Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations by Ryan & Deci

Reading through education theory a theme that emerges through the literature is that of motivation. Motivation of the learner and also to a lesser extent the teacher. If we think about our motivation as a learner we may want to strive to be the best, obtain a qualification for career development purposes, to learn something or it may be a work requirement. The motivation for education development will likely be different for each person depending on intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

Journal Article

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary educational psychology, 25(1), 54-67.

“To be motivated, is to be moved to do something”. Motivation varies in terms of the kind of motivation, level of motivation and type of motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation

“Intrinsic motivation remains an important construct, reflecting the natural human propensity to learn and assimilate.”

Intrinsic motivation comes from within the learner, activated by fun, interest and the challenge.   These intrinsic motivations can elicit passions, creativity, and prolonged efforts to learn and explore. Intrinsic is seen as the ‘free choice’ in learning. Feelings of competence provide part of the interpersonal development for intrinsic motivation. It must be remembered that peoples intrinsic motivators vary depending on the task at hand. The motivation is in the relationship between individual and activity.

“Intrinsic motivation results in high-quality learning and creativity.”

Autonomy for self-direction and also positive performance feedback provide opportunities for enhanced intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsically motivators can vary between a positive or negative value. External factors which lead to a separable outcome such as grades, rewards, or workplace/peer opinions. These extrinsic factors may deter, cause resentment and disinterest or they may alternatively be accepted of the value of the task and be externally ‘propelled into action’. The student understands the value of the educational purpose.

Self-Determination Theory

The interplay in understanding motivation between these intrinsic forces and the extrinsic motives is part of Self-Determination Theory. The intrinsic and extrinsic motivations include the psychological needs for competence and autonomy.

Nurse Education 

The nurse educator’s focus will likely be on developing the nursing team and also that of personal development. A vocational profession such as nursing may have a culture where educators expectations are that of full commitment and enthusiasm from the learner’s end. As educators we have to question if is this a realistic expectation from learners or is a more business minded approach to nursing and it’s education needed?

Keywords: Motivation; Intrinsic; Extrinsic;  Self-Determination Theory.


Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary educational psychology, 25(1), 54-67.

Gagné, M., & Deci, E. L. (2005). Self‐determination theory and work motivation. Journal of Organizational behavior, 26(4), 331-362.