has been fulfilled. This intrinsic motivation fuels a leader to move beyond the leadership demands that their current situation calls for, which means that intrinsic motivation is a more enduring form of motivation that can propel one to lead effectively.

Have you uncovered your intrinsic motivations to lead? What beyond the extrinsic trappings of leadership motivates you to be a leader?

Steven Zarian is a first year MA student at Claremont Graduate University. At LeAD Labs, he has worked as lead coder for the Role Play simulation of the LeAD Assessment Center, and as an intern at the LeAD Research Lab. He is particularly interested in researching the “Passion and Purpose” component of the LeAD Labs’ 6P leadership model and the motivational processes behind leadership development. In his free time he enjoys reading, hiking, swimming, and traveling.

“I take away his phone and he behaves for three days and then goes right back to the back-talking and crappy attitude. I don’t understand why he doesn’t just. learn!”

My ex was talking about our 13-year-old son, and I completely empathized with his frustration. Not just for this particular unwanted behavior, either—sometimes it feels like every aspect of disciplining our kids is redundant and endless, like Sisyphus in Hades pushing his boulder up a hill only to have it roll right back down, over and over again for all eternity. Please let this torture end.

Why don’t the consequences we institute for our kids absorb immediately into their brains and prevent them from repeating unwanted behaviors? And, for that matter, why don’t the positive reinforcements cause more repetition of good behavior?

Motivate Your Kid by Having Them Imagine the Future

Your kid doesn’t want to do it. Clean his room. Finish her book report. Practice violin. Whatever…

The type of motivation matters

Part of the answer has to do with the type of motivation we’re instilling. Much of the discipline we provide our children has to do with external motivation. Whether it’s an unpleasant consequence for unwanted behavior or a positive reinforcement for a desired behavior, it’s still consequence-based motivation.

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The technical term for this is “extrinsic motivation.” This type of rewards-focused motivation does have its place in our lives, it can produce the results we want and it can be a powerful motivator. For most of us, it’s the reason we pay taxes—we want to avoid the consequence of having to pay hefty fines to the government. Still, I want more for my kids than for their behavior to be dictated by seeking a reward or avoiding a punishment.

The kind of motivation I want to dominate my kids’ decision-making is intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from within, and it’s not about seeking a reward in exchange for a certain behavior. The behavior itself is the reward.

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation

Consider your child’s motivation for getting good grades. An extrinsic motivator would be to offer your child a monetary or other type of reward for every “A” they earn. Your child may do the work to earn A’s, but they may do so with the goal of earning the reward for the grades rather than for the grades themselves.

On the other hand, if they are intrinsically motivated, they’ll study hard because the sense of accomplishment feels great or because they are truly interested in the material, or, at least, in the challenge of learning the material.

That doesn’t mean parents should ditch all rewards. Psychology professor Vanessa LoBue writes for Psychology Today that rewards should simply be used more strategically:

If you want to promote intrinsic motivation—if you want to teach your kids that learning in school or helping others are enjoyable in and of themselves—using rewards might be the wrong strategy. Again, that doesn’t mean rewards are always bad. When I was potty training my son, we showered him with jelly beans and praise when he had a successful trip to the bathroom. Teaching my son to have intrinsic motivation to pee in the toilet isn’t something we were necessarily concerned about, since eventually, everyone learns to do it.

It’s also important to avoid something called the “ over- justification effect ,” which is when a behavior or activity that is already intrinsically motivated is rewarded externally as well. This can reduce the intrinsic motivation by making what previously felt like play suddenly feel more like work.

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation in the classroom is the ability to complete a skill or activity based on personal interest, achievements, and enjoyment not for external rewards.

Many children need external motivation in the classroom or with related service providers to complete tasks or practice skills. Teachers and related service providers may use different reward systems such as Punch Cards and Reward Cards for Therapy to encourage children to participate.

Intrinsic motivation in the classroom can be harder to facilitate in children then extrinsic motivation.

Suggestions to Increase Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom

Independent thinking

Allow the student to work on a certain skill and report back to you how they have improved that skill. They can improve or change it any way that they think will help.

Provide choices

Children can be more intrinsically motivated if they have a say in how they are accomplishing a goal. Try not to make any activity a requirement. Offer various choices or let them create their own suggestions of how they can accomplish the goal or complete the task.

Power of positive thinking

Having an “I can” attitude can help tremendously and build up a student’s confidence. Check out the Positive Mindset bundle.

