Why Intrinsic Motivation is Vital for Learners (and How to Implement it)

If you were to ask a teacher what the most important aspect of their job is, they will most likely furrow their brow with uncertainty. Truthfully, there’s no easy answer to that question. However, there are certainly elements of teaching that are high up on the list of priorities. Intrinsic motivation is one of these. Ultimately, teachers are there to act as a guide, to assist students on their learning journey, and usher them to their objectives through clear instructions.

But that’s just one part of the picture. Students can coast through their academic life like automatons, disengaged and disinterested, and still receive passable grades. However, their connection and relationship with education will suffer as a result. If students are intrinsically motivated and recognize the importance of regulating their own thinking, this will carry far beyond their school years. So, before we explore some actionable steps parents and teachers alike can implement to stimulate intrinsic motivation, let’s look into why it’s important.


Intrinsic motivation vs extrinsic motivation

What is intrinsic motivation? Essentially, it’s a behavior someone exhibits when they are truly engaged and satisfied in a task, acting upon their internal drive to succeed. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, involves someone wishing to achieve something for external rewards. Both cover the entire process that occurs before an overall outcome.

While extrinsic motivation certainly has its place in learning, intrinsic motivation is arguably more important due to its longevity. When someone is intrinsically motivated, they’re more likely to be resilient in the face of challenges, and independently find more ways to succeed in their task. This is vital in the learning process. Setbacks will happen, and barriers will appear, but it’s how the learner responds to these that will determine their success. Now, the important question remains: how can intrinsic motivation be kindled in learners?

Make learning engaging and fun

The more a student is engaged, the more they will gain from the task. If the content is stimulating, there’s more of a chance that they’ll pursue this outside of the classroom. Academia doesn’t have to be uninteresting. There are plenty of methods you can employ, as a parent or teacher, to engage learners. Of course, if the student has absolutely no interest in the topic to begin with, this can be challenging, so it’s important to be realistic and adaptive. Some methods include:

Keep them on their toes

Try not to be completely uniform and unsurprising when introducing your child to a topic. Mix things up on a regular basis. Approaching it in a linear manner with no variation whatsoever is unlikely to inspire interest. Remaining dynamic and delivering the content in interactive, unexpected ways, is more likely to attract attention.

Deliver interesting tasks

This may sound obvious, but it can be easily looked over. The actual tasks themselves should be interesting and unique. For example, they could relate to the students’ lives in some way, drawing upon their personal experiences for ultimate investment. Problem-solving tasks could be given in a gamified way, where learners have to solve questions and think critically in the guise of a game.

Take advantage of their creativity and imagination, giving them ownership over the work. If they feel in control, they’ll be more likely to have an intrinsic desire to work through it. Healthy competition is also a great way to spice things up, if possible. Using humor, fun, and interactivity is the way to go here.

Encourage a growth mindset

It’s very common for learners to feel like they’re “just not good” at a subject, taking on a defeatist attitude before even attempting it. Increasing their expectancy of success will mean that they’ll be more likely to put in more effort. Instead of saying phrases such as “I can’t do it”, it should be replaced with “I can’t do it, yet”. Vocabulary such as this should be regularly encouraged so that a shift in mindset happens.

Make them aware that success is possible. This is why success criteria should be visible during most tasks so that the outcome is clear and learners recognize it’s reachable. Also, collaboration is a great tool for successful outcomes, as students can work together to achieve their shared goals.

Use motivational language in your feedback

Any boost in confidence will help inspire intrinsic motivation. Motivational feedback and motivational language in general are also recommended. If they are reminded of their goal through motivational words, a sense of self-esteem and confidence will be instilled. Constructive criticism is important, but motivational feedback approaches this from another angle, playing upon the learner’s sense of self in order to be successful. 

Promote student-centred learning

In education, autonomy is key when seeking to bring about intrinsic motivation. Teachers are there to act as a guide, but, otherwise, learning should be an independent journey. When a student feels a sense of ownership over their work, the connection with it will be much stronger. Teachers and parents are there to give instructions and support, but the best learning comes from independent discovery.

They must be fully involved in the learning process, using tools that they’ve picked up to assist them along the way. Again, collaboration with peers is a great approach here, too. A sense of responsibility for their partners will encourage them to succeed. Learning is a personal journey, one that learners should have control over.

Concluding thoughts

Ultimately, intrinsic motivation can be inspired through stimulating teaching and interesting methods that allow complete engagement. Learners should be encouraged to approach work with a growth mindset, recognizing that success and mastery of a subject is possible with resilience. If they have ownership over the content, the path to a successful learning outcome will be much easier to navigate. And, importantly, their relationship with education will be positively impacted as a result.

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