Theories of Motivation in Education

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Motivation is a force used within the educational system to encourage student learning and understanding. In the educational setting, motivation is either an internal force or external force. There are different theories of motivation in the educational setting, including those that state that student behavior is dictated due to either external or internal factors. This discussion concerns the effects of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations and their effect on student learning and success within an educational setting.

1 Two Schools of Thought

The locus of control greatly affects motivation. The idea that people feel their own decisions and actions determine their destinies indicates an internal locus. Individuals who are operating using an external locus believe outside forces are responsible for the events that occur in their lives and feel they have little control over situations. Those with an internal locus will often use intrinsic motivation, which is person centered and comes from within an individual, whereas those with an external locus may need extrinsic rewards or consequences as an effective motivational tool.

2 Intrinsic Motivation

According to humanistic theories set forth by Carl Rogers, motivation might come from within an individual without any thought to the external reward. Students receive their own internal reward through an increase in self-esteem and sense of achievement when they reach their desired goals. They may just feel the desire to succeed based on factors such as their own interest in an activity or the feeling of satisfaction that is achieved when they complete the necessary steps to achieve the desired accomplishment. This drive is called internal or intrinsic motivation, which means there are no outside forces that dictate whether individuals will ultimately achieve their goals. The individual does not attempt to achieve to receive an external reward but instead works toward the intrinsic value associated with the success of the project.

3 Extrinsic Motivation

Students who need reinforcement to succeed are operating under the behaviorist theories set forth by B.F. Skinner, who suggests a punishment and reward system as a motivational tool. The external motivation that is required to drive the individual's positive behavior is offered in the form of a system that reinforces the desired behavior or negates undesirable actions. Students might receive a physical reward in terms of a pat on the back or a sticker on a completed paper. They might also receive negative consequences such as detention or a call home to parents. Through the administration of negative consequences for unwanted behaviors and positive reinforcement for the desired actions, students who respond to extrinsic motivation are more likely to succeed in their endeavors.

4 Consequences of Intrinsic Motivation

A cognitive approach to motivation is an intrinsic form that requires students to think through the consequences of their actions and base their decisions on the expected outcome of those decisions. If students are able to think through the situation at hand and determine the value of success, regardless of whether they gain a reward, they are operating under the internal locus of control. Students who are successful in the classroom usually operate under the internal locus of control. They do not put too much weight on mistakes or bad grades and are still able to maintain a level of esteem regardless of failures or successes. They do not blame external factors such as the teacher or classmates. They take responsibility for their own actions.

5 Consequences of Extrinsic Motivation

Students who are externally motivated are more likely to see the teacher, classroom, book or other external force as a reason for their failure. These students have an external locus of control and will tend to see their failure as all encompassing rather than a one-time mistake. Their self-esteem may suffer greatly due to this lack of cognitive focus and internal awareness. They tend to believe that their failure is related to their lack of ability, and they are more likely to give up if they do not achieve success continually.

Robin McDaniel is a writer, educator and musician. She holds a master's degree in higher educational leadership from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton as well as a bachelor's degree in elementary education. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in adult in community education. McDaniel enjoys writing, blogging, web design, singing and playing bass guitar.