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Cooperative learning

Students may feel more motivated when they can work with other students to help or teach them a skill.

Ask questions

Encourage students to think for themselves rather than provide answers to them. For example – what suggestions do you have to increase your handwriting speed? Read more on executive functioning and questions here.

Keep it fun with some competition

Most kids like to win and feel a sense of pride when they do. Therapeutic activities or academic material can be intertwined with games.

Shoot for your personal best

If the students in your classroom struggle with competition, don’t compare abilities to others but rather that each student improves each time. Teach the student to track his/her own goals to visually represent improvements over time. Check out My Goal Tracker for student-generated data collection.

Plan together

Ask the student how they would like to reach a goal? Explain what options are available and plan together what may work best.

Educate the student

When you are working on a certain activity, explain to the student why you are doing that specific activity or learning new material and how it will help him/her in their everyday life.

Teach self-direction and independence

Everyone feels a larger sense of accomplishment when you are able to do something all by yourself. Many students struggle with planning and organizing their school assignments and tasks. If you need strategies and methods to help structure, guide, and support student self-direction and independence in the areas of organization, time management and planning (executive functioning skills), check out this Planning, Time Management, and Organization Skills bundle.

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Get your 6 FREE Executive Functioning Worksheets from the Planning, Time Management, and Organization Skills bundle.

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How to encourage intrinsic motivation
“If you do a good job, you get a [fill in reward here].” Sound familiar?

We’ve been led by carrots and sticks our whole lives — or at least I have.

If you eat your broccoli, you can have dessert. If you turnover the ball less than 5 times, you don’t have to run sprints. If you meet your sales quota, you get a bonus.

But we’ve been fed lies.

Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us details the research that shows that those kinds of extrinsic rewards just don’t work — in fact, they can be lethal to motivation.

Why extrinsic motivation doesn’t work

Self-determination theory, a psychological theory of motivation “concerned with supporting our natural or intrinsic tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways,” holds that humans have three innate psychological needs:

  1. Competence
  2. Autonomy
  3. Relatedness

That’s why the goals people set for themselves are generally healthy, Pink’s research concludes. These goals are usually in line with their values and help them work toward mastery.

Therefore, “[r]ewards, by their very nature, narrow our focus,” explains Pink. “That’s helpful when there’s a clear path to a solution. They help us stare ahead and race faster.”

But when we’re specifically talking about right-brain creative goals and we try to lead others to a determined end-destination by way of carrot and stick, the external motivator usually squashes any intrinsic motivation.

When the concentration shifts from enhancing one’s skills to getting that carrot, a bunch of other problems can come up:

  • Diminished performance
  • Crushed creativity
  • Cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior
  • Short-term thinking

If we’re just trying to get the carrot, it’s likely we’re not seeing how this challenge plays into the bigger picture, thus we’re not likely growing from it.

How to intrinsically motivate others (and yourself)

“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another,” writes Pink. “And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.”

Friends, siblings, children, employees, significant others — all identifiers long to be connected to one another but in control of their own lives.

So let go of the reigns a little bit. Don’t micromanage. Try not to nag. Live and let live — meet those humans where they are, instead of demanding that they end up at your same destination.

We can hope and dream for others, but we cannot ‘do’ for them without crippling their autonomy. Recognize them as a fellow human and respect their humanity by giving them the room for their decisions to breathe and their lessons to be learned.

You can model thorough discernment practices and a growth mindset, and you can even pray for them. But trying to lead them by carrot and stick might actually have negative effects.

As far as motivating yourself, if-then rewards are less likely to get you to your end destination than if you make it an effort to achieve mastery and integrate it into your daily habits.

Get creative and enjoy the journey — don’t focus so much on the destination, because when you get there, your more meaningful success will be the person you’ve become on the way to meeting your goal, not just what the carrot might have been.

So next time you’re setting a goal for a creative task (or asking someone else to accomplish something), focus on three essential elements:

  1. Autonomy — allow room (for yourself and others) to direct the way in which you/they achieve the goal
  2. Mastery — capitalize on the urge to get and be better at something that matters
  3. Purpose — acknowledge the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

If your motivational efforts are allowing you (1) to direct your own life (and allowing others to direct theirs) while (2) trying to expand your abilities (3) within the context of living a life of purpose, you’re well on your way to retaining your intrinsic motivation and to accomplishing your goals.

where music teachers share real-world tips

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Think for a moment, what motivates you to achieve goals and complete tasks? What motivates you to practice? To write lesson plans? To do the dishes? To want to be a good teacher? To keep reading this post? Some of these answers are easy, while others may be more difficult to articulate. One key component of our job as teachers is to guide our students in developing the motivation it takes to persist and excel through challenging or unappealing tasks (including practicing). However, if it can be difficult for us to pinpoint what exactly motivates ourselves, how can we even begin to know how to develop that motivation in our students?

