My research has focused on how financial rewards can be an effective tool to help individuals achieve their goals. That work led me to consider how external rewards could be used to motivate students to learn. While thinking about this, I read Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink (Riverhead Books, 2009). The book argues that people working on some tasks are responsive to external rewards, while their performance on other tasks is improved through a focus on internal motivation.
The financial compensation I receive in my own job is important, but internal motivators are what drive me to excel. The first internal motivator for me is autonomy: The freedom my job provides allows me to ask and answer interesting research questions. The second motivator is watching students learn, reaching that moment when they understand a principle or concept and then see the connection to how they would apply it in their own lives.
Understanding my own motivation has been paramount in influencing how I spend my time each day. Having observed this change in myself, I wanted to help my students understand their own motivating influences so they could excel in their studies and careers. I have always used external rewards, i.e., grades, but I am left asking now, What role do I play in helping students foster their own internal motivation? I have decided to focus on helping students connect with professionals to discuss their career goals, in the hope that those conversations will motivate them to make choices today that will lead them to achieve their goals.
Joshua Price is an assistant professor of economics and finance at Southern Utah University.