Encouraging intrinsic motivation to cultivate passionate life-long learners

Article by Briar Bracey
St Margaret's Anglican Girls School / 01 August 2018

Why is it important for a child to be encouraged to move from extrinsic rewards towards becoming a more self-motivated learner with an appreciation of learning? As educators, we know that motivation plays an important role in students’ learning and development. Many students, however, do not realise that a rewards-based outlook is not necessarily sustainable throughout life.

Extrinsic motivation is derived from parental expectations, or other trusted role models outside the individual. For instance, the offering of incentives for successful performance are viewed as key motivators for younger students – often found in the form of stickers, certificates and accolades. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation is derived from within, where a sense of fascination and relevance to life and the learner’s world are highly valued. The sense of accomplishment and mastery is paramount to the intrinsic learner (Gillard, Gillard & Pratt 2015).

Cultivating and maintaining intrinsic motivation is a life-long attribute that is vital for students to develop in the twenty-first century, where learners are required to independently access and process copious amounts of information. It is the role of educators to implement various motivational strategies to influence a student’s participation in productive learning. Teachers, therefore, have the capacity to empower student learning so the classroom environment is one of excitement and anticipation.

As a substantial amount of knowledge is sought and gained within the classroom, it is imperative that a supportive environment is created and nurtured so the internalisation of what is learnt can occur. So how do we create a hub of intrinsic motivation? Ultimately, this involves teachers with high expectations of their students, who provide learning opportunities that are challenging, yet achievable. Within such a supportive classroom, it goes without saying that the role of the teacher is crucial to bring passion, energy and enthusiasm to student learning. Additionally, we would see students who are not afraid to make mistakes progress in their learning. In this supportive environment, learners’ self-confidence will flourish and frustration levels remain low (Valerio 2012). It is the responsibility of teachers to develop social support skills within their schools to allow for equitable access to class discussions and participation.

Furthermore, differentiated learning goals set by teachers allow for all students to engage with meaningful content at their own level due to teachers knowing their students. The accomplishment of realistic, achievable tasks creates a sense of student success, which leads to continual learner motivation in all aspects of life and beyond. Brown, Leonard and Arthur-Kelly (2016) echo these sentiments and believe that goals need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based (SMART) to yield a higher chance of success.

Learning experiences that elicit enthusiasm within students allow for the existence of significant connections, sparking the interest and curiosity of students (Hennessey 2015). The rewards of having students who are intrinsically motivated, and hence interested and eager to challenge themselves with their desire to learn, are ultimately enjoyed by both teacher and student alike. Key intrinsic motivators, such as passion and enthusiasm, are beneficial as they allow students to have a direct influence on their own individual academic results. Research has demonstrated that students who are intrinsically motivated to learn have higher academic performance and complete more years of education than students who are not intrinsically driven (Korb 2012).

Intrinsic motivation has many positive learning outcomes. It is important for us, as educators, to reflect on how we might cultivate passion and enthusiasm, as well as a desire for learning in our classroom practice. A supportive environment which fosters differentiation and rich learning experiences is one where students are encouraged to participate and learn for themselves. In such an environment, students learn to take risks to develop their own personal interests and intrinsic motivation.


Brown, G, Leonard, C & Arthur-Kelly, M 2016, ‘Writing SMARTER goals for professional learning and improving classroom practices’, Reflective Practice, vol. 17, no.5, pp. 621-635.

Gillard, S, Gillard, S & Pratt D 2015, ‘A Pedagological Study of Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom through Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose’, Contemporary Issues In Education Research, vol. 8, no.1, pp. 1-6, viewed 23 May 2018, https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1058145.pdf

Hennessey, B 2015, ‘If I were Secretary of Education: A focus on intrinsic motivation and creativity in the classroom’, Psychology of aesthetics, creativity, and the arts, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 187-192.

Korb, KA 2012, ‘Creating a classroom environment that fosters positive motivation in the Nigerian context’, The Nigerian Educational Psychologist, vol. 10, pp. 221-230, viewed 23 May 2018, http://korbedpsych.com/LinkedFiles/Class_Environment_Positive_Motivation.pdf

Valerio, K 2012, ‘Intrinsic motivation in the classroom’, Journal of Engagement: Education Matters, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 30-35, viewed 22 May 2018, http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1012&context=jseem