Using intrinsic motivation in the classroom

Topic: Using Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom


Owing to the importance of intrinsic motivation to the life of an individual, it is of interest particularly to educational psychologists; hence it’s the major concern of this research paper. The paper gives a brief introduction on the concept of motivation, motives, theories that describe the principle of motivation, types and classification of motives, types of motivation namely intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. It further gives a brief historical background of intrinsic motivation, literature review on major findings on intrinsic motivation, and current issues on the topic touching on traits of people who are intrinsically motivated. A comprehensive summary of how the concept of intrinsic motivation can be applied in an elementary school classroom environment to enhance the Teaching/Learning process is further given.
I.0 Introduction

Being the driving force behind all individuals’ behavior, the study of motivation has been of particular interest to psychologists. Motivation refers to arousal or tendency to act in producing an effect. According to Hayamizu, T (1997), Myer (1990) defines motivation as: The motives, needs or desires that serve to energize behavior directing it towards a goal. It can also be defined as those phenomenons which are involved in stimulation of action towards particular objectives where previously, there was little or no interest or movement towards those goals. Motivation is therefore more or less a hypothetical concept ingrained in an individual.

Motivation arises from ‘motives’ which may be defined as the factors which energize behavior directing it towards a goal. It is motives that arouse an organism to engage in any activity and to sustain interest for a given period of time in that particular activity. It is motives that directs and regulate behavior towards a goal. Examples of classification of motives include: Cognitive motives which refer to the motives within an individual directed by values, goals and principles. Self expression motives are those directing an individual primarily to acquire adequate knowledge, develop the ability to master and solve problems pertaining to a given concept. Affiliative motives are those that bring about the desire to establish, maintain or restore relationships which may be a friendly or affectionate relationship or the need for approval and co-operation with others. Others include physiological and achievement motives, Bénabou,R & Tirole, J. (2003).

Several theories have been advanced in the understanding of the principle of motivation. Developed by B.F Skinner, the Behaviorist perspective emphasizes that people are motivated by the need to obtain reinforces and to avoid punishment. This perspective therefore advocates for the use of rewards and incentives as a form of reinforcement. The Humanistic perspective developed by Abraham Maslow states that people are motivated by conscious desire for [1]personal growth. Maslow believed that humans have the inherent desire and the capacity to self actualize which is a self initiated striving for one to become whatever one believes he is capable of being, Bateman, S.T (2008).

There are two principal types of motivation, namely Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation result from externally elicited rewards such as better salary, prestige, power. Conversely, intrinsic motivation comes from within an individual. One derives pleasure from the activity or task he is engaged in making it internal.

Brief History of Intrinsic Motivation

Much effort was put into the study of intrinsic motivation in the 20th century; however Bateman, S.T. 2005, asserts that the emergence of the concept of intrinsic motivation can be traced back to the times and works of B.F skinner. During this period, most professional psychologists advocated for behavior modification programs as a way of coercing individual to adopt a desired behavior. These programs largely advocated for the use of external reward and punishment. The emergence of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation as opposing concepts continued to be seen by most researchers as they sought to establish the extent to which internal orientation and drives affected performance in comparison to external manipulations. There has been historical controversy on whether extrinsic motivation undermines intrinsic motivation, Bateman, S.T (2008).

II Literature Review

According to Bénabou,R & Tirole, J. (2003), psychologists have generally accepted the two broad classification of motivation; the extrinsic and the intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation result from externally elicited rewards such as better salary, prestige, power. People are therefore compelled to act by external factors. In a classroom setting the reason for doing work is outside the learner. A learner’s behavior is therefore shaped by a variety of reward systems. In most cases, learners pay attention to the rewards and not what they are learning, Lepper,M. Iyengar, S.S & Corpus, J.H (2005). The learners’ primary concern would therefore be to maximize on the rewards by meting the standards set by the governing authority rather than act voluntarily for his own self fulfillment. The learners may not therefore value what they learn hence may just do it for the sake the reward. Punishment which is cohesive power may also be used as an external motivator. This may lead to learners developing a hatred of the system as a result of punishment making them to become inattentive and learning is tainted, Calumet(2008) . Intrinsic motivation comes from within an individual. One derives pleasure from the activity or task he is engaged in making it internal. In a learning environment, the learner works by him/her self, therefore he/she constantly seek knowledge for its inherent value.  Some of the internal motivators put forth by psychologists include; need for responsibility, achievement, self challenge, variety, curiosity, need for control, fantasy, and competition with others. It therefore has positive results, Calumet (2008).

