While motivation is usually split into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, a better way to conceptualize it maybe to think of motivation as a continuum with amotivation or apathy at one extreme and intrinsic motivation at the other. Amotivation occurs when someone is stagnate and no amount of reward or punishment will encourage them to act. Intrinsic motivation is where someone is driven to do something because they enjoy doing it and nothing can stop them. Extrinsic motivation occupies the area between these extremes. Sometimes extrinsic motivation has a somewhat compulsory aspect to it, but other times actions can be instrumental in the broader scope of achieving goals that are intrinsically important to someone.
For example, a gold star can motivate to varying degrees. Sometimes a gold star is a completely external reward to encourage a behavior, other times a gold star is a tool used to help achieve one’s self-identified goals. Think about the difference between the gold stars I got to put on the chore chart for taking out the trash and Glee’s golden star Rachel Berry. When I took out the trash, I only cared about getting a gold star because that was one star closer to my allowance. The gold star was tool to motivate me to do something I had no desire to do; thus, the star had merely instrumental value. On the other hand, for Rachel, gold stars are a metaphor for her life’s ambition of being a star, a goal that she completely identifies with. Giving herself a gold star for winning the lead in the school musical has instrumental value because it comes from an external source, but it is closer to the intrinsic side of the spectrