Educators can apply motivational theory to actively engage students in the learning process. Motivation is the impetus or force that drives human behavior. Different theories and models of motivation describe how motivation directly and indirectly influences thoughts and actions. Many psychologists and behavior analysts use a three-part model, which closely examines motivation in terms of direction, intensity and persistence.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Factors

Intrinsic and extrinsic factors influence motivation. Intrinsic factors are the internal forces that motivate or compel an individual, and extrinsic factors are the external forces. For instance, employers use extrinsic factors, such as bonuses or promotions, to motivate employees to perform well on the job. At the same time, the individual may also be motivated by intrinsic factors, such as an inner drive to succeed. Intrinsic factors include physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs and desires.


Direction is simply the goal that spurs the individual to action. A goal is actively chosen among a set of alternatives, whether the individual realizes it or not. The goal is determined by different influences, including extrinsic and intrinsic factors, which may contradict each other. For instance, an individual may have a natural inclination for introspection, but be motivated towards a highly social lifestyle for career advancement or social status.


Intensity is the strength of the response in the chosen direction. Typically, there’s a close relationship between intensity and the expectation of a desired outcome. Intensity, or motivational force, depends on the individual's perception of the likelihood that effort will yield a certain result. This is true whether or not perception is realistic. For instance, if an individual believes a raise is imminent it can be a motivator to pursue the goal with vigor, perhaps by staying late at work and increasing output.


Persistence is the duration with which a person expends energy and effort towards the direction or goal. The sustenance of behavior is influenced by extrinsic and intrinsic factors. The factors that initially energized or initiated behavior may not necessarily be the same factors that sustain behavior and provide for persistence. For example, a student may be initially motivated to earn good grades in school to receive an allowance at home. Over time, extrinsic motivation may be supplemented or replaced by intrinsic motivation if the student discovers that learning is fun and personally satisfying.