Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations

People, not just students, do many things in their lives. Education, work, hobbies, sports, families, relationships, leisurely activities are just a number of these. The list could continue, but I am sure you can fill in the blanks. But why do we do these things? Usually the motivation behind these activities is divided into two categories, intrinsic and extrinsic.

Today we are going to look at what the difference is, what some examples are, and why these things are important. There is an enormous discussion to be had, but I am hoping to write an eBook to combat these issues, so stay tuned. However, today, there is a lot to talk about, so we should probably get going.


Intrinsic motivation could be described as a God-send for teachers everywhere, and for very good reasons, too. A student with intrinsic motivation, essentially, has a strong desire to learn, for the sake of learning. Their inquisitive nature is such that regardless of the reward for completing a task, they find it enjoyable, assuming they already have an interest. These students often outperform their extrinsically motivated peers, due to their fondness for going beyond the curriculum.

Different theorists have defined intrinsic motivation differently. Some believe that it comes in one form, and one form only. Combs (1982), and Purkey & Stanley (1991), among others, describe it as the motivation to do things which improves or manages a person’s perception of himself. The majority of theorists maintain that intrinsic motivation is why people do things, without the persuasion of external influences.


Extrinsic motivation is intrinsic motivation’s not-so-good friend, because although they are linked inseparably, no one really likes him. Extrinsic motivation for a task comes from outside, from external factors. As a student, you probably go to class, study, and put effort into your assignments so that you can get a good grade, pass university, get a good job, and earn a lot of money. Alternatively, your parents are extremely strict, and push you to do well. I am not here to say that either of these reasons is ‘bad’, that is not the point of this post.

Reinforcement and punishment are the cornerstones of extrinsic motivations. If you complete x, you will receive y in return, and if you do not complete x, you will be punished by z, are statements commonly heard, and not just in the classroom. If this is why you start and finish things, you are extrinsically motivated to finish said tasks.

How can it help?

We have talked about writing in a learning journal, and we will probably talk more about self-evaluation in the future, so I will not go into too much detail now, but the reasons why you do things are very important in these processes. Knowing why you do things can help improve your entire life, not only academically.  For starters, you can tell if you are living your life the way you want to. Not all forms of extrinsic motivation are bad, but if you are only studying medicine because it is what your parents want, you are probably not going to be a very enthusiastic learner.

If you are not feeling very enthusiastic about your classes, extra-curricular activities, or job, then you really need to figure out why. The reasons can range from losing touch with your reasons for taking part, never really enjoying the task from the word go, or having trouble with what the activity asks of you. But if you do not know what the problem is, there is no way you are going to fix it.

I want to go into the last paragraph more, but I believe it is too deep to go into in a blog post. I hope to develop it more in my eBook. Let me know what you think of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Can you see how you are being motivated to do everyday things? Do you think these are good reasons, or not-so-good? Like always, let me know in the comments.

Before you go, I have a bit of homework for you. Don’t groan, you’re reading an educational blog, what did you expect? I want you to write down everything you do: school courses, extra-curricular activities, jobs, anything. Then write down why you do those things, and categorize them into intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Is there anything unexpected?


By the way, sorry about all the mentions of an eBook. I hope I didn't hold too much information back. I just don't want to repeat any information because that's really annoying. Anyway, the eBook will be totally free, so you don't have to worry about that. Sorry again.


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About Katie Walker

Hey, I'm a student. I'm into web development, so currently I'm working on my blog, a few Tumblr themes, and a few web apps for various purposes. It's exciting stuff.

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