- Evidence Snacks
- Motivational handover
Transitioning from extrinsic to intrinsic
How’s tricks? This week, we’re starting a new series on rewards and motivation. Let’s go…
Big idea 🍉
Are rewards good or bad for learning? Well, it depends. To understand why, we need to dive into the 2 main sources of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic motivation is when we are driven to learn because we value the thing itself. We love rock music and play guitar for hours every day without any prompting.
Extrinsic motivation is when the source is something other than the thing itself (such as a bribe, token, or even teacher praise). We practice the guitar because we get some pocket money as a result.
Both sources of motivation can influence behaviour and learning. However, the nature of their effects differ over time.
Intrinsic motivation tends to be long-lasting and can even compound over time. Like a ball rolling down a hill, the better we get at a subject, the more we want to learn about it. However, intrinsic motivation often takes time to accrue.
By contrast, extrinsic motivators have a faster-acting effect, but one that is also much shorter-lived. When we remove a reward, student motivation immediately returns to original levels.
Or… worse still, for students who initially had a degree of intrinsic motivation, motivation levels can return to below the baseline (as their brain does some unconscious re-calculus and decided that the thing must be less valuable than originally anticipated).
So, where does this leave schools?
Well, none of this would be an issue if students showed up to school with high levels of intrinsic motivation from the start. However, that's not the case. The stuff we teach in school is simply not naturally motivating for many students.
Which is where extrinsic forms of motivation come in—they are great at quickly getting the ball rolling, which can, over time, be used to build intrinsic motivation via repeated success, growth in knowledge, and sustained immersion in a positive culture.
In theory, the ideal would be to transition off extrinsic sources as intrinsic motivation grows. A kind of motivational handover.
However, this is not straightforward to implement in practice, partly because students differ in their motivation profiles, and partly because consistency in whole-school approaches is so important. That said, student motivation is also pretty important, and so it's worth trying to optimise where we can.
In the coming Snacks, we'll look at ways we can use extrinsic rewards effectively, but for now, it's just important to grasp the core principle here: as the ball develops its own momentum, we should (ideally) push less.
Challenge → How are rewards deployed in your school and classroom? Is there scope to engage in some kind of motivational handover?
Little links 🥕
On topic → For more, check out this review on the neuroscience of intrinsic motivation, and this article exploring the potential problems of extrinsic motivators.
On trend → This week, we have a new paper on the benefits of goal-setting for improving writing, and a study exploring how we can help new teachers to ‘see better’ in the classroom.
PRO bites 🥑
Look after yourselves.