The general traits of people who are intrinsically motivated are similar to those of high achievers. According to Bateman, S.T (2008), research carried out on 833 respondents in different occupations revealed a high positive correlation between intrinsic motivation and high achievement, (r=0.4). This high positive correlation is an indication that intrinsically motivated individuals are likely to be high achievers.   These individuals do best in competitive situations. Most of them are fairly fast learners. They are also self confident leading to development of competency. They take responsibilities willingly hence they do not see responsibility as a form of punishment. They are relatively resistant to social pressure as they are actively pursuing their goals.

Intrinsically motivated individuals are also energetic and self driven. Their main focus is the achievement of their goals. They therefore set realistic and challenging goals for themselves and set out to achieve them. Hayamizu, T (1997).

Efficacy and adequacy are increased in an intrinsically motivated state of behavior. Intrinsic motivation thus makes behavior selective as it is a state within an organism that activates the organism towards a goal. Intrinsically motivated learners have been found to have high levels of self efficacy, Lepper,M. Iyengar, S.S & Corpus, J.H (2005)According to Calumet(2008), intrinsic motivation gives rise to achievement motives. These refer to the desire to complete challenging tasks successfully. In most cases, high levels of intrinsic motivation leads to excellence as one actively seeks success or achievement of a high status of recognition.

Intrinsic motivation should be developed within a classroom early in life. When developed in the elementary stages of life, learners develop internal [2]drives which enable them to always attain pleasure in learning. As opposed to extrinsic motivation where learners would be doing things based on external factors.

Teachers can enhance the development of intrinsic form of motivation by limiting the rewards. The reward system is common in many American Classrooms. Besides, most education systems advocate for good grades in examinations and other tests.

            According to Lepper,M. Iyengar, S.S & Corpus, J.H (2005), research carried out by various researchers indicate that learners’ intrinsic motivation decreases as one becomes older.  This may be attributed to, a shift in priorities, peer influence, increased levels of anxiety, truancy, and learning disabilities which are age related. Their commitment to class work and to their desired goals decreases. These factors, which are an indication of the decline in intrinsic motivation, may directly lead to a decline in achievement. This could be evidenced by increased cases of indiscipline, decline in academic performance evidenced by failing grades, truancy all of which may eventually lead to dropping out of school before graduation. Despite one having the ability and intelligence to succeed he/she may be unable or unwilling to apply these abilities in the school setting due to lack of intrinsic motivation.  It is therefore necessary that as a learner advances in his/her academics, programs which encourage the development of intrinsic motivation should be adopted.

III. Implementation

The application of principles of motivation in classroom situations has been of interest to educational psychologists. This is because; motivation plays a crucial in the success or failure of a learner in a classroom setting. Motivation will particularly affect a learner’s response to a particular subject, teacher, other learners and the learning process as a whole.

Intrinsic motivation is particularly associated with high educational achievement. Learners who are intrinsically motivated set standards towards a particular goal and work hard towards their achievement. Intrinsically motivated learners may certainly perform better in school as they have interest in schoolwork and have great desire to master skill and knowledge in schools.

As a teacher of elementary school learners, I should be able to assist learners to avoid failure by giving them tasks which they are capable of performing. This enhances their self concept and self respect. It also raises their self esteem, which naturally enables them to develop intrinsic motivation. I should also help learners to set short and long-term goals. Short term goals would help the learners in the mastery of topics during the progress of learning. The long-term goals on the other end would assist learners in passing examinations and in attainment of good grades.

Provision of relevant, immediate and meaningful feedback to learners would help my learners develop intrinsic motivation. Feedback encourages learners to strive harder; besides, they are able to gain important insight on their strengths and weaknesses. Learners will therefore, work to constantly improve themselves.

