CELFS Teaching and Learning Network

Types of motivation

by Kaz Yamamoto

Motivation is one of the key issues in the field of education. At the same time, it is one of the most sensitive subjects. Every teacher must have asked him/herself this question: How can I motivate my students?motivation

Even though I have written some papers on this topic, motivating students can still be a struggle and there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut solution. Having said that, I feel it is helpful to understand that there are different types of motivation, for this will enable teachers to identify which approach they need to take to motivate their students according to their teaching context. I will introduce the most basic types of motivation in this blog post.

The two main types of motivation are intrinsic and extrinsic. According to Deci (1975), intrinsically motivated behaviours trigger “internally rewarding consequences” such as the “feeling of competence and self-determination” (p. 23). On the other hand, extrinsically motivated activities lead to certain rewards such as diplomas, prizes and good marks. Brown (2000) points out that even punishment can be an element, for it creates the motivation to avoid it. Brown claims that extrinsic motivation is usually weaker than intrinsic due to its addictiveness and dependency: depriving students of rewards could lead to demotivation. However, Brown also argues that some rewards (extrinsic motivation) such as positive feedback from the instructor could increase the level of self-determination (intrinsic motivation). Accordingly, as Wu (2008) states, language learners need both extrinsic motivation, which teachers have the possibility to initiate, as well as intrinsic motivation.

Two other important motivation types in language learning are integrative and instrumental (Gardner and Lambert, 1972). Integrative motivation refers to students who wish to integrate into the target culture. If a student is instrumentally motivated, his/her goals are to achieve a certain reward such as promotion or good grades. Gardner and MacIntyre (1991) subsequently refer to these types of motivation as orientation, for orientation is not always related to one’s motivation. For instance, one can have high integrative orientation with little wish to learn the target language. Integrative and instrumental orientation don’t have to be thought of as mutually exclusive as a student can have the urge to obtain good grades and at the same time want to integrate into the target society.

Thus, knowing about these types of motivation/orientation will be useful for language teachers, as the level of intrinsic/extrinsic motivation differs depending on the student. For instance, one can say pre-sessional students are extrinsically motivated by the final exams. In that case, how can teachers increase their intrinsic motivation? In contrast, some foreign language courses without credits or certificates need a different approach because of their shortage of extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in Education: Definition & Examples


Brown, H. D. (2000). Principles of language learning and teaching. New York, NY: Longman.

Deci, E. L. (1975). Intrinsic motivation. New York, NY: Plenum Press.

Gardner, R. C., & Lambert, W. E. (1972). Attitudes and motivation in second language learning. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Gardner, R. C., & MacIntyre, P. D. (1991). An instrumental motivation in language study: Who says it isn’t effective? Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 13, 57-72.

Wu, L. (2008). On cultivation of leaner autonomy in EFL classroom. US-China Foreign Language, 6(3), 43-46.


2 Responses to “Types of motivation”

  1. steve22peters

    So much here, Kaz, to think about. It makes me want to explore the ways we categorise/ understand motivation further. I like the concept of self-regulation and how this captures the way that learners select actions or strategies to apply to tasks and how they reflect on those selections differently at different times. It moves it towards a learner’s willingness to act in certain ways, for me, and therefore becomes something we can all engage with more concretely in the classroom and in pastoral support.

    I have often wanted to try to capture how this changes across task boundaries in any given session in order to track and understand better changes in self-regulation in line with changes in task/ stage. Any suggestions very welcome!


  2. Julia Gardos

    Good to read your thoughts Kaz, I’ve often thought about these questions too. I think the teacher as well as the group can play a fundamental role in increasing student motivation. By creating a safe, encouraging, friendly and engaging atmosphere in class, I believe that as teachers we can help students feel more involved in class. In addition, giving students a role or responsibility in the class (eg. choosing a reading text or a seminar topic) could increase their motivation, as they become active participants in the learning process. Finally, if some members of the class are intrinsically motivated, this may have a positive effect on the others, as they wish to fit into the group and do as well as their peers. This initially extrinsic motivation (I want to be as good as they are) can gradually be transformed into more intrinsic feelings (I want to do well for myself). I believe that group work can play a fundamental role in this process.



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