Is Intrinsic Motivation better than Extrinsic Motivation?

These days education seems to be all about intrinsic motivation. We shouldn’t give out stars or stickers or small gifts to encourage students to achieve. We all know that this is superficial extrinsic motivation when it is intrinsic motivation that leads to embedded success. I agree of course and know it is good to ‘want to do well’ without any external gratification, but is there really any harm in a little bit of bribery to get things going in the right direction? I wonder how often on a day to day basis we do resort to bribery to get not only our students, but also our peers and family and friends, to do what we would like them to. Personally, I am a shameless briber and use extrinsic motivation a lot.  Whether it is the promise to my husband of a free afternoon on the golf course away from the family, if he does the shopping first; or a trip to the cinema if home-learning is completed without any fuss, I am more than happy to use bribery and a reward to get the outcome I desire!

Example of Extrinsic Motivation

I have then, without an ounce of shame, adopted the, what I call, ‘Santa Strategy for Reading’ to motivate ‘reluctant readers’ to enjoy books. If you haven’t heard of this technique, it uses a healthy amount of make believe and magic and a splash of bribery and materialistic gain, to persuade children that reading is cool and has had, for me at least so far, a 100% success rate. It is extrinsic motivation. So, if like me, you lack scruples and don’t mind a bit of old school bribery then this might be a great technique to try. This is what you need to do

  • Find out what film, TV series etc your ‘reluctant reader’ loves. This may be Star Wars, Harry Potter, whatever the current trend is.
  • Educate yourself just a little bit about the topic so you know how the characters in the series are likely to act and what they might say.
  • Create attractive letter writing paper by cutting and pasting google images onto a word document.
  •  Write a letter from your reluctant reader’s favourite character to them encouraging them to read. For example, in the letter you may invite your reluctant reader to join their ‘secret’ reading club or take a reading challenge.
  • To maintain reading momentum offer incentives and rewards in follow on letters sent to your hopefully no longer ‘reluctant reader’, eg a new book, a signed copy of a photo, a certificate of reading.

These strategies work along with reading aloud to help develop children’s love of books.

personalized reading certificate for extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic Motivation is very Powerful

There is no doubt that your small person will love the attention of having a personalized letter sent to them. They will genuinely feel like their hero has paid a special visit and singled them out as being worthy of positive attention.   Consequently they will want to be part of ‘the secret reading club’ or take the ‘reading challenge’ outlined in the letter to them. Their esteem will go through the roof as they have praise heaped on them for engaging in reading. This extrinsic motivation is a tool that can then lead into exploring intrinsic motivation further.
So my claim is that something as simple as an imaginary letter sent from a child’s hero to them can motivate them and help them become avid readers. If that is even a small possibility, then I think Santa would completely approve of using a little bit of magic and bribery to get there. Extrinsic motivation, in the short term, at least is a valuable tool 

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