Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation (Complete Guide)

intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation definitions and examples

“To be motivated means to be moved to do something.” (Ryan & Deci, 2000, p. 54)

This post provides 18+ examples of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in the classroom.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation Theory:

  • Extrinsic Motivation: A person with extrinsic motivation wants to do a task in order to receive a reward or avoid a punishment.
  • Intrinsic Motivation: A person with intrinsic motivation wants to do a task for the pleasure involved in doing the task itself.

Part 1 contains extrinsic motivation examples in the classroom; Part 2 contains intrinsic motivation examples in the classroom.

Read Also: A List of 107 Effective Classroom Teaching Strategies

intrinsic vs extrinsic moitvation infographic

* The cartoon in this infographic uses a GaphicMama License for reproduction. The original graphic is available to view here: Mr Geekson Set.

Extrinsic Motivation and Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic Motivation Examples

Some examples of extrinsic motivation include:

1. Token Reward Systems

In Harry Potter, students have house points. There are four houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. Each student is sorted into a house on their first day at Hogwarts.

For the rest of the series, Harry and his friends want to win points for Gryffindor: their house!

These points are an extrinsic motivator. The house point system is designed to give a student an incentive to do something well. Do a good job, and you will earn points which may – if you collect more of them than your opponents – win the prize at the end of the year!

In classrooms in the earlier years of schooling, reward systems are often used based on table groups. Let’s say a class is split up into tables like in the below image:

table groups for classroom reward systems

Each table might get given a name. Then, the teacher can give and take points from the table to encourage the students on each table to compete against each other to become the best.

2. Classroom Sticker / Star Charts

Another good external motivator is a star chart. Star charts are really common in early years classrooms as motivators.

Young kids love stickers!

Buy a sticker chart from Teachers Pay Teachers or make one yourself! Here’s two common ways they’re done:

  • If you’ve got one personal chart per student, list the weekly or daily tasks down the left-hand side. Once the child has completed the task, they can put a sticker alongside the task name.
  • If you’ve got one chart for the whole class, list all the students’ names down the left-hand side and let the students race to have the most stickers in the class.

3. Food!

Heck, why not? Food is a great motivator for students.

In fact, I recommend to my college students that they use food to motivate themselves while studying.

If you’re an educator, you’ll need to be careful not to use unhealthy foods or foods that children are allergic to.

I used to offer small treats in my classrooms before I got more conscious of healthy diets for children. I also realized that some parents might not have been very happy if they knew I was handing out candies in class!

But, for you or for your children, feel free to have a go at using food as a motivator – just please do it in moderation!

If you want to know about other motivators for studying as a college student, you might want to check out this post I have on how to make studying fun.

4. Guilt Trips

Heck, being guilted into doing things was my modus operandi as a kid!

Guilt trips are a form of ‘negative reinforcement’ (a reminder that if you fail, you’ll lose something you like).

I wasn’t going to get anything tangible out of being good as a kid. No one was going to give me a candy or a toy.

I was just really scared of having my parents change their opinions of me.

I see this guilt trip reinforcement in ‘good kids’ at school all the time. Children see themselves as ‘good kids’ and don’t want to lose that. So, they do things they don’t want to do in order to keep up a reputation they have with their teacher.

This isn’t an intrinsic motivator because students aren’t necessarily doing things out of the pleasure of the task. They’re doing something they don’t want in order to get something out of it – in this case, a reputation of being ‘good’.

5. Game-Based Learning Rewards

Educational computer games are well-known for being based upon extrinsic motivators. When students finish a level they win tokens, points or ‘level ups’ for completing their tasks.

Examples of this are in educational games like DuoLingo (a language learning app) and Kahn Academy (mostly for mathematics learning).

In DuoLingo, you can level up towards a ‘Fluency Level’ in your language. In Kahn Academy, virtual stickers are used to reward your avatar.

Another way educational computer games reward students is through sound and graphics:

  • Loud sounds when a student wins an activity stimulate the learner and make them want to try again to get the same stimulation once again. This is a lot like how a gambling machine in a casino gets you coming back for more!
  • Bright flashing lights that attract learners’ attention can also be used to get learners addicted to the thrill of winning.

These are still extrinsic motivators because students are playing the games to achieve the extraneous stimulation of gameplay, not for the fun of the activities themselves.

6. The Premack Principle

infographic defining the premack principle

The Premack Principle argues that people will do an activity they don’t want to do if they are bribed with a more desirable activity that follows.

The Premack Principle is often known as grandma’s rule:

“Eat your vegetables and then you can have your dessert.”

In the classroom, teachers often bribe students with a fun activity as the last activity at the end of the day or week. If students do all of their work well throughout the day (without misbehaving!) they might get to play a game of their choice.

