On the back of my Digital Literacy and Education Studies sessions a couple of weeks ago, it has got me thinking about the Intrinsic motivation versus positive reinforcement reward debate. This has long been considered and I know schools have very different approaches to how they see pupil success and excellent effort.
Some like to operate reward schemes where they give children stickers and treats, especially in Key Stage 1 and team points and placing them in a position of authority in Key Stage 2. Other schools don’t believe in this system and don’t reward children in this objective way as they believe children should be intrinsically motivated to perform to the best of their ability and aspire to reach beyond it. This is because children need to develop a desire to learn and have the willingness to learn something from an activity as opposed to doing something to just please the teacher or their parents. This has the danger of restricting children’s potential as they do what they think is best and stay within their comfort zone, instead of making their own purposeful learning discoveries, which may have had the potential to push their learning on to a higher cognitive level. Children also need to learn that they will grow up in a world that is not full of extrinsic motivators all the time. For example to earn a living in the future, they are doing that for themselves where there is very much an internal locus of cointrol. This means they are the ones in charge of their fate so there needs to be a sufficiently strong desire to do things for their own benefit and not to get rewards or avoid negative outcomes.
On the other hand, Extrinsic motivation is sometimes seen as beneficial, because it is seen as inducing interest in a subject where the child may have had no desire to learn in at all previously. This is especially effective for children with learning difficulties or behavioural problems as they can often struggle to make connections between the activity they are doing and the final outcome. Also they can be a good feedback indicator allowing pupils to know they are at a level that suggests they have engaged well enough with the task, and then peers can see that a child has gained this reward, hence promoting their motivation to try hard to gain a reward too. Also Extrinsic motivation can make children feel more comfortable in the classroom as a result of this and this then increases intrinsic motivation.
There is a definite link here between the two. Intrinsic motivation has the danger of decreasing or easing off when rewards are given out for the sake of it when it’s clearly evident a child can do better and push themselves more. For example if a child goes home at the end of every day and describes their day saying I did this and that and the parents praise them when the truth is they did very little, the child will think to themselves I can get away here with doing very little, consequently reducing their intrinsic motivation. Alternately offering children rewards for doing something well may not affect intrinsic motivation because if the child is enjoying learning about something already and then an extrinsic reward is presented too, the child is going to be more willing if anything to reach this level. As you can see this is an ongoing debate in Education especially in primary where I would argue that Intrinsic motivation needs to be the dominant one as much as possible and needs to be encouraged but also Extrinsic motivation is perhaps more useful than in secondary, where it should be predominantly intrinsic.
Thanks for reading! Alex 🙂
Ps: Next post will be on the topic of computer dependency and phobia.