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Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Motivation In Adult Learners

Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Motivation in Adult Learners

Adult learners need a balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to successfully complete a task or acquire a new skill.  In online learning environments, however, findings suggest that a supportive environment that fosters intrinsic motivation is the optimal learning environment for adults (Greer, 2013).  Increase intrinsic motivation by using humor to peak interest in course content.  Further, increase intrinsic motivation of adult learners by applying new concepts to real-life scenarios.  When adult learners’ work aligns with core values and they connect to the material on an emotional level, learning is improved!  Further, increase extrinsic motivation by offering higher grades to acknowledge successful acquisition of new knowledge.

Increasingly interactive, online learning platforms engage adult learners to reach their continuing education goals. While extrinsic motivation is based on external cues (e.g., the hope of gaining rewards or the fear of consequences), intrinsic motivation is based on internal cues (e.g., enjoyment or interest).

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: Implications for Online Learning

Online learning platforms offer flexibility to adult learners so that they can pursue their continuing education goals while working full-time.  Further, adult learners with limited mobility have much to gain from online continuing education courses that they can access right from their homes!  Continuing education software can help to increase learner access.  Learn from anywhere with supportive teachers and peer networks who are intrinsically and extrinsically motivated to acquire new skills.



Greer, W. (2013). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: Abraham Lincoln as an adult learner (Master’s thesis, Western Kentucky University). Retrieved from

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