I was observing a pattern, so subtle and stark at the same time. I interview prospective learners who apply to the dentistry program. I read in between lines and differentiate those who are passionate becoming a dentist and others. I am talking about those passionate guys. They have many reasons on being inspired to take this career path; getting their teeth fixed, working with a dentist, mother a dentist, opportunity to work with people, opportunity to work with hands.

As I follow the passionate, after one year, I find a different voice in few of them. “Right now, I need to complete this task.” “I want to do well in exams”. “This is the third time I am repeating this exercise”. I could see more of fatigue and annoyance than passion. I ask them again now, “Do you like dentistry?” Most of these less passionate (according to me), earlier passionate, learners still say YES.

A wonderful book by Daniel Pink, Drive, was an eye opener for me. It explained this learner’s motivation paradox. Passionate learners come with a high motivation, here called as intrinsic motivation, for the love of learning. The school is objective, has a task at hand to train them and make sure they have learned what is required at a predefined level. Exams are set in, tasks are defined, timelines are set, penalties if not followed – external motivation- to make sure that the learner gets to what is expected. Daniel claims that extrinsic motivators (EM) are a sure killer of intrinsic motivation. EMs are now the deciders on the learner’s journey. “I am passionate to learn dentistry, but if I don’t fulfil the set standards, my dream is not realisable”. The learner takes the carrot and stick route to realise what once was his dream.

Can we break this paradox. Can internal motivation use the EMs as stepping stones towards the dream rather than hurdles to overcome. OR better can we make EMs redundant and non-existent. Exam, the primary deterrent according to me for learning, should be used to assess the learner’s status in the learning than penalise for not learning. School can do a lot but that is still in the realm of external motivation. What can learners do to be high in internal motivation?

What will you do?

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