Two Types of Motivation

Let’s start with a quick review of two basic types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation, in its most basic form, refers to completing a task in order to earn a reward or avoid a punishment. Extrinsic motivators are highly reinforcing, and work great with young students or students who are early in their development of a particular skill. The problem is that for most students the extrinsic motivation source doesn’t hold the same value over time. While the promise of a sticker for practicing line #35 of the method book may encourage the student to practice for a few weeks, eventually the sticker reward will not be enough to keep the student practicing.

Many times the reason students initially join our ensembles is due to some sort of external motivator. Take the example of a student who joins orchestra because several members of their peer group have decided to join. This is as good of a reason as any other to join the ensemble, but what happens when members of the peer group begin to lose interest in participating, or even consider dropping out of the ensemble? If the only motivational source for that student to participate is the reinforcement of being with his or her peer group, then when the peer group (an extrinsic motivator) disappears from the ensemble, so does that student.

The goal for us is to get our students hooked on what we are offering in our ensemble, so that when those external motivators fade away, as some eventually will, our students will have developed the intrinsic motivation to continue on. Students who are intrinsically motivated participate in tasks for reasons such as curiosity, challenge, and mastery, and are primarily positively reinforced by what they gain in personal growth, instead of an external reward. We will look at how getting to know our students, engagement, and student-centered approaches all play a role in the development of intrinsic motivation.

Get to Know Your Students!

Getting to know your students is the first and most important step in encouraging the growth of intrinsic motivation. We can likely all agree that every student in our ensemble is important. We know this to be true when contest is two weeks away and we are pleading with our students to match pitch and articulation within each section. But the idea that all students are important has to go beyond the function of creating a musical product.

Students come to us with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. In order to figure out what motivates students, we have to take the time to understand who each student is. One quick way to begin this process is by asking students to answer the following questions at the beginning of the school year:

  • Why did they join your ensemble?
  • What do they love about being in your ensemble?

If you are really brave you might even ask students:

  • What do you dislike about being in the ensemble?

Knowing this information gives you insight into why your students made the choice to participate in your ensemble. It can also help you to identify where students are in the development of intrinsic motivation. What’s more, it presents an opportunity for students to have a voice as part of the large ensemble.

In addition to the questions listed above, take the time to listen, show concern, ask about their interests, dreams, etc. Building these relationships with students can help us create experiences in our environments that are tailored toward student interest, allowing for more connection between the students’ worlds and the musical and extra-musical goals we have for them.


Student engagement is defined as “ the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught.” 1 This is very different from the idea of compliance in learning. With compliance, students participate in learning and complete performance tasks, but the tasks are routine and do not encourage students to make connections with the learning process. With engagement, students take ownership through active and authentic learning strategies that are determined based on students needs and goals. Students can experience engagement through several different modalities including intellectual, emotional, behavioral, physical, social, and cultural engagement. 2

Because our students can experience engagement with music in a variety of ways, this may require us to go beyond the traditional stand-on-the-podium-and-give-information approach to teaching our ensemble. The addition of small changes in our teaching approach can greatly increase student engagement in the ensemble. Examples of these kinds of powerful changes can include encouraging student discovery of concepts, intentional questioning, offering learning activities that provide opportunities for cooperation and collaboration, and integrating technology.

Engage students with inspiring repertoire and accompaniments. Try SmartMusic for free.

Student-Centered Learning Approach

Using a student-centered teaching approach goes hand-in-hand with increasing engagement in the ensemble. The foundation of a student-centered approach is that knowledge is constructed by the student by connecting new experiences and knowledge with previous experiences and knowledge. In a student-centered approach, students have the opportunity to actively participate in the learning process, as opposed to receiving information from the teacher. This type of approach turns the teacher into a facilitator of learning experiences rather than the giver of knowledge.

