Monday, September 12, 2011

Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivation

The other day while homeschooling my thirteen-year-old son with autism. I decided to cover the subject area of music by playing a little Mozart. I thought this was a good idea. After all, we had success with Beethoven as he can now identify a few of his works. Well, the Mozart idea didn't go over so well. Within seconds he was at our family computer putting in his own choice into the Google search box.

He typed out 'fight songs.' He wanted to listen to university fight songs like the University of Michigan's "Hail to the Victors." '

Ok, so you want to listen to fight songs.' I thought. So be it. So, he spent thirty minutes to an hour looking up and listening to various university fight songs.

I had no problem with it. His choice led to a discussion of marching bands and instruments. There are marching bands in high schools. They are known to play fight songs.

So, what does this have to do with Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation? According to a Wikipedia article on the topic of motivation, intrinsic motivation is motivation driven by an interest or enjoyment in a task or subject. If someone is intrinsically motivated it means he or she really wants to do something. Something like, say, study fight songs.

In contrast, extrinsic motivation comes from outside forces like educators, cheering crowds, employers, etc. Rewards, punishments, and good grades are all examples of extrinsic motivation.
This type of motivation is common in the public schools where topics of study are chosen for the students.

My son is homeschooling with me in part because extrinsic motivation didn't work. Rewards? He had no interest in them. Good Grades? I don't think he cared what his report card said. Punishment? Well, he received plenty time outs and suspensions, but they didn't increase his desire to learn. In fact, he might have learned that if he acted out, he got to go home.

OK, back to Mozart. Obviously he had no interest and was not intrinsically motivated to learn Mozart. I could have extrinsically motivated him (or at least tried) to learn all of Mozart's musical works. I do use extrinsic motivation such as grounding him from the computer or worse his Nintendo 3Ds.

Yes, extrinsic motivation does work at home. However, I'd rather limit it use that, and call on the that strategy (if necessary) when covering a topic that he needs to know. Like how to add loose change. He'll need that skill in life. Mozart? Well, it would be nice if he could identify a few works, but I have to keep us moving forward.

I want my son to enjoy learning again. So fight songs, it is. It took very little effort on my part to get him to listen to the half a dozen or so songs he researched. He's happy. I'm happy. He'll remember these songs for life. All is not lost.