Intrinsic Motivation: the right way to learn
“If you put your toys away, I will give you candy. "If you don’t, no more youtube for today.”
A very familiar dialogue, isn’t it? Parents commonly apply this method known as “rewards and punishments” to get a child to do their bidding. Even as they grow up, education systems reinforce this way of achieving milestones by rewarding good behavior and punishing bad.
Dexter Sam insists that it is time we do away with this style of parenting and teaching and embrace intrinsic motivation instead. He argues that the change observed when children follow instructions only in a reward and punishment system does more damage than good in the long term. This system is either rooted in fear or instant gratification.
A lasting change in behavior needs to be fueled by curiosity and creativity. This is possible when a child feels motivated to do something from within, without the exterior pushes. Dexter talks about three pillars of intrinsic motivation - Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
Firstly, the freedom to choose learning activities in the way a child prefers is a motivation to keep making progress without interruptions. Secondly, mastery happens when a child gets the opportunity to be completely engrossed in what he or she learns. Educators and caregivers must try to give children the space to be engaged in a manner that leads to “flow”. Finally, finding and defining the purpose behind why we do what we do is crucial for being intrinsically motivated.
Dexter encourages teachers and parents to promote and facilitate these three pillars so that children can grow with a desire to learn instead of just following instructions. Check out the video below to find his book recommendations and researched insights.
Dexter Sam lives in Chennai with his wife and 3-year-old son. He has worked for the last 12 years in the field of education – as a teacher, youth worker, teacher trainer, school consultant, and curriculum designer. He now works with an NGO called STiR Education, partnering with state governments to strengthen the government school system using an intrinsic motivation approach.