Motivation in the classroom

Seminar Paper, 2006

17 Pages



I. Introduction
The objective of the essay:
Intrinsic and Expansive or Extrinsic and Defensive?

II. Main Part
1. The involved Motivational Theories
2. Enthusiasm and Zest
3. Success and Failure
4. Clarity and Commitment

III. Conclusion
On the way to ‘Utopia’:
Is it possible to eliminate ‘extrinsic/defensive’ learning at school?

IV. Literature

I. Introduction

Intrinsic and Expansive or Extrinsic and Defensive?

Eiko Jürgens emphasizes in his essay on “Student’s motivation – On the self-efficacy of learning motivation”[1] that the (main) motive for learning lies in the expected individual profit. “If I want to know more about the world, (…), then I’ll achieve this only by learning,” he states, and designates this kind of learning motivation as an ‘expansive’ one.[2] The main hallmark of the ‘expansive learning’ is the fact that it is born out of complete voluntariness, in other words: the decision to do it or to leave it rests completely on my own. In contrast to this the ‘defensive learning’ is motivated exclusively by short-term objectives in order to avoid a negative assessment from either the parents or the teachers.[3] A ‘normal’ student in this sense will either pretend a learning progression or learn just as much as necessary. This however is supported by the evaluation system of today’s schools. A student who provides any expansive learning interest may even disturb the planned curriculum and therefore be blamed. At least most teachers won’t be fond of newly discovered learning opportunities by the students if he or she is heading behind the syllabus anyway.

Consequently, the powerful concept of self-determination or ‘intrinsic motivation’[4] seems to be superior to all other kinds of motivation, in particular toward the antagonizing concepts of ‘defensive learning’ and ‘extrinsic motivation’[5], as has been shown in diverse empiric surveys. Thus Lehmann/Lehrke/Lind conclude in a survey from 1974 that “intrinsic motivated people are more concentrated, less influenced by distress, expressing themselves better, doing more questioning and storing more information. They show better performances in problem solving tasks and develop more divergent, creative thinking”[6], and Portele (1975) stresses the importance of ‘intrinsic motivated learning’ in respect of the development of creativity, a retentive memory, and the ability of problem solving and applying criticism.[7]

Though it shouldn’t be doubted that there is certainly superiority in the ‘intrinsically motivated’ student it has to be kept in mind that both the ‘intrinsic/expansive’ as well as the ‘extrinsic/defensive’ learning concepts influence each other and therefore always should be regarded together.[8] The assertion that ‘good teaching’ doesn’t need any ‘extrinsic motivation’ but can rely exclusively on the topic itself, which should be sufficient to absorb the student’s attention completely[9], is certainly a provocative thesis asking for discussion, but it won’t be adopted in this place. Ballauff’s attitude shall be regarded as a utopia in the same way as the concept of eliminating all ‘defensive learning’ from school, just because Schiefele’s remark in an article for the journal “Pädagogik” in 1993 can’t be denied: “No child can develop motives of its own if it is continuously instructed what to do. How can a human being decide on a task without having any choice?”[10] It is just not realistic in the present constitutional school system to let the students decide by themselves what they intend to learn and what not, although it has to be admitted that this is a tempting idea.

So the objective of this essay will adjust to the demands made up by the practical educationists Heckhausen[11] and Jürgens[12] ; it will attempt to answer the questions whether the teacher is able to foster ‘intrinsic’ and ‘expansive’ learning at all, and if so, what are the teacher’s means to foster this kind of learning. Since intrinsic and expansive learning is closely linked to the concept of ‘interest’[13] the areas discussed in this essay will deal with three of the six ‘conditions for the development of interest at school’ presented by Manfred Prenzel and Hans Schiefele in their essay on “Motivation and Interest”.[14] These conditions are firstly an interest in the subject, secondly an informing feedback, and thirdly proper instructions, all of them in regard to the teacher. Derived from these conditions the essay will examine the motivational effects of enthusiasm and zest, as well clarity and commitment on part of the teacher, and the effect of success and failure in general on the student. It will commence with a brief description of the involved motivational theories, particularly the “Self-determination theory”, and conclude with an assessment in how far it will be possible to reduce the ‘extrinsic/defensive learning’ and the common doubts about the sense of learning.

II. Main Part

1. The involved Motivational Theories

The “Self-determination theory” was developed out of the concept of ‘extrinsic’ and ‘intrinsic’ motivation. The basic and pioneering work for this concept certainly is the already mentioned book ‘Conflict, Arousal, and Curiosity’ published by D. E. Berlyne in 1960. Herein he develops the theory of ‘intrinsic motivation’ by explaining the elements causing an organism to select certain stimuli which are important for creating attentiveness, deals with single aspects of exploration like ‘curiosity’ in animals, children and adults, and combines these aspects to a theory of exploration behavior. Finally he argues that the desire for knowledge expansion arises out of an intellectual conflict, and motivation consequently is created by a cognitive incongruity. This conflict causes curiosity which leads to the desire for obtaining further information. The affected person can be designated as ‘intrinsically’[15] motivated, because his behavior arises out of his own sake in order to satisfy his curiosity.