(I also discuss the Premack Principle in this article on staying awake while studying and this article on focusing while studying).

7. Praise

Praise is simple, but it works. Really well.

Students often crave your praise and will work on a task they aren’t necessarily all that interested in if they think they will get some praise from it.

However, teachers should also think about what is actually praiseworthy.

Here are some forms of praise that could be demotivating:

  • Praising too much. If you praise too much, then the praise will lose all its meaning and students will stop seeing your praise as all that motivating.
  • Disproportionate Praise. If you praise one child more than others, the other children will stop seeing your praise as genuine. Often we have children who misbehave regularly and we end up lowering our standards for them. We find ourselves praising them for tasks that should be expected! Instead, go with a simple ‘thank you’ for tasks that are expected.

Here are some forms of praise to consider:

  • A smile and nod. Sometimes simple is best. Your student will be made to feel like you’ve given them a special little bit of recognition without being insincere or over-the-top about it.
  • Proportionate praise. Make sure your students know that high praise is hard to come by, but use it when something is genuinely praiseworthy. If a student amazes you, consider calling a student’s parents and let them know how well they did.

8. Threats of Physical Punishment

No, I’m not advocating physical punishment.

In fact, in most western countries physical or ‘corporal’ punishment is very much illegal in schools.

But nonetheless, it’s an example of an extrinsic motivator. If a child knows or believes they will receive physical punishment for doing something wrong (or getting a low mark on an exam) they might work extra hard to succeed!

Harsh punishments may cause emotional, physical and psychological harm. So, I don’t advocate it!

9. Threats to Remove Privileges

Here are some common sorts of privileges teachers give to students at schools:

  • Being allowed to do tasks only assigned to trustworthy students, such as handing out worksheets or being sent to another classroom to send a message;
  • Being allowed to go on an end of year excursion;
  • Getting to use certain toys, play equipment or access to play areas.

Students who feel that they will have privileges removed if they do not complete a task, they may feel increased motivation to complete the task.

10. Whole Group Accountability

This is another one that works really well – but again, it needs to be done appropriately.

Here’s some times I feel this strategy works well:

  • When students need to work as a team in order to complete a task;
  • When interdependence and groupwork are clear aspects of the learning scenario;
  • When the reward is not of significant consequence.

Here’s some times the strategy causes resentment between students:

  • When one misbehaving student holds the whole class back, even though the rest of the students did nothing wrong;
  • When students genuinely tried their hardest but feel they’ve been punished for no reason.

Nonetheless, this can be a good way of getting the students to self-regulate as a group and apply peer pressure on each other to do well.

Use this strategy with care!

Related Motivation Theories:

Intrinsic Motivation Examples

Some examples of intrinsic motivation include:

1. Student-Led Inquiry Learning

Inquiry learning based on students’ personal interests can really liven up a classroom.

This is because students get the opportunity to explore topics that they’re genuinely interested in and excited about.

If you’ve got to stick to a curriculum, you might still be able to embrace student-led aspects by finding ways to link curriculum outcomes to students’ interests.

This approach requires teachers to know their students well and reflect on how they can cater their curriculum to the interests of students.

Start by asking your students what they want to learn about or what their passions are, then brainstorm ways to weave this into your curriculum.

2. Sparking Inspiration

Being inspired is one of the greatest motivators out there. And, the best thing is, it comes from within. You don’t need any rewards or punishments to inspire students. In fact, you need to take a completely different approach.

To inspire students about the content, you need to find ways to show how what the students are learning about is amazing, revolutionary or life-changing.

Inspired students see potential in educational topics.

Don’t underestimate how much young people are inspired by altruistic endeavors. Issues that inspire many young people around the world include climate change and environmental stewardship.

3. Promoting Task Satisfaction

One of the three types of extrinsic motivation that I outline later in this piece is motivation towards accomplishment. By this, we mean that people can have positive sensations when they feel like they completed a difficult task well.

To make a task satisfying, make sure that it’s not too easy and not too hard.

A great way to hit that sweet spot of making a task satisfying is to use Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.

According to Vygotsky, teachers should assess a student’s prior knowledge and develop a lesson that builds on the prior knowledge.

If the lesson teaches things the student already knows, they will be bored and unmotivated. But if the content is too hard, they’ll also be bored and unmotivated!

To solve this problem, Vygotsky proposes you should teach content that is too hard for a student to do alone, but easy enough for them to do with assistance:

use the zone of proximal development to inspire intrinsic motivation in students

4. Sparking Curiosity

We can’t always teach something that’s a student’s favorite subject. Sometimes content is a little bland or boring.

So, how do we instil intrinsic motivation in students when teaching this sort of content?

