Learning Habits: reflecting on our motivation

On Day 7 and 8 this week (Friday and Monday), we’re going to think a little bit about what motivates us in school: why do we study for important assessments? Why do we turn in homework on-time? Why do we care about what shows up on Powerschool or our report cards? This may be the most important thing we think about this year, because motivation is key to all learning.

All students (all people, really)  are motivated by different things. In school, some work hard mostly for reasons that come from inside them. They study because they enjoy learning new things;  or because they want to prepare themselves for what comes next–high school, university, their future careers; or  because they find it satisfying to overcome challenges. Motivation that comes from inside us is called intrinsic motivation.

Other students work hard mostly for reasons that come from outside them. They study hard because they like to get praise or rewards from their teachers; or because they want to make their parents happy; or because they want to avoid ‘getting in trouble.’  Motivation that comes from outside us is called extrinsic motivation.

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can work, and most of us are motivated by a mix of things. But there is some interesting research that suggests that extrinsic motivators (e.g., rewards and punishments) work better for mechanical, boring things, while intrinsic motivators (e.g., working hard because it is satisfying to do a job well) work better for things involving creativity and higher level thinking–much of what we do in school.

For example, rewarding people with money for picking up trash is likely to result in them picking up more trash. But rewarding people with money to become great writers or to solve high level math problems, is not likely to be effective. This may seem hard to believe, but this video by Daniel Pink explains some of the research and reasons why this is true. (If you’d prefer to read about these ideas, you can look here.)

So what mostly motivates you as a student? Which are more important to you, extrinsic motivators or intrinsic motivators? Share your thinking in the comments below.

34 thoughts on “Learning Habits: reflecting on our motivation

  1. What makes me motivated is just seeing things get done because it is just satisfying.
    I think this is intrestic because it’s for me not because I have to.

    • Zac, I think the feeling of satisfaction we get from doing things well is one of the most powerful kinds of motivation.

  2. What motivates me is getting work done because it’s truly amazing when you look back at your calendar and there is nothing more to do. As a reward I can do things I like to do like playing football.

    • Henry, You and Zac both point out the good feeling you get when you complete your work. Being able to do fun things like play football is also a good motivator.

  3. I get motivated when my friends and family say I’m good.
    Other people maybe get motivated by money if it is a
    Competition where you maybe throw the ball in the hoop
    From the halfway line and if you get it in you get 2000
    Dollars.

  4. My Motivations at School
    What really motivates me are grades, because I know that if I do a good job at school I am going to please my parents. And if I please my parents I get some rewards such as participating in Asiac activities, hang out with my friends or going to a soccer club. But it also makes me feel proud to see that I improved in my classes during the year and that all those hours of work weren’t in vain. Grades are what motivates me the most because I recive rewards if I am successful and it makes me feel proud of myself.

    • Jesus, I think your reflection makes it clear that you are motivated by a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. I’m so happy to see the effort and thinking you put in here!

    • Ellen, it sounds like ‘mastery’ is a powerful motivator for you. But you also mentioned ‘autonomy’ as another thing that motivates you–like it did in the Real Cost Project and Disrupt.

  5. My motivation is to get good grades because I want to impress my parents by showing them how I am doing. Also my motivation in humanities is to write because I think I can become better at it and I like to write also..

    • Vedaa, wanting to please your parents is a wonderful kind of social motivator. Improving as a writer seems like it has to do with ‘mastery’–the good feeling you get when you do something really well.

  6. My motivation is the fact that when I’m finished I can probably do something else fun or I’m interested in and don’t have to stress about finishing the work.

    • Mackenzie, Interesting that you are motivated by fun and by avoidance of stress. I wonder if those would be intrinsic or extrinsic motivators?

  7. I think that even though the pay you money for something extremely hard for the person they won’t do it. But if you do an easy task for some money the person is most likely to do it. I did an experiment that I said that they have to do 10 push ups for 10 dollars, they did that the next group I said that they have to do 10 push ups for 1 dollar only some of them did that. The last group I said that they have to do 10 push ups for no money, none of them did that.

  8. Well a lot of the times my family and friends motivate me and I kinda struggle in math but that motivates me cause I listen and learn math to get better even though it’s not my favourite class and I’d like to get better at math.

    • Helen, I think it’s great you are motivated by family and friends. Social motivators can be very powerful and positive.

  9. Something that motivates me is things I like to do, like I do volleyball MESAC because I love it and that motivates me to go to every practice even if I can’t travel.

    • Ugo, thanks for being honest. That’s one way to stay motivated, for sure! We’ll explore some other ones as we go forward this year.

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