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  • Writer's pictureChloë Fraser

Boredom Be Gone: META’s Top 5 Steps to Cultivate Intrinsic Motivation in Students

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

It'ss common for teachers to bribe students with external rewards: golden stickers, all As, praise, and prizes. As children grow older and their interest wanes, educators turn to yet another source of external motivation: punishment. Yet research in cognitive science demonstrates that external motivators, like praise and threats, actually diminish a child’s interest in learning. For instance, one Gallup poll highlighted that while three-quarters of fifth-graders feel motivated to learn, not even a third of high school juniors say the same.

We can do better than that.

To increase student engagement, alternative schools like META foster intrinsic motivation through personalized learning. This type of motivation is found when a learner is driven by an interest or enjoyment in a task itself, rather than by external incentives — and it matters. Indeed, intrinsic motivation makes students more likely to remain curious, exert greater effort in school, persist in their learning despite challenges, and develop a better understanding of what they study.

So, how do we motivate students to learn at META? Better yet, how do we create a learning ecosystem where each student believes not only in themselves but also in their capacity to enact change? Here are our 5 special ingredients to shore up intrinsic motivation through personalized learning.


1. We cultivate student autonomy

At META Learning, we let your child decide what they want to learn, what impact they want to have on the world, and how they will pursue it. We ask for students’ opinions about their studies because this deeply affects their intrinsic motivation. And we care about our learners’ goals because we know from cognitive psychology that they will perform better when they are self-directed: when they understand what they’re learning and why. Of course, as a natural consequence of student voice and student choice, there is also student accountability.

2. We set performance goals

When you know you’re in the driver’s seat for your own learning, you are more likely to perform well because you are held personally accountable for your success — and your failures. Alternative education demands that students self-assess and monitor whether they are succeeding according to their own metrics for success, an essential pillar of intrinsic motivation. At META, learners evaluate what they did and how they learned on their own terms, with skilled educators there to guide them every step of the way.

3. We privilege community feedback

Community feedback plays a crucial role in META learning. Not only do we provide personalized learning for our students; we ensure that they are invariably accompanied by talented mentors, life coaches, technical experts, and counselors. Our staff is there to provide constructive, personalized advice to help your child hone their interests, push past difficulties, and grow their intrinsic motivation. In addition, we give space for peer critique so that students can develop and share their own ideas regarding project management — all while bonding together.

4. We nurture belonging

At META, we know that your child is intelligent, but we want them to know what they can do with that intelligence, and we expect them to continue to grow and contribute to their community in various ways. In consequence, we work hard to bolster our learners’ self-awareness, confidence levels, and sense of belonging — all essential components of intrinsic motivation. We make certain that each and every one of our students feels like they are part of something bigger than themselves; the missing piece in an extraordinary puzzle.


5. We nourish greater purpose

How could you ever feel intrinsically motivated to enact change if you thought your choices didn’t matter? Within the META community, we want students to believe in the mission behind their learning. That’s why we’ve made sure to root our educational programs in the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. As a result, every META student can be sure that what they learn at school is deeply intertwined with global UN goals for 2030. We want our students to feel excited doing real things, with real people, to enact some real change. Now that’s some intrinsic motivation!

The Bottom Line

Intrinsically motivated students will consistently outperform students with extrinsic incentives like exams, rewards, and punishments in achieving the same cognitive task. And at META, we fire up our students' intrinsic motivation through greater autonomy, personalized performance goals, and community feedback. Our educational program also nurtures a deep sense of belonging and purpose in each of our learners to deepen their drive to learn. Ultimately, we challenge your child to become their best selves, day in and day out, within a safe learning space.

→ In our next blog piece, we discuss how META students use localized online education to learn independently, tackle real-life issues, and connect with peers.

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