I recommend trying to spark a sense of curiosity in the students. Sometimes all you need is an engaging ‘hook’ to get students paying attention and genuinely interested in doing the task.

One way you could do this is to turn a lesson into a detective scenario. Provide clues and ask the students to seek their own answers.

Another way is to find some really interesting or catchy information about a topic. For example, if you’re teaching about spiders, you could find a really interesting fact about spiders’ legs or how many eyes they have. This might spark some curiosity in students.

A lot of these curiosity-sparking strategies are the sorts of strategies you might also use in the introduction to an essay to get a reader interested and wanting to read more.

5. Feeling Good after Practicing a Skill

Sometimes, it just feels good to practice.

I notice this most in my students who love mathematics. They’ll sit down and do some quizzes just because it feels great to flex those mathematical muscles!

Sometimes learning is like going to the gym. If you haven’t done it in a while, you’re not going to have fun. It will hurt, you’ll feel bad about yourself, and you might not go back for a while.

But once you’re on a role and doing it on a regular basic it starts feeling great.

Consider getting your students to do some mathematical exercises early every morning to get their minds running and get them in the process of practicing learning. Hopefully after time when they get on a roll, they’ll start feeling good about it!

6. Enjoying the Process of Learning

Some students just love learning – it’s that simple! It doesn’t matter what you give them to do, they’ll tackle the task with enthusiasm!

I think one of the most obvious examples of this is people who love to read self-help books (or listen to self-help podcasts!). These sorts of people just can’t get enough of information that will make them a little smarter or help them learn a few more tricks.

Trying to instil a love of learning in students is difficulty. Try to act as a role model, explain how learning has great benefits for you as a person, and show how your knowledge makes you a more interesting person to be around! Hopefully that will rub off on students and they’ll give learning a chance.

Another way to try to instil a love of learning is to help students get a few wins under their belt. Work with them to overcome intellectual challenges and celebrate with them when they achieve their learning goals. These wins will give students first-hand knowledge of the sense of accomplishment that comes from learning something new.

7. Enjoying working in Groups

Some of us hate group work. Some of us love it.

But working in groups can be a really intrinsically fulfilling way to learn. Social interaction is something most humans crave, making it an intrinsic reward in and of itself. It gives us benefits like:

  • An overall more positive outlook on life;
  • A sharper mind from being challenged by peers; and
  • A sense of belonging and community.

So, working in groups can be a great way to turn a difficult or bland task into one that is enjoyable to complete. The sense of community while completing the task can buoy us.

As Nick Morgan says on his Forbes article says:

“We want to achieve this state of human communion (…) We are most comfortable when we’re connected (and) sharing strong emotions and stories”

8. Wanting to beat your Personal Best

A desire for self-betterment comes from within. Sometimes it hasn’t got to do with wanting to be smart for when you talk to someone you have a crush on, or so you can get a job in the future.

Some of us just want to be our very best. In the humanist theory of learning, Maslow calls this the desire for self-actualization (see: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

Students who want to better themselves have an intrinsic desire to learn.

This is another example of ‘intrinsic motivation towards accomplishment’, which is one of the three types of intrinsic motivation I discuss later in this article.

Definition of Extrinsic Motivation

Simple Definition

An external motivator is a carrot or stick that entices us to do something that we otherwise would not.

Scholarly Definition

Here are some scholarly definitions you can quote in an essay:

  • The biggest names in motivation theories of the past few decades are Ryan and Deci (2000). They define extrinsic motivation as “doing something because it leads to a separable outcome” (p. 55).
  • “Extrinsic motivation (EM) refers to performance of behavior that is fundamentally contingent upon the attainment of an outcome that is separable from the action itself … It is performed in order to attain some other outcome. For instance, a teenager might wash dishes at home in order to receive an allowance.” (Legault, 2016, p. 1)
  • “Extrinsic motivation comes from external sources and is mostly driven or forced by environmental contingencies such as money, good grades, or the approval of others.” (Sogunro, 2015, p. 23)

Simple Explanation

‘Extrinsic’ has the same origins as the word ‘external’. Extrinsic motivators are therefore things that are external to ourselves that motivate us. Our extrinsic motivation doesn’t come from inside of us. Rather, the motivation is based on an outsider providing an external stimulus.

An external stimulus could be one of the following:

  • Positive Reinforcement: We do a task in order to get a reward. An example might be getting a chocolate for completing a task.
  • Punishment: We do a task in order to avoid being given a punishment. A punishment might be being forced to do extra homework if we don’t complete the task.
  • Negative Reinforcement: We do a task in order to avoid losing something we already have. This is a form of punishment, but instead of being given a punishment such as additional homework, a privilege is taken from us. An example is losing play time during lunch break.

