Rewarding Differently: Intrinsic Motivation for the Modern Learner

Intrinsic and extrinsic incentives work very differently. Have you heard about us talking about incentives for the unmotivated learner? Often, what we’re really referring to are extrinsic motivations. Extrinsically motivated individuals look to outside incentives for motivation and validation. Employers can use things like badges, report cards, and XP points to reward extrinsic learners. These help “unmotivated” learners find the reward in the training when they otherwise wouldn’t.

Intrinsically motivated learners on the other hand often find the reward in the training itself. They believe that training can lead to personal, professional, or intellectual growth. The value they place on the learning itself means they’re not in it for the badge alone. They’re looking for quality training that will lead them to their goals. Does this mean they don’t need any incentives? Of course not! You can reap a lot of benefits by developing intrinsically motivated employees with just a little more effort and attention in rewarding them.

At HALIGHT, we have several ways to reward intrinsically motivated learners. First, let’s look at how extrinsic rewards affect the intrinsically motivated learner.


Aren’t extrinsic motivators enough?

Rewards are a way to respond to a job well done. For example, when a learner gains XP points from completing training, they get tangible evidence of their achievement. These rewards work well for extrinsically motivated learners.

Alternatively, a surplus of external rewards may deter intrinsically motivated learners. This is known as the overjustification effect. When someone is already looking forward to something and you offer an extrinsic reward, this can actually make that person less intrinsically motivated. The flashy prizes and other incentives may distract them from their intrinsic interest in the training. They may also feel bribed by the reward and may not want to complete the training for just the extrinsic goal. In this case, what they thought of as “interesting” content has now become identified as “work” by these extrinsic rewards.


So, how do we reward these learners?

You can’t have two separate platforms for each type of learner, so how do you engage both learner types without under – or over- incentivizing them? This is the tightrope we’ve learned to balance on.

You must tap into their intrinsic feelings.

Intrinsically motivated learners are looking for a positive emotion at the end of their efforts. They are typically naturally interested in the content for their own benefit and growth. At the end of their training, they want to reap the rewards of quality content. This means designing training that continues to engage, empower, and educate those learners.

Let’s look at the desired outcomes intrinsically motivated learners want to achieve and how you can help them get there.


The Intrinsic Impact

Self Esteem – Intrinsic learners may want to boost their self-esteem by completing challenging tasks. Designing training with interesting assessment methods that challenge and engage learners will incentivize them to achieve something they haven’t yet. By conquering this challenge, the training can help boost their self-esteem.

Curiosity – Giving the learner the power to control and explore the training will invigorate their curiosity. Users can explore a virtual world and find new tasks to complete to earn skillsets. Or, they can interact with a simulation for a virtual first-hand experience to learn from their mistakes. At the end of the training, their curiosity will lead them to feel empowered by the lessons they learned by themselves.

Competition – Leaderboards and other methods to compare performance can incentivize intrinsic learners to appear on top! These scoreboards are helpful to organizations to see quantitative methods of evaluation, but they also give the intrinsic learner a competitive edge. To those that want to win for their own sake, this is a great incentive!

Validation – Though validation comes from an external source, praise and recognition speak to the personal values of the intrinsic learner. They want to exceed by and for themselves, and praise and recognition confirm that they are doing this, reinforcing their efforts with positive feedback. When their hard work is recognized in the system, they can benefit from feeling personally validated in their growth. In this way, praise and recognition can motivate these individuals by reassuring them that they’re on the right path towards their professional goals.


There’s something for everybody in quality training and interactive learning platforms. At HALIGHT, we design solutions that speak to a variety of learners so your organization can develop excellent employees with training that works for them. Find out more and talk to us today!


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