Drive: Finding Intrinsic Motivation

Before diving in, it’s important to note that today’s post center’s around Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. It’s worth the read if you haven’t already!

Often times students are motivated to do well in classes so that they can get a good grade, pass the class, and graduate. The goal never seems to be about learning, but about “getting out.”

Students therefore become extrinsically motivated.

What is extrinsic motivation?

What Is Extrinsic Motivation and How Does It Work?

“The problem with making an extrinsic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road. Indeed, most of the scandals and misbehavior that have seemed endemic to modern life involve shortcuts.”

― Daniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Extrinsically motivated students are more compelled to take short cuts, to look up answers, to find ways to cheat. Students are just looking for a reward.

The goal is for extrinsically motivated students to get to the end of the task, not to understand the journey it takes to get there.

We want to shift away from this traditional extrinsic motivation in the classroom. So, if we want to shift away from extrinsic motivation, what are we shifting towards?

The answer: Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations to Lead - LeAD LABS

What is intrinsic motivation?

What Does Intrinsic Motivation Mean?

“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.”

― Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Intrinsically motivated students are motivated to learn because they are interested in what and how they are learning. These students are interested in the journey more than they are interested in the end result.

Why focus on intrinsic motivation?

“When the reward is the activity itself–deepening learning, delighting customers, doing one’s best–there are no shortcuts.”

― Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Intrinsic motivation leads to:

  1. Persistence: Because tasks are being completed for personal sense of accomplishment, students are more likely to persist through than if they were extrinsically motivated.
  2. Engagement: Students are more engaged in what they are learning because there is a personal connection.
  3. Learning efficacy: When students are intrinsically motivated they’re learning potential increases.
  4. Better performance: When you students are trying harder, pushing further, and are more engaged students will perform better in class.

Want to learn more? Check out this article on intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation.

How to find intrinsic motivation in the classroom?

“Management isn’t about walking around and seeing if people are in their offices… It’s about creating conditions for people to do their best work.”

―Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

As teachers, we functions as managers of our students and walking around making sure students are quietly working through a work packet is not going to intrinsically motivate students. We have to create a classroom that allows students to create their best work. What suggestions do you have to create a classroom environment that helps students create their best work?

I like this article from EDUTopia that explains how to help students build intrinsic motivation and suggest you give it a read!

Is it ever worth it to use extrinsic motivation in the classroom?

Extrinsic motivation can be used in the classroom. But it’s important to understand how to use extrinsic motivation.

  • Use it sparingly; it should not be the only form of motivation in your classroom
  • Make it a surprise; when students don’t know it’s coming they can still find intrinsic motivation
  • When students need short term motivation; extrinsic motivation can help motivate students towards one specific goal
  • When it can lead to intrinsic motivation; Saying things like “You made a really good point,” “The work you did was very strong,” function like extrinsic motivation, but can lead to intrinsic motivation.

How will you find your intrinsic motivation and help your students find theirs?

See you next week,

Ms. Brennan


  1. Hi Anthony!

    I appreciate your question and you bring up an important issue. It can be really difficult for students to find intrinsic motivation when they are so used to intrinsic motivation. I think there are two things you can do that help support finding intrinsic motivation. For starters, set up your classroom so that extrinsic motivation can be hard to find. Create assignments that open the door for students to think creatively, go to the margins, look for moments where inquiry is possible. Find situations where intrinsic motivation thrives and go to them. On a more personal level, this is a great opportunity to connect with your students! Ask them about things they’re interested in and try to find ways to include their personal interests in class. When science can be connected to what students enjoy it can both help them understand it more and help them find an intrinsic motivation to learn. At the end of the day, you might not reach every students, or help every student find intrinsic motivation, but it is always worth a try!

  2. Hey Ellie,
    Great job on your blog! I really enjoyed the article that you linked which gave a better idea of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The best part was how you explained that extrinsic motivation can be used sparingly because at first the blog seemed more geared toward eliminating extrinsic motivation, so it was good to see that it can be used. I just wanted to ask that as a future teacher what would you do if a student was struggling to find intrinsic motivation?

  3. Hi Michael!

    Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll definitely look into using that more! As for using both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in a lesson, I think it can be possible if done well. I believe you should always start your lesson with the goal being intrinsic motivation. So, let’s use an inquiry project as an example; let’s say students have been doing research in a topic that interests them relating to class and now are presenting what they have learned. Students can find intrinsic motivation through researching what they’re interested in. Furthermore if students present their findings in a creative way, they can find further intrinsic motivation! At the end of or during their presentation sharing something like “I really appreciate what you have shared today” or “The way you presented this information was very creative and showed off what you learned,” is a form of extrinsic rewards. And because it’s a surprise, student’s won’t be motivated extrinsically while they work and will more likely be motivated intrinsically!

  4. Hey Ellie!
    Great blog post! I think you did an excellent job conveying the core of Drive, especially while including the (limited) possible positives of extrinsic motivation. The one suggestion I have is to use the “quote” blocks available when formatting your post to really draw the reader’s attention to the quotes you used. I like that you gave the reader a heads up at the beginning that you’d be using a decent amount of information from Pink’s book, so they didn’t feel left behind. Do you have any examples of when you might use both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in the same lesson?

  5. Hi Luke!

    I think if you can avoid making grades the focus of your classroom. I know that sometimes things need to be graded because at some point students are going to have to receive a grade for the class; but trying to shift away from the notion that everything is going to be graded can help. I think it can also be helpful to shift how you grade. Instead of students taking a 100 question multiple choice test, have students work through open ended questions that allow them to apply their knowledge. In open ended situations and questions it is easier to see the why behind what you are learning. And when you know your why (and your students’ why) it’s easier to find intrinsic motivation.

  6. Hi Ellie!
    I really enjoyed reading your blog! I thought it was really cool how you listed some of the characteristics of internal motivation, and what it leads to. I think that showing teachers how beneficial internal motivation can be in both students and teachers’ lives. I also thought it was really important that you mentioned that there are some uses for external motivation; I know that I always felt good after receiving a surprise reward after the completion of a more mundane task. I know a lot of students have become indoctrinated with the grades-focused school system and that is what they are comfortable with. Do you have any advice on how to change their perception and foster more internal motivation in them?

  7. Hi Grace!

    I certainly can remember extrinsic motivation guiding me in high school. It was always about doing better and getting in to college, and as I’m sure you’re aware, it was exhausting! Now, I’m trying to be much more intentional about why I am doing what I’m doing. Knowing that I want to go into teaching to form relationships with students and work to make the classroom environment warm and welcoming. Having these goals I think leads to more intrinsic motivation and can help me create a space that helps students find their intrinsic motivation too!

  8. Hi Ellie!
    I really loved the way you talked about all of these concepts- you framed them in a way that was very easy to understand, and made a lot of practical connections to the classroom, which I really appreciate. You made a really good point when you talked about how sometimes, extrinsic motivation can lead to misbehavior, cheating, etc. If students are only focused on the end goal, and not the process to get there. What type of motivation do you think drives you, and how might you use your knowledge of your own experiences of motivation to help your students?

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