There are many ways to motivate people. The Fogg Behavior Model, for example, can be used in the classroom to increase motivation in students, and therefore, improve engagement.
Another model of motivation can be seen in video games: When players are rewarded for their actions—with coins or points, plot twists, new levels, or character customization—they have no problem playing the game for hours on end. This theory of engagement works in many situations. It’s called gamification, and it’s a theory often applied in education.
This theory posits that there are two categories of motivation. Gamification expert, Yu-Kai Chou describes these as either “left-brain” motivators, which speak to the logical reward as a result of a completed task, or “right-brain” motivators, which speak to the emotional reward of the process of doing a task. Successful video games balance both the left- and right-brain motivators depending on the behavior you want the player to take.
Results-Driven (or Left-Brain) Motivation
Also known as extrinsic motivation, in which the reward comes after a task is completed. Video games reward with points, progress bars and in-game achievements. In traditional education, grades are supposed to motivate students. When they do well, they receive high marks, which makes it easier for them to continue. Ultimately, their reward is moving to the next grade-level or receiving a degree.
Other results-based motivations are ownership, and scarcity. Video games use items or power-ups as a result of good work. Similarly, schools use honors programs and awards to acknowledge a job well done.
Process-Driven (or Right-Brain) Motivation
Also known as intrinsic motivation, the reward here is the enjoyment of a task itself.
For example, games that allow players to make a lot of choices tap into their creativity (reward!). In addition, games that connect players to each other tap into the human desire for social connection (reward!), and games that have unexpected twists and turns play into natural curiosity (reward!). Players will invest more time (and even money) to engage in tasks they enjoy.
Subjects like music and art tap into similar intrinsic motivators, allowing students to create something new from the lessons they learn. Any class can incorporate these motivators: Group discussions tap into social validation, while science labs open up a world of new, unexpected discoveries.
Striking the Balance
Balancing these two kinds of motivations is tricky. A focus solely on results-based motivation can lead to burnout. When external motivators are used to reward behavior that a person already likes doing, it actually decreases motivation! And, stress over bad grades or academic status can hurt a student’s ability to retain knowledge over time.
However, it takes time to see the benefits of process-oriented motivation, because the excitement of creating or discovering something new only comes after students invest time and energy into a project. Without immediate rewards, there may be little incentive to engage.
Reward systems should include a hand off between extrinsic rewards from finishing the work, and intrinsic rewards from engagement.
Results-focused motivators are great for quick wins. Easy tasks that allow for some instant gratification are a great way for students to later engage in some longer-term, more challenging tasks. When a student has invested time in their learning, employing more intrinsic motivators will keep them going.