Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Evaluating Benefits and Drawbacks from College Instructors' Perspectives

Article excerpt

A growing body of literature has been examined and discussed the effects of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation on student learning at the college level. Intrinsically motivated individuals have been able to develop high regards for learning various types of course information without the inclusion of external rewards or reinforcements. In contrast, extrinsically motivated individuals rely solely on rewards and desirable results to act as a catalyst for their motivation. Both types of motivation may not have the same effect on college student learning and performance. Intrinsically motivated individuals have a number of advantages over extrinsically motivated individuals because there is evidence showing that intrinsic motivation can promote student learning and achievement better than extrinsic motivation. From the perspectives of college instructors, this article briefly reviews the benefits and drawbacks of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In addition, a discussion of the significance of both types of motivation and their applications in a college classroom setting has been provided.


Research on motivation has burgeoned over the past four decades. As a result, much has been learned about the nature of students' motivation (Wigfield, 1997). During the past half century, a variety of crucial motivational beliefs, values, and goals have been identified and examined (Wigfield, 1997). These beliefs, values, and goals relate to performance of college students, choice of activities to pursue, and persistence on such activities (Gram and Weiner, 1996; Pintrich and Schunk, 1996). Even if students believe they are fully competent and proficient at an activity, they will not complete such activity if there are no incentives present.

Motivation is an internal state that arouses learners, steers them in particular directions, and keeps them engaged in certain activities (Ormrod, 2008). Motivation often determines whether and to what extent students actually learn a challenging task, especially if the cognitive and behavioral processes necessary for learning are voluntary and under their control. Once college students have learned how to do something successfully, motivation is largely responsible for whether they continue to do it (Ormrod, 2008).

College students are usually motivated in one way or the other. For instance, some students may learn the subject matter being presented in class, while others may be more interested in obtaining good grades, outperforming classmates, pleasing their instructors and parents, or simply completing assignments as quickly and painlessly as possible (Ormrod, 2008). All of these motives have an approach quality to them: a desire to achieve certain learning outcomes (Ormrod, 2008).

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are two major categories with which college students are engaged in the process of learning new knowledge and skills. Both types of motivation may not the exact same effect on student learning and performance at the college level (Ormrod, 2008). The objective of this article is to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in relation to student learning (achievement and performance) from the perspectives of college instructors.

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

Like most college instructors, they are concerned about students' intrinsic motivation for learning (Schunk et al., 2008). College students who are intrinsically motivated have a number of advantages over students who are extrinsically motivated (Table 1). For instance, intrinsically motivated students work on academic tasks because they find them enjoyable and interesting. Task participation is its own reward and does not depend on explicit rewards or other external constraints (Schunk et al., 2008). There is evidence showing that intrinsic motivation is positively correlated with learning, achievement, perception of competence and self-efficacy, and is negatively correlated with anxiety, depression, and frustration (Gottfield, 1985 and 1990; Lepper et al. …