One key component of the student-centered approach is the development of solid foundational skills. Having these skills can help students build confidence in their abilities. In conjunction with the teaching of foundational skills, teachers need to guide students on how to think about the development of these skills. Sharing with students the specific technical and musical goals for the ensemble – and the timeline and sequence for learning – provides transparency for the students and allows them to participate in the teaching and the learning process. When we use a student-centered approach, we are empowering students to take (safe) risks and responsibility for their learning.

Final Thoughts

Cultivating intrinsic motivation in our students is a process that requires individualized preparation and sustained effort. This can feel like a huge responsibility and an overwhelming task when you may see hundreds of students each day. However, in truly getting to know our students and inviting them to be part of the learning process, we open the doors for them to develop a motivational connection between music and their lives, that will have long-lasting effects far beyond the music classroom.

What’s the best way to motivate children? The intrinsic motivation to learn about the world around us begins in infancy. This type of motivation can either be encouraged or suppressed by the experiences adults provide for children. Psychological research points to a set of promising approaches that parents and practitioners can use to promote positive motivation and learning during development.

Follow babies’ lead.

Babies naturally orient toward novel objects and events. They look away from objects that are overly familiar, but also from new ones that are too complex. This is sometimes called the “Goldilocks effect:” things are interesting when they are novel, but not too novel. When interacting with infants, notice what they pay attention to, and engage with them around their interests.

Elicit curiosity.

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Even infants seek to explore objects—especially those that behave in surprising ways. When they drop something on the floor or throw it, they’re trying to see what will happen next. Provide children with opportunities to interact with new objects—and let them lead and learn!

Encourage children’s playful exploration.

When given the opportunity, children of all ages spontaneously engage in play. The ingredients of play are precisely the ones that fuel learning: play is intrinsically motivating, it presents an opportunity for novel experiences and for learning from others, it requires active engagement, and it can strengthen social bonds and reduce stress. When life is busy or chaotic, it can be hard to find the time and space to encourage children’s play, but this is an important aspect of development.

Prioritize social interaction during learning.

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

In the digital age, there are many educational, computer-based applications designed for children, even as young as 6 months. However, even the best-designed and most effective apps cannot replace real-life social interactions with adults and peers. In one study, babies learned elements of language more effectively when face-to-face with a teacher or on video. Recent research shows that young children can learn from digital media, such as touch-screen tablets, but social interaction during this learning experience appears to be essential.

Challenge children just enough.

Kids are motivated to work toward achievable goals. From infancy onward, effort is required to sustain motivation, but success must be possible. They lose motivation when a task is too easy, but also when it is so difficult as to be insurmountable. Video games harness this basic principle of learning effectively, constantly increasing the level of challenge based on an individual child’s performance. Try to adapt a challenge according to a child’s current capabilities, and provide prompt feedback on his or her performance.

Give children agency.

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Children are more motivated when they have some degree of self-determination, and can elect to pursue tasks that are personally meaningful. When they have a choice of projects, or at least a little wiggle room as to how a task gets done, children are more likely to stay engaged.

Provide incentives only when necessary.

When children are suddenly rewarded for something they enjoy and do freely, they may begin to do it only when they know they will be compensated afterwards. Wherever possible, harness children’s natural curiosity and inclination to work toward an achievable goal, rather than promising a reward.

Praise the process rather than the outcome.

When we praise children for their intellect or skill level—or the grade or gold medal they received—it can lead to a performance orientation. They may be motivated to achieve more rewards, but they may also learn to shy away from challenging activities that they might not excel at, for fear of negative evaluation. Performance pressure increases as children move up in school, and it is associated with depression and anxiety in addition to diminished joy of learning. When we praise children for their effort and help them see falling short as an opportunity to learn and improve (rather than simply focus on the outcome), they will be more motivated to work hard and more likely to believe that they can achieve what they put their mind to.

Maintain a close connection with adolescents.

How to encourage intrinsic motivation

Adolescence is a period when many young people take risks and push boundaries. This trend reflects, in large part, a natural inclination toward novel and exciting experiences that maximize learning opportunities and are important in making the transition to independence. As teens become more motivated by the approval of their peers, it can be socially rewarding to follow risk-taking leaders or stand out by breaking boundaries. However, teens with close family relationships are less prone to risk-taking. High parental support and open dialogue are associated with fewer problem behaviors, including less substance abuse and delinquency. Be empathetic and supportive, knowing that youth are going through changes in their brains, bodies, and social relations that can make risky behavior appealing to them. Keep the lines of communication open—and keep close tabs on teens.