Allowing each learner to experience some amount of success in my class would enable every learner to set his/her goals in future tasks based on internalized principles that he/she is capable of executing a certain behavior or reaching certain goals. I should therefore encourage learners to perform tasks where they have high chances of succeeding. Teach in a meaningful purposeful way encouraging learners to plan their class activities, do assignments themselves without overlying on external supervision. Assure learners that they can be successful reminding them of the success of other learners like them.

By making Teaching/Learning interesting, enjoyable and entertaining, learners are able to develop equilibrium or competence from within rather than overly relying on external rewards. The more learners are motivated internally, the less the motivation I have to provide as a teacher should also make learning practical by relating learned information to real life situations. This I can achieve through the use of diagrams, charts, outlines and other learning resources.

As a teacher the use intrinsic motives such as curiosity, competence, interest, need to achieve, would help my learners to see relationships between information leading to better understanding. I should also rehearse important points and ask questions before and during the lesson. This would make me effectively prepared for my lessons well in advance so as to show competence during the lesson. Competence elicits interest on a learner enabling them to internalize the desire to learn hence developing intrinsic motivation. I should also encourage distributed practice as a way of study for my learners as opposed to mass practice (cramming). Distributed practice is a sign of intrinsic motivation as learners study even in the absence of an examination or other form of assessment. This would naturally leads to better grades, as learners practice over time.

Drives arising from within an individual are important as it controls the effort put in place by a learner in a particular subject. Learners engage in activities in which they derive pleasure and enjoyment. It would encourage them to face challenges and any obstacles in achieving their goals. It is therefore necessary for a teacher to establish a learning oriented environment which would focus learner’s attention. This would in turn lead remembrance of particular objects or objectives.

Using class discussions in my class would provide learners with vital information about their abilities in comparison with other learner. An intrinsically motivated learner would strive to master academic concepts on his/her own rather than rely on the teacher. I can use intrinsic motivation to develop interest within learners. This can be set by encouraging independence in a classroom rather than letting learners over depend on the teacher’s guidance. This would enable a learner to gain interest in the study of a topic, mastering it leading to achievement of good grades. In a classroom setting, a motivated learner is driven by interest rather than desire to please a teacher.

IV. Conclusion

From the above discussion, it is evident that intrinsic motivation is the key to educational success. Intrinsically motivated individuals are responsible in their work, independent, energetic, self driven, focus on achievement of goals, set realistic and challenging goals, are better problem solvers and above all perform better in school than other learners, Tickle, Stella (2001). All educational systems should adopt its principles as the major form of motivation in schools. However, the achievement of intrinsic motivation will surely take time owing to the established trends of extrinsic contingencies and incentives in many Classrooms.

 As a teacher, I need to develop intrinsic behavior in my learners in all my subjects by giving students what they are capable of doing, helping them set short and long term goals, providing immediate and meaningful feedback on any form of evaluation, allowing my students to experience some amount of success, making my lessons practical, interesting, enjoyable and entertaining, encouraging my students to use distributed practice rather than mass practice and encouraging class discussion as a method of learning. It is evident that constructive behavior should be determined by our thinking and inner beings and not rewards and punishment. Emphasis should therefore be placed on intrinsic motivation because of its inherent values.

1. Bateman, S.T (2008). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. Current Directions in Psychological Science, Volume 9, Issue 1, Page 22-25
2. Bénabou,R & Tirole, J. (2003) Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. Review of Economic Studies, Volume 70, Issue 3, Page 489-520.
3. Calumet(2008) Intrinsic motivation. Retrieved from the net on 1/06/08 from:
4. Hayamizu, T (1997) Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Examination of Reasons for Academic Study based on the Theory of Internalization
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5. Lepper,M. Iyengar, S.S & Corpus, J.H (2005) Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivational Orientations in the Classroom: Age Differences and Academic Correlates. Journal of Educational Psychology,Vol.97, No.2,184-196.
6. Tickle, Stella (2001) Learning styles; Students; Research. Journal of Kybernetes, Vol.30, No. 7/8, 955-969.

[1]              The perspective emphasizes the intrinsic sources of motivation.
[2]              These may at times be lifelong.

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