Author: Alexander Bove
As student-centered educators in diverse classrooms, we often consider learning domains and multiple intelligences (i.e. how our students learn) when designing our lessons. These are important considerations, but do we spend enough time thinking about what motivates our students to want to learn at all (or to want to engage in the sorts of health behaviors we want to encourage)? Examining the classic model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, as well as new approaches, might allow us to broaden our approach.
The dominant late 20th Century model of educational motivation posited a binary of extrinsic and intrinsic (Lepper et al, 1997). As Covington (2000) explains:
Individuals are said to be driven to act for extrinsic reasons when they anticipate some kind of tangible payoff, such as good grades, recognition, or gold stars. These rewards are said to be extrinsic because they are unrelated to the action….By contrast, individuals are said to be intrinsically motivated when they engage in activities for their own sake. In this instance, the rewards reside in the actions themselves” (pp. 22-23).
In their meta-analysis, Lepper et al (1997) traced a decline in intrinsic motivation as students moved through middle and high school: as the extrinsic motivation of grades began to matter more and more, students seemed to be less motivated by the pure desire to learn. In this model, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are antagonistic.
Critics have pointed out that studies on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are problematic because what researchers observe as extrinsic motivation might have intrinsic underpinnings (Covington, 2000; Reiss, 2012). According to Covington (2000), students might be grade focused because of their desire for external rewards (or fear of punishments) or may simply view grades as a way to measure their own progress and challenge themselves. In other words, they may seem to embrace external rewards while viewing those rewards as means to their own self-efficacy. What is more likely, then, is that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are separate variables and each exists along its own spectrum. An individual student can employ both kinds of motivation simultaneously.
Newer models of motivation are less binary. Reiss (2012) rejected the intrinsic/extrinsic dichotomy and suggested a multifaceted theory of motivation based on 16 “universal reinforcements” (p. 154). His Reiss Motivation Profile (RMP) cataloged our needs for acceptance, honor, curiosity, social contact, and romance, along with 9 other human desires. The RMP has been applied successfully in two sexuality education-adjacent contexts: health behavior and marriage counseling. Estes et al (2011) also suggested a multivariate taxonomy of basic learner needs that included acceptance and safety, meaningful engagement, and “the opportunity to connect the new with the known” (p. 9). Both Reiss and Estes et al framed motivation in terms of learner needs, allowing for the possibility that some of those needs (i.e. acceptance and aligned assessments in the Estes model, and acceptance, order, and status in the Reiss model) were externally directed/generated while others (choice, meaningful engagement, curiosity, honor, idealism, and tranquility) originated within the learner. In other words, intrinsic and extrinsic motivations could coexist.
Thinking more deeply about learner motivation has two important consequences viz a viz sexuality education. First, we should consider students’ motivations to engage in health behaviors and, if those behaviors are dangerous or harmful, to change their behaviors. Some promising work has been done in this area using Deci & Ryan’s (2008) Self-Determination Theory (Jenkins, 2004). In addition, a study of adolescents found that online requests for sexual interactions were less welcome if the adolescent lacked an intrinsic motivation for engaging in sexual interaction (Kerstens & Stol, 2014). Other studies in health behavior motivation have emphasized the need to consider participants’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in order to achieve the best results (McBride et al, 1994). A second consideration for the sexuality educator is the kinds of class activities that can best adapt to learners’ varying potential motivations. Koch (2007) advocated group learning in sexuality education because it suited several different student motivations. Cooperative learning afforded students the opportunity to engage meaningfully, connect new concepts with existing concepts, and feel safe and accepted (i.e. it satisfied Reiss’ and Estes’ criteria). It provided extrinsic motivation via rewards for group achievement, which encouraged group cohesion and social interdependence. As an experiential learning method, “Group work enhance[d] social and emotional development through many different avenues, including developing a sense of community and altruism, self-efficacy, self-esteem, and empowerment” and thus satisfied the needs of intrinsically motivated learners (Koch, 2007, p. 54). Koch’s methodology should seem familiar to students in Widener’s Human Sexuality Education program.
Although the idea of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation as opposite ends of a binary spectrum has fallen out of favor, both types of motivation, and several others, are worth considering when we prepare our sexuality educational curricula and interventions. We must not only take our students’ varying learning styles (i.e. how they learn) into account: if we want to keep them engaged, we must also try to understand why students learn.
Covington, M. V. (2000). Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation in schools: A reconciliation. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(1), 22-25.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne,49(3), 182-185.
Estes, T.H., Mintz, S.L., & Gunter, M.A. (2011). Instruction: A models approach (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Jenkins, S. (2004). Gender and self-determination in sexual motivation. Dissertation Abstracts International, 64, 6330. Retrieved from http://0-search.ebscohost.com.libcat. widener.edu
Kerstens, J., & Stol, W. (2014). Receiving online sexual requests and producing online sexual images: The multifaceted and dialogic nature of adolescents’ online sexual interactions. Cyberpsychology, 8(1), 1-15.
Koch, P. (2007). The what, why, and how of group learning in sexuality education. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 2(2), 51-71.
Lepper, M. R., Sethi, S., Dialdin, D., & Drake, M. (1997). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: A developmental perspective. In S. S. Luthar, J. A. Burack, D. Cicchetti, J. R. Weisz (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology: Perspectives on adjustment, risk, and disorder (pp. 23-50). New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from http://www.columbia.edu/~ss957/articles/Intrinsic%20and%20Extrinsic%20Motivation.pdf
McBride, C. M., Curry, S. J., Stephens, R. S., Wells, E. A., Roffman, R. A., & Hawkins, J. (1994). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for change in cigarette smokers, marijuana smokers, and cocaine users. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 8(4), 243-250.
Reiss, S. (2012). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. Teaching of Psychology, 39(2), 152-156.