Extrinsic vs.Intrinsic Motivation

Why do we do what we do? The things we enjoy the most we do for that reason alone. The rewards and motivation are intrinsic. They often deplete us of our time and resources, yet we give more willingly.

Punished by RewardsAnything that we do not truly want to do, that we see no value in or benefit from, we will resist. To “motivate” us, the carrot and the stick are introduced. Do what you dislike and you will be rewarded or punished – whichever is most useful in getting you to produce the desired results.

On the surface, this looks good. In a school or work environment, an outsider may see students/employees functioning efficiently and effectively. Neat and tidy. It produces a desired result, if only by appearances. You will never get the best from an individual under these circumstances. You will get only that which secures the carrot or avoids the stick. Creativity and risk are discouraged, they can too easily disrupt the status quo.

Yet, from where does growth and progress emerge? Real learning is messy. It is often immeasurable and highly individual. Standardized tests and tools of measurement do not demonstrate intelligence or individual growth. They show us the degree to which students have successfully assimilated the required information. It give the appearance of accomplishing its objective – student learning – but only of the predetermined and defined material being assessed. Grades are used to “motivate” students to apply themselves.

Carrots and sticks are about control and not about learning. someone in a position of authority decides on a desired outcome, then proceeds to bully and bribe their subjects in order to attain the appearance of have achieved them. No matter what remains within the minds of the subject after assessment. Ask most students only a day after an exam about the information covered and many will have little or no recollection. They crammed what was necessary to pass. The test is supposed to show what a student learned – this is often not the case.

Learning means that at ANY point in the future, you are able to answer the question presented (or have some recognition and, with some effort, recall the answer). Anything else is not learning. On a factual level this is acceptable. The advent of Google has eliminated the need to memorize information, it can be accessed in seconds, so why use the mental storage – keep it in the cloud.

However, learning on a higher level requires even more effort. To utilize Bloom’s Taxonomy – to take information provided and be able to not only remember it, but also to understand, apply, create, evaluate and analyze. USE IT!!! You cannot fake this process. These are skills that must be developed. (I often ask my students – “Do you want to see a doctor who learned about the human body, or one who crammed, passed and forgot? The answer is obvious).

Sticks will not accomplish this objective because it (authentic learning) cannot be crammed then easily graded. It is an often intangible and slow process. It is highly individualized. Teachers must know students to recognize real progress. This cannot be standardized. It requires desire of students to put forth the intellectual effort to use the information and reach a legitimate outcome.

Motivation has to be from within. This is the only way to ensure the results are produced ethically and honestly. Attaching a punishment or reward fosters a justification for cheating, short cuts, obfuscation of facts and manipulated results. Because care is not asserted in the process, but only on attaining (or avoiding) the consequence of something other than the desired outcome.

Why are you doing what you are doing? Who are you trying to “motivate”? Are you using threats and prizes? Is there a better way? Yes. It is more difficult, but finding their (and your) intrinsic motivations (Why do they do what they do?, etc..) takes longer to identify but reaps greater results. Whether a student or employee, the better we know them, the better we can help them grow in ways that matter to them, and benefit us at the same time.

Punished by Rewards is an interesting and relevant exploration of these ideas.

Be Strong. Stay Hungry. Walk Tall.