Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in Education

Motivation is in the focus of attention of numerous researchers, because it acts as a factor that drives progress, success, helps achieve personal and corporate goals. In education, motivation helps define the motives that influence students for studying well or lagging behind the class; improve one’s academic performance by implementing certain recommendations that should help one to become more successful. In this regard, it is important to find out whether modern students are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. Volition is the key for understanding a person’s motivation. Thus, people might be forced to action by external circumstances or act out of an internal desire or inspiration. The former one is the extrinsic motivation and is associated with inducement and reinforcement, while the latter one is called the intrinsic source of motivation that is related to inspiration and enjoyment. Irrespective of the type of motivation, it is reasonable to highlight that it ensures progress. In particular, there are at least three perspectives related to motivation and students’ progress. Firstly, if a student is unmotivated, he or she will fail a course and make no headway. Secondly, if a student is extrinsically motivated, he or she will perform at the level necessary not to be expelled from a course, do everything in the last minute, and show rather low interest in education. Thirdly, if a student is intrinsically motivated, he or she will demonstrate initiative in learning, high level of self-organization, and ability to work drawing pleasure from it. This literature review is devoted to overview of extrinsic vs. intrinsic types of motivation in educational context, the correlation between extrinsic reward and intrinsic motivation in students of different age categories.

A comprehensive meta-analysis conducted by Deci, Kestner, and Ryan was devoted to the role of extrinsic rewards in shaping one’s intrinsic motivation. 128 experiments were analyzed in the current research. The authors concluded that tangible extrinsic rewards had a considerable negative influence on intrinsic motivation, while verbal encouragement helped to increase the intrinsic motivation. These findings are applicable almost towards all groups of participants (excluding children). However, according to the authors, it is equally important not to concentrate on external motivators, but to develop conditions that support internal motivation, such as evoking and sustaining interest to learning in students, offering a range of tasks that are adequately challenging, etc. Moreover, Deci, Koestner, and Ryan argued that application of cognitive evaluation theory in the classroom showed good results in terms of rewards of students; however, instructors should apply it with due consideration of the practicability of using rewards in a particular group of students.


Corpus and Wormington researched the correlation between the extrinsic and intrinsic types of motivation on the basis of experiment results obtained from elementary school children. 507 students of third, fourth, and fifth grades took part in the research. The results were classified into several groups of findings: those who had high intrinsic motivation, those who were driven predominantly extrinsically, and those who had both types of motivation at high level. Interestingly, the highest stability of result (76%) was found in the intrinsic motivation group; moreover, students from this group had long lasting positive effects in learning. However, it should also be taken into account that primarily extrinsic motivation appeared to be very effective in elementary school students, but authors suggest that this performance is likely to degrade with every year of study. Research of motivating factors for students from elementary school level is important, because these factors become stronger as children grow up. Therefore, setting the correct motivations at early age should be valuable for the long-term perspective in learning.

Müller and Palekčić continued the self-determination theory suggested by Deci and Ryan applying it for a 3-year long research of motivation in 104 students. This study aimed at finding the relationship between the motivational processes and psychological needs such as autonomy, social relatedness, and competence. Results of this research indicated that the characteristics of students’ motivation showed a certain degree of stability, while autonomy and competence had a tendency for degradation. The high level of intrinsic motivation in the context of this research meant that participants were aware of their educational goals and viewed their learning both in short-term and long-term perspectives. Absence of motivation was insignificantly low, while a slight decline in intrinsic motivation at the beginning of the study was explained by students’ concentration on exams rather than on learning. Overall, it is reasonable to conclude that students’ motivations were stabilized at high level that allowed them to have good performance. Müller and Palekčić’s study implies that both external and internal types of motivation can be equally stable and ensure effective learning performance in high-grade students. Moreover, basic needs, as well as socio-economic, and psychological factors also play their role in realizing motivation in practice.

Following the topic of motivation in relation to age, Gillet, Vallerand, and Lafrenière researched intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in a large-scale study that involved 1,600 participants. Results of this study allow to systematize findings obtained by Müller and Palekčić and Deci, Koestner, and Ryan who investigated motivation in students of various ages. According to Gillet, Vallerand, and Lafrenière both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations dropped at the ages of 9-12, stabilized till 15 years, and started to go up at older age. At the same time, the authors claimed that amotivation appeared to be insignificantly low, especially at 9-17 years. The findings of this research are important, because they stress the importance of understanding factors promoting intrinsic motivation and self-determined extrinsic motivation that might be used further for students of any age. At the same time, the authors highlight the need for sustaining these two types of motivation in students, mitigating the influence of non self-determined extrinsic motivation and amotivation. The role of autonomy support is also investigated as a factor mediating the motivational processes that take place at schools. Findings of this research, evidently, point out some challenges for educators that should be addressed.

Consistent with Müller and Palekčić and, Barkoukis, Tsorbatzoudis, Grouios, and Sideridis base their research of motivation on self-determination theory. This study outlines three types of motivation: extrinsic, intrinsic, and amotivation placing them in the context of seven dimensions, such as introjections, identification, and others. In this research, the authors concentrated on investigating the psychometric properties of the Academic Motivation Scale in order to test its reliability, concurrency, and predictive validity. This study was conducted in Greek high school setting. As a result, it was established that the Greek Academic Motivation Scale corresponds to the requirements outlined by the seven-factor theory with confirmatory factor being an important determinant of intrinsic motivation. At the same time, the authors stress the internalization factor in developing intrinsic motivation. Interestingly, after the research of Greek motivation, the authors suggest using self-determination theory for the analysis of motivational factors in different cultures. Because the Greek Academic Motivation Scale showed high reliability coefficient in the current study, it might be used for the development of motivational scales at a wider range.

Overall, it is reasonable to conclude that motivation is a vital concept in shaping behavior. It should be highlighted that the self-determination theory served as a basis for numerous research of motivation. Depending on the source of motivation, it can be extrinsic and intrinsic. This is a driving force for progress and development. Intrinsic motivation is proved to be more effective than the extrinsic one; therefore, it is important to promote intrinsic motivation in students, the earlier the better, in order to ensure their excellent educational performance, enjoyment with learning, and long-lasting effect, since intrinsic motivation is more stable than the extrinsic one. In this regard, research of psychometric properties of a motivational scale gives valuable insight on motivational behavior, as well as on congruency, construct, and validity that allow to evaluate the scale’s effectiveness.

Use of external encouragement, the tangible ones, does not seem to be appropriate for promoting intrinsic motivation, since it only aggravates the extrinsic motivation. Meanwhile, verbal rewards were proven to be effective in increasing internal motivation. Still, motivation in higher grade students is much higher than those of the lower ones. Ideally, the learning conditions to promote intrinsic motivation should be provided at elementary school; however, both intrinsic and extrinsic types of motivation work well when it is necessary to get results at high school. It is reasonable that every school should have its motivational scale with a set of interventions for every grade that should be aimed at promoting intrinsic motivation. However, since research of high grade students indicated equally high level of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations that both ensured good performance, this issue might not seem to be of primary importance in modern education.

Related essays