Pros and Cons

Some of the benefits of extrinsic motivation are:

  • Students find encouragement to complete tasks that are uninteresting yet necessary;
  • Tasks can be split into regular, manageable intervals with rewards provided intermittently throughout the process;
  • Can be very effective, especially for students with autism via the Applied Behaviour Management strategy of teaching;
  • It is a transactional way to motivate people, where there is no pretence about trying to make an uninteresting task appear interesting.

Some of the limitations of extrinsic motivation are:

  • Rewards lose their effect over time, leading to decreased return on a teacher’s effort;
  • Rewards vary depending upon student. Teachers need to know their students well to cater rewards effectively;
  • Many forms of punishment are considered unethical these days. Be very careful with using punishments in classroom environments;
  • Students are unlikely to remember school fondly when they are not encouraged to love learning for its own sake.

Theoretical Origins

Extrinsic motivations are embraced in behaviorist theory. Behaviorist theorists like B. F. Skinner believe that you can teach a child anything if you give them strong enough incentives and disincentives (Buckley & Doyle, 2016).

Behaviorist theorists don’t take into account the depth of our emotions, cultural origins, cognitive factors or social factors that might motivate us. They simply think that learning occurs through reward and punishment.

Definition of Intrinsic Motivation

Simple Definition

An intrinsic motivator is something you do because you enjoy doing it.

Scholarly Definition

Here are some scholarly definitions you can quote in an essay:

  • I told you earlier that Ryan and Deci (2000) are the biggest names in motivation theory. They define intrinsic motivation as “doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable” (p. 55). “Intrinsic motivation (IM) refers to engagement in behavior that is inherently satisfying or enjoyable … the means and end are one and the same. For example, a child may play outdoors – running, skipping, jumping – for no other reason than because it is fun and innately satisfying.” (Legault, 2016, p. 1)
  • “Intrinsic motivation involves learners being interested in what they learn and in the learning process itself” (Buckley & Doyle, 2016, p. 1165)

Simple Explanation

Intrinsic’ has the same origins as the word ‘internal’, or ‘internal stimulus‘. When we have intrinsic motivation, our motivation comes from inside of us. We don’t need someone providing the promise of reward or punishment for us to want to do something.

There are three main forms of intrinsic motivation:

  • Intrinsic motivation to know: The idea that people experience positive sensations (enjoyment, pleasure, etc.) in learning new things.
  • Intrinsic motivation towards accomplishment: The idea that people experience positive sensations (enjoyment, pleasure, etc.) when they have achieved something.
  • Intrinsic motivation to experience stimulation: The idea that people experience positive sensations (enjoyment, pleasure, etc.) when they do tasks that are cognitively, physically, socially or emotionally stimulating.

If you want to know more about these three forms of motivation, see Vallerand et al. (1992) or Buckley and Doyle (2016).

Pros and Cons of Intrinsic Motivation

Some of the benefits of intrinsic motivation are:

  • Students will come into the classroom excited for the day of learning;
  • School will appear exciting and engaging for students;
  • Students will do the task without fuss and without misbehaving;

Some of the limitations of intrinsic motivation are:

  • Some activities are just plainly boring but need to be learned. You’ll need to find alternative ways to motivate students to learn this content;
  • Things we are interested in are not necessarily the most valuable things to learn about;
  • Most schools have a standardized curriculum which limits our freedom to learn what we are intrinsically motivated about.

Theoretical Origins

Intrinsic motivation is explained within cognitive psychology as a desire to find balance in your mind. When you don’t understand something you feel like something isn’t right. We humans seem driven to eliminate this incongruity so everything makes clearer sense in your mind (Buckley & Doyle, 2016).

Academic Sources to Cite in your Essay (APA Style)

extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation in the classroom

You should always cite scholarly sources when writing essays. Here’s how to find scholarly sources and the best types of scholarly sources to use.

These are some good scholarly sources to cite in an essay on motivation:

Buckley, P. & Doyle, E. (2016). Gamification and student motivation. Interactive Learning Environments, 24(6), 1162-1175.

Deckers, L. (2005). Motivation: Biological, psychological, and environmental (2nd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Legault, L. (2016). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In Zeigler-Hill, V. & Shackelford, T. K. (Eds.) Encyclopedia of personality and individual differences (pp. 1–4). Switzerland: Springer.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 54–67.

Sogunro, O. A. (2015). Motivating factors for adult learners in higher education. International Journal of Higher Education4(1), 22-37.

Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., Blais, M. R., Briere, N. M., Senecal, C., & Vallieres, E. F. (1992). The academic motivation scale: A measure of intrinsic, extrinsic, and amotivation in education. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 52(4), 1003–1017.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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