From Extrinsic to Intrinsic Motivation

1.     Objective

Levels of Motivation


While most of the discussion in the forum about motivation was about how to motivate our students in the classroom, as I work in a Literacy Center, I know very well that a lot of students don’t even get to the classroom. For this reason, the lowest three levels of this diagram caught my attention. I am working to give a second chance to these students who didn’t succeed at school. This is my chance to try all the other ideas, tips and suggestions provided through these discussions to help students get motivated.

In the article 21 Simple Ideas To Improve Student Motivation, the fifteenth idea is Help students find intrinsic motivation. In other words, help students climb these stairs. Here is how the description of this idea starts: “It can be great to help students get motivated, but at the end of the day they need to be able to generate their own motivation.”


2.     Reflective

If people come to a Literacy Center to improve their reading or writing skills, it is either that they are old enough (over 50) to see what they have missed all their life, or because they are sent by a social worker who is trying to help them do something with their life. The former has a high level of intrinsic motivation. In the latter case, they under 30 years old, and I want to help them.

For people who have never had any example or personal experience of what education can bring to their lives, it seems at first that only extrinsic motivation can work, or what is called on the diagram “External Regulation”: behaviors performed to satisfy external demand or reward. Even they are young, for many reasons, they don’t have any ambition other than getting a cheque to satisfy their basic needs. If the cheque were contingent on their attendance, (surmised a social worker I met once), we would see all attend their lessons no problem because it is the main extrinsic motivator.

I believe that it is very important to work on making these young people understand how much they can get from education. By “how much”, I don’t only mean how much money they can make, but more how their lives would change in many aspects; not only their life but also the lives of the members of their family and maybe the lives of other members of their community. I believe that the only way they would change is by finding an intrinsic motivation.

3.     Interpretive

Looking at the different ways suggested to help students be motivated, the one I have found very helpful is Maintain Confidence & Belief in Success (Tanya). Providing Opportunity for success (number 21 in the21 Simple Ideas To Improve Student Motivation) is a way to help learners maintain their confidence. Barkley called that “expectancy”, which is the student’s confidence “in her ability to perform a task successfully” (p.12). Of course, if they don’t have this confidence, there is no way they will even show up to a lesson. Making sure that students feel valued when they are studying is a first step towards intrinsic motivation. I try to reinforce this motivation aspect very much because these are students who failed in the past and this is the reason they are there today. For this reason, I find the third level of the diagram interesting because I have had one student who was taking lessons almost every day for about two months, and I was very excited about this success and his progress. However, I was wondering how the members of his family or his friends saw this; I didn’t even know if he was talking about what he was learning to his friends or relatives. I was wondering if, according to their criteria, it was bad or good. Most of all I was wondering how he felt about it because it was unusual for him. The third level of the diagram describes: “Behavior not fully accepted as one’s own.” This may also describe his situation. I made the mistake of not asking him because I was focusing too much on helping him learn. In the end, he stopped coming.

I start becoming aware that I am doing the same mistake with these students that I was doing with my students in French, just at a different level. For several years, I was not giving them any assessment because they are informal courses, but as a result, students couldn’t be aware of where they were in their learning process. That means also that they were not taking responsibility for their learning. I am doing the same thing with the literacy students: I do everything I can to motivate them as long as it is something I can do (praise, rewards, feedback, threat-free environment, some choices, etc.) but I don’t give them any responsibility because I think it is too early or too much for them or, I have to admit, because I believe they won’t act responsibly or I don’t know how to teach them to do so. I realize now that I don’t really trust them, trust that they can become responsible and be in charge of their learning. I have to say that they are particularly unmotivated learners and, for example, something as simple as “Harness students’ interests” can be very difficult because they often don’t show any interest in anything.

4.     Decisional

Motivation is a very important topic for me because of some of the learners I am working with who are not particularly motivated. I will continue applying all the principles that I have already been applying to help them to be motivated, but I will also work on helping them find intrinsic motivation. I think that the points I need to work on are the following:

  • Define goals that are directly related to their lives instead of goals based on their gaps such as “reach the Essential Skills level 3”.
  • Make them work on these goals: they don’t seem to be ready when they first come, but I believe that I should take a break in the learning to process in order to have them work on their general goals (“What do they want to do with their life, What kind of person they want to be”). In his video, Buckland (2011) explains that he spends his first lesson talking only about that with his students.
  • I want to encourage self-reflection as a way to make them feel in charge of their learning process instead of expecting everything to come from me.
  • I hope that all of the above will help them find intrinsic motivation.




Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Technique. A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Buckland, R. (2011). Gamification, Assessment, and the Joy of Learning. Dec 13, 2011. Retrieved from :

Moore, D. (2014). Forum discussion for PIDP 3250 (VCC) Discussion “Ideas to motivate your Students”. Wednesday, 17 September 2014, 3:03 PM

Tan, T. (2014). Forum discussion for PIDP 3250 (VCC) Discussion “Ideas to motivate your Students”. Thursday, 16 October 2014, 7:56 PM

Tan, T. (2014). Forum discussion for PIDP 3250 (VCC) Discussion “How do we maintain a high level of motivation?” Tuesday, 21 October 2014, 11:35 AM.

Teach Thought Staff (2012). te@chthought 12/11/2012. 21 Simple Ideas To Improve Student Motivation. Retrieved from:


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