Instructional design/Intrinsically Motivating/Why Intrinsic Motivation?

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If you have any experience with education or instruction, you may realize the importance of motivating learners to engage the material. Poorly motivated students will not engage and therefore will not digest and retain the material presented. Traditionally, research has supported the use of extrinsic motivation within instruction and education. This involves using external reinforcers as motivational incentives. For example, we may give a dog a treat when teaching him/her to sit. We may punish a child for throwing the clothes on the floor when trying to teach them to be neat. However, since the 1970's, a growing body of research has begun to explore the conditions under which external reinforcement destroys intrinsic motivation. That is, the natural drive to engage in and pursue an activity in which learning occurs. As an example, let us examine a study on nursery school children who liked to play with marking pens: When these children received a promised reward for playing with these marking pens, they later played with them less than children in a control group who received no reward. Top theorists have previously described the strengths of implementing intrinsically motivating learning techniques to foster deeper learning. For example, French psychologist Jean Piaget has stated that “If students are intrinsically motivated to learn something, they may spend more time and effort learning, feel better about what they learn, and use it more in the future.”

Because of this recent research within the realm of motivation, modern Instructional Designers have begun to strive to design instructional environments which do not rely on extrinsic motivation and which cultivate learners' natural drive to learn. Before we learn more about intrinsic motivation and its relation to learning, please take the time to complete the following short introductory exercise.

Please take the time to consider the following two examples of learner motivation. Which one do you think relies on intrinsic motivation? Which one do you think relies on extrinsic motivation?

1. Elementary school children learning how to spell new vocabulary words are awarded extra recess time. 2. You explain to a group of elementary school children that later on in class, they will have a chance to sit in on story telling time. However, if they do not prove they understand the following vocabulary, they will not be able to understand the story.

Here, example number 1 relies on extrinsic motivation. This is because the object of the game, learning how to spell, is re-enforced with an externally provided award. Example number 2 on the other hand, relies on intrinsic motivation. This is because, though a prize is awarded (storytelling time), the prize is inherently related to the material. In other words, the learner is naturally motivated to practice the skills being taught (vocabulary) as a means to apply them within the activity of story time. Furthermore, the learner will make the natural connection that the more vocabulary they learn, the better they will be able to understand stories that are interesting to them and the better they will be able to participate in story time.