How I Learned to Hate Learning: A Reflection on Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
Below is a short essay that I completed at the start of my junior year for a social psychology course. At this point in my life I had no idea that I would end up in academia as a professional educator/trainer. I can start see how little reflections like this throughout my ugrad in psychology led me to where I am.
September 15, 2008
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in My Education
Keeping intrinsic motivation to learn has been a very difficult thing for me to retain throughout my scholastic career. I feel the intense focus on grading has had much to do with this. Why do we lose interest in subjects that once intrigued us? Since I can remember, the start of every academic year has been exhilarating for me. I have a genuine interest in school and always start off very eager to learn. About a month or two in, however, I lose most of that excitement. My motivation shifts from going to class because I enjoy and having a genuine interest in the subject being taught, to going because I may miss something that will be on the upcoming exam. I slowly grow to resent the class. However, there have also been classes that I have enjoyed in [their] entirety and was honestly disappointed when it came time for [them] to end. Even ones that initially didn't catch my interest I found myself wanting to continue on.
What made me like these classes more than others? Why did I enjoy a class that was totally unrelated to my initial interests more than one that was? In retrospect, I have an idea why. The classes that I found held my interest were ones where the instructor had the least amount of focus on grading. Instead they focused more on teaching the material and making the class fun and interesting. Perhaps my favorite class of all time was a Philosophy class on Ethics. The grading in this class was based on 2 factors; 3 tests and 1 paper. No attendance, no participation, no homework. The tests themselves were never hard unless you had completely disregarded the class material and the final paper was on an ethical subject of personal choice. Rain or shine, snow or sleet, I made this class. I was intrinsically motivated to go. Learning for me was fun and intensely satisfying. To this day there have been few classes have had the same effect on me and the ones that have were structured in a similar fashion.
In contrast, I am almost always repelled by past math courses. Although I find mathematics very interesting, I normally only make it two or three weeks before my desire to attend class drops to none. The last course I took, for example, I only attended when something important was happening (tests, quizzes, homework due). I had no motivation to make it to class or learn the material other than to pass the course. This prime example of extrinsic motivation was the driving force behind almost all of my high school courses as well. I struggle to learn the material and the entire experience is unpleasant to the point that I only do what work I have to in order to get a desirable grade.
To conclude, my classes that have had less of a focus on grading and actively worked to create interest gave me a much greater intrinsic motivation to learn. While classes that focused mostly on how to grade my performance resulted in my entirely extrinsic motivation to learn the material.
Cameron Wills is another guy with ideas and opinions. Half-baked concepts with incremental improvements go here.