Did you wake up this morning with a deep yearning to go to work? What incentivises you to keep showing up? Is it the pay or is it the work itself? Can it be different in education? This important discussion has been popping up in staff rooms, board meetings and internal dialogues in the minds of teachers. As our understanding of the psychology of learning progresses, the balance of intrinsic and extrinsic learning is being pushed to the foreground. How do we develop both well, and which is more valuable? This is a conversation the Banqer team loves to be a part of.


According to educational researchers at Stanford; “Intrinsic motivation is the natural curiosity and desire to learn that we are all born with. We experience intrinsic motivation when we find ourselves seeking answers to a question that intrigues us or pushing ourselves to work hard to master a skill.” Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is described as “[Working] for an external reward or to avoid an external punishment provided by someone else”. It becomes clear that most definitions of extrinsic motivation carry a more negative connotation. It’s easy to see why. Being forced to do something is a distant second to initiating something you want to do, and the more internal the desire to learn a curriculum is, less behavioural management is required on an individual student level.

Creating intrinsic learning is the aim, but the beginning point to this can often actually be through extrinsic motivation. An example is using things that students are already passionate about and capitalising on those to teach advanced concepts. At the Primary school level (Banqer’s main interaction) there are a few pitfalls to this method. Students in this age group are likely to hold a narrow perspective on the world and have dreams very similar to that of their peers. This is illustrated in data collected by the website Fatherly, detailing the professions young students (5-11) want to be when they ‘grow up’:

If every subject tried to tie their curriculum into fitting the young student’s desires and fostering intrinsic learning, you can guarantee there would be some important content that is nearly impossible to relate without coming across as completely contrived. There would also be so much of a personal focus, that students run the risk of becoming overly-independent, and forgetting the greater context of their learning.

Extrinsic motivation can be the thing that leads young students out of what they know and onto a path of discovery, where they can establish a truly unique identity and spawn intrinsic motivation from that. Simply put: external motivation can become internal motivation. The concept of something being ‘caught’ rather than ‘taught’.

Could it be that extrinsic motivation allows a greater quantity of information and experiences to be explored, from which intrinsic motivation can allow a greater quality of exploration?

The two can work simultaneously in a pretty spectacular way, and with Banqer, we get front row seats to see this happening. The extrinsic motivation of Banqer quickly leads to intrinsic motivation, as students feel the positives of achieving savings goals and being able to use their Banqer cash in other ways. We’ve seen the ever-present culture of instant gratification turn into expressions of delayed gratification as Banqer students choose to save money rather than purchase things in a classroom setting.

Let us not create a double standard in school vs after school, thinking you spend 13 years forming intrinsic behaviours then all of a sudden get set loose in a world dominated by extrinsic goals and incentives. Rather, let’s acknowledge they compliment each other and allow the quantity and quality of our pursuit of knowledge increase.

As Adam Smith so eloquently stated: “The great secret of education is to direct vanity to proper objects”.

We would love to hear your thoughts on extrinsic and intrinsic learning. Have you had any powerful examples of either one in your classroom? Comment below or make a post in our Banqer community!

Insights from Cam Richardson (Extrinsic experimenter, Intrinsic enquirer, and Banqer Team Member)