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Cultivating Intrinsic Motivation Through Connections

Updated: Feb 12, 2022

In education, intrinsic motivation can be described as when a student’s desire to learn takes priority over all other motivations. Sounds simple, but unfortunately, most students are primarily motivated by the external status they receive from good grades. One of the most straightforward ways that we can cultivate intrinsic motivation through our teaching is to ensure that students understand the information's value to them.

Communicating this value to the student can be done by explicitly pointing out the information's value outside of the classroom. When we make the connections between the classroom and real life clear to our students, students become intrinsically motivated to learn the information because they can see its value to them. They are no longer motivated by the grade, they are motivated to learn what they need to know.

When teaching any concept, instructors should illustrate that concept in another context in order to ground the new information in an existing framework in the student’s mind, and provide a real life relationship. Consider word problems in math. Their purpose is to demonstrate the real life applications of math, as well as to keep the student engaged. Thankfully, this approach can be applied in any subject. As educators, we simply need to be in the habit of asking ourselves why the students need to know the information, and we can't succumb to superficial answers about course or program requirements.

Be explicit about the fact that the information has value outside of the classroom, and encourage students to make their own connections between the content and real life. Before long, students can form a habit of identifying these relationships for themselves and favoring intrinsic motivations over extrinsic ones in regard to their education.

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