The Keys to Drive: Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom

Your students aren’t going to benefit in the long run from extrinsic motivation! Intrinsic motivation shifts the responsibility from the teacher to the student. Once intrinsic motivation is acquired, it can last for a lifetime. Give your students the keys to drive their own learning…

“Driving your Learning Bus”

My middle school science teacher was on to something when he told us everyday to “drive your learning bus!” At the time, many of us did not understand exactly what this meant (or we were 12 years old and thought it was silly!). Years later, I understand it means so much more…

I know now that my teacher meant that it is imperative for us to take our own learning into our own hands and pursue it independently because someday no one is going to be pushing us to learn. We are going to have to push ourselves. It is all about intrinsic motivation and learning to drive our own learning bus.

In this post, I am going to explore how the idea of “driving your learning bus” and the ideas presented in Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, connect and can be used to take your students’ learning and motivation to the next level.

Fundamentally, in his book Drive, Daniel Pink emphasizes the need for a complete reworking of human motivation as we know it today. For years, humans have been functioning on “Motivation 2.0”–a system that was built around external rewards and punishments or “carrots and sticks” (Pink, 2009). For routine and non-innovative tasks, the idea of Motivation 2.0 still works quite well, according to Pink. But, what businesses and schools try to do today (maximize purpose, not profit), a new system is needed–“Motivation 3.0” wherein intrinsic motivation is king (Pink, 2009).

The Three Elements:

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose are the three tenets of Motivation 3.0 (Pink, 2009). These refer to the notion of giving your employers (or students!) freedom and independence in their learning, experiences that are matched with our abilities, and meaning that can pursued on students’ own terms. With these three ideas, we can begin give our students the intrinsic motivation that is necessary for life long learning.

Circling back to the idea of encouraging students to drive their own learning bus, the three tenets of Motivation 3.0 are critical for introducing intrinsic motivation.

Autonomy, mastery, and purpose, in a way, are like the permit test, the vehicle itself, and the license. Independently, each of these things are not useful. It’s only when the “permit test is passed” that the student can “achieve the license”. It’s only when the license is received that the student can “drive the vehicle”. As teachers, we are going to have to help our students reach their immediate goals. But in the end, our goal is getting students to connect all of these things and developing a strong sense of intrinsic motivation and handing them the “keys to drive”.

Handing your Students the Keys to Drive

Fostering intrinsic motivation in your students is much like handing your students the keys to drive their own learning bus. Three ideas I have for increasing intrinsic motivation in the classroom are:

  1. Give students choices! As we have seen, it is SO important to give students choices regarding their learning. Giving students even simple/minor choice allows them to feel like they are active and have a say in their learning. We all know teenagers don’t like to be told what to do! Whether this is allowing students to choose their own prompt for a scientific research paper or what their team name should be, it all helps to create a greater sense of autonomy (the first tenet of intrinsic motivation)!
  2. Experiment with eliminating extrinsic rewards. Pink stresses the idea that extrinsic rewards (such as giving students candy every time they hand in their homework) are just temporary motivators. Soon, your students may begin to out-smart the system and “just do” the homework for the reward. But that’s not why we give our students homework, right? To get your students to engage more and want to complete various tasks (even dull homework) it is critical that we don’t resort to extrinsic rewards too quickly for this will only last a while…
  3. Create an atmosphere of wonder and creativity. Imagine you were back in high school and your teacher says “it’s project time!” and your stomach sinks–you hate writing papers and that’s the only thing your teacher wants!! What if this time, your teacher gave you the option to express your knowledge or explore a topic in a new, creative way? Rather than writing a paper on redox reactions, students could create a live animation of redox reactions using technology or create a working model using household objects… Now does it sound more fun? It definitely does to me! Creating an atmosphere of wonder and creativity in your classroom is a fantastic way to foster students’ intrinsic motivation.


  1. Hi Lauren,
    Thanks for reading my post! I was hoping to make a real life connection between the 3 tenets of intrinsic motivation and something that students knew about in their every day lives–learning to drive!

    To answer your question, eliminating extrinsic rewards in the classroom will not be an easy task. After all, as long as students are receiving grades, these will serve as extrinsic rewards too! I think the main way I want to go about doing this is giving students a lot of choice and allowing them the space to feel like they actually want to do school and are not just being told to do school.

  2. Hi Emilia,
    I enjoyed reading your post on Drive. I like how you linked the three elements of intrinsic motivation to driving the learning bus. It makes the ideas on motivation presented by Pink (2009) much more relatable to teaching. Additionally, I found you three ideas on increasing intrinsic motivation in the classroom very useful for (future) teachers, especially eliminating extrinsic rewards. In that regard, how might you avoid extrinsic rewards while promiting intrinsic rewards in your future classroom? What techniques might you use to accomplish this?

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