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.


Cassavaugh Family said...

Julie I love this. Never thought of the intrinsic vs extrinsic in relationship to the common statement from the START training of "don't fight the autism". It is a beautiful example and as you say, it would be nice to know a little Mozart but its not a critical life skill. I think its beautiful what you are doing and you always express it so clearly in your thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

Joe W. said...

Hi Julie! I just stumbled across your blog and have been reading many of your posts, including this one. You are doing a tremendous job and helping a lot of people!

I'm impressed with your knowledge! What is interesting is that when talking about what motivates us, your son is no different than any of us! Nobody wants to be told what to do, but we'll gladly pursue that which interests us.

Unfortunately, much of our education system is still teaching outdated methods that neither interest or motivate our kids, nor have any real world applications.

Having a passion for something makes learning fun, but sharing that passion & knowledge with others leads to a fulfilling life! Being home schooled is allowing him to develop that passion!

I found you because I recently got involved with a local organization, The Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation or ASDF, and I have been learning so much. They're a small organization who has devoted their lives to tirelessly give everything they can to help families with a child who has autism spectrum disorder. The smiles they put on kids' faces are all the motivation one needs! If you would like their contact information or if their is anything I can do, please let me know. Keep up the great work!


Anonymous said...

Hello, first time reader here. Very impressed! You are very clear with your point, simple, and easy to follow, I love it. I have just started a blog about my nephew with autism, more of a journal about him riding horses. I look forward to following you!

Triumphant Kids: Empowering your child towards a brighter future. said...

Hi Julie, it's a great joy and an educational experience reading your blog and I must say this post is really helpful in helping me gain some perspective. Keep up the great work. Cheers!