Continuum of Motivation: Moving from Extrinsic to Intrinsic

Motivation has a great impact on the learning process. While some people learn more by outside influences, others may achieve more by their personal aspirations. Whatever the situation, everyone involved in any learning process should know how motivation affects learning. The Continuum of Motivation graphic below is a snapshot of what moving from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic might look like as learners progress from teacher-centered to learner-driven environments.

continuum of motivation

Continuum of Motivation TM by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Graphic design by Sylvia Duckworth.


Extrinsic motivation occurs when we are motivated to perform a behavior or engage in an activity to earn a reward or avoid punishment. Intrinsic motivation involves engaging in behavior because it is personally rewarding; essentially, performing an activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward.


Instrumental is a similar system in education as the factory model that encouraged rewards and consequences. We are so used to this system that we became comfortable with it and find it difficult to change. “Students” especially high school students may ask questions like “what is my grade?” or “is this going to be on the test?” Some “students” know how to “do” school to just get through school. Others just want to follow the rules where others are not motivated because they lost interest, are not successful, are bored with school or feel no connections to the teacher, school or learning.



Social is where learners want to be accepted as part of a group. They seek approval of their peers and want to please their teacher, parents, and peers. They are motivated by looking good and measure how they perform with others especially their peers. Friends may mean more to them then how they do in school. They are still motivated to learn driven mostly by extrinsic factors.



Achievement means learners demonstrate that they want to learn and have a desire to succeed in school. This is also where they want to work well and be successful more than being one of the in-crowd. They choose the evidence that demonstrates mastery of learning and how they met their learning goals. This is where they begin developing a growth mindset of believing in themselves and that they know they can learn.



Self-Actualization is about learners being invested in their learning. They are involved and immersed in the learning process because of their love of learning. At this point, a learner’s eyes are open that it is all about them and how they learn that drives them to want to learn more. It could be learning a new skill, attaining new knowledge, creating something they never thought they could build, or pursuing their purpose. In self-actualization, they have agency and know they can learn anything they want to learn if they put their heart, mind and soul into it.



The Continuum of Motivation does involve learner voice, choice, and engagement. All of the continuums have elements that drive the learner to build agency and we will include additional references and research that support how the continuums support learners, personalized learning and moving to agency.



Thank You to Sylvia Duckworth @sylviaduckworth ( from Crescent School, Toronto, Canada for designing the graphic of the Continuum of Engagement 3/6/2016.

*This page including the chart was created by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey of Personalized Learning, LLC (c) on 3/6/16 and published 3/22/16. The Continuum of Motivation is also copyrighted in our publication, How to Personalize Learning: A Practical Guide for Getting Started and Going Deeper (Corwin, 2016). For permission to adapt, distribute copies, or to use in a publication, contact Kathleen McClaskey at


Other Continuums

Continuum of Choice
Continuum of Voice
Continuum of Engagement
Continuum of Ownership
Continuum of Purpose
Continuum of Self-Efficacy



Cherry, K. (2016, January 15). Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation: What’s the Difference?

Toshalis, E. & Nakkula, M. J. (2012). Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice.


Cross-posted from