Although it has to be kept in mind that this indeed is a topic difficult to conceptualize because of the circular nature of the terms involved[16] it is possible to emphasize some correlations and definitions. Commencing with the later ‘intrinsic motivation’ can be defined with the assistance of the antagonizing term: “A behavior being executed because of its anticipated consequences shall be called ‘extrinsic’; a behavior being executed for its own sake and not because of the consequences of the behavior shall be called ’intrinsic’. Intrinsically motivated information reception can in short be called curiosity behavior.”[17] So ‘intrinsic motivation’ can be described as an appeal for the sake of the subject or topic itself, or as an autonomous acting for the sake of one’s own curiosity.[18] The key correlation consists of situational stimuli or information and the current cognition of the learner, in which the ‘situational stimuli’ could derive from novelty, uncertainty and/or complexity. An arising conflict causes curiosity, which in turn leads to the desire of obtaining further information.

In spite of the fact that Berlyne’s pioneering work didn’t contain any recommendations for direct employment at school some consequences for the educational sector have been sorted out by succeeding scholars. These the assumptions are:

1. The provided information has to be neither completely new to the student, nor completely well-known. In the first case the information couldn’t be proceeded at all and therefore would be rejected, in the latter it would be boring to the student. This leads to the conclusion that the situational stimuli should appeal to an average intellectual level.
2. If this ‘average level’ could be achieved and kept up for a certain period of time, the so motivated student is able to absorb and process more complex information than the extrinsically motivated one.


[1] Cf. Smolka (2004), p. 14.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Interestingly the peer group plays no important part as far as results and grades at school are concerned. Good grades may even be harmful to respect and popularity among the class mates. James S. Coleman describes this fact in his book ‚The Adolescent Society’ as early as 1961; cf. Fend (2006), p. 69.

[4] The concept of ‘Intrinsic Motivation’ was initially developed by Daniel E. Berlyne in his book on „Conflict, Arousal and Curiosity”, New York 1960. It was published in German by Ernst Klett in 1974. “Intrinsic Motivation” concerns behavior performed for the individual’s own sake in order to experience pleasure and the satisfaction of one’s curiosity. It comprises the self-determined driving forces of learners, e.g. curiosity, interest, and the learning readiness, cf. Smolka (2004), p. 3.

[5]Extrinsic motivation’ involves influences working from outside the learner, e.g. via stimulation by the teacher, encouragement, praise, blame and grades, cf. ibid.

[6] Cf. Heiland (1979), p. 45.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Cf. Smolka (2004), p. 3.

[9] This opinion is fostered by Theodor Ballauff in a publication from 1970, cf. Heiland (1979), p. 11.

[10] Cf. Smolka (2004), p. 21.

[11] Heinz Heckhausen developed the concept of ‘fitting’, asking to adjust the curriculum to the best possible relation between the relevant topic and the student’s actual knowledge in respect of his or her state of development. In addition he provided a useful summary of the relevance of John W. Atkinson’s “Achievement motivation theory” for school curricula. He demands to increase the intrinsic motivation of the student at school. Cf. Heiland (1979), p. 34.

[12] Eiko Jürgens is working in the teacher’s education at the University of Bielefeld. He demands to employ all available opportunities in order to increase the ‘expansive learning’ and to reduce the ‘defensive learning’ at school. Cf. Smolka (2004), p. 22.

[13] This concept conceives itself as an alternative to Atkinson’s “Achievement motivation theory”. It was initiated by a group of researchers under the leadership of Hans Schiefele in the late 1970s. Cf. Heiland (1979), p. 89.

[14] published in L. Roth, “Pädagogik. Handbuch für Studium und Praxis”, München 2001, cf. Smolka (2004), p. 22.

[15] The term is formed on the Latin intrin-secus, meaning ‘from inside, inwards’; the contrasting term is extrin-secus, meaning ‘from outside’. Cf. Heiland (1979), p. 11.

[16] Cf. Susan Edelman (1997) in her essay on ‘Curiosity and Exploration’: “Curiosity, exploration, motivation and drive are defined, described, explained and operationally defined in terms of one another, and thus become embedded and intertwined.”

[17] This definition was provided by Gerhard Portele in a publication from 1975. Cf. Heiland (1979), p. 41.

[18] Ibid.

Excerpt out of 17 pages


Motivation in the classroom
Bielefeld University  (Faculty for Linguistics and Literature)
Language Learning Motivation and Individual Learner Differences
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Motivation, Language, Learning, Motivation, Individual, Learner, Differences
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M.A. Frank Oelmüller (Author), 2006, Motivation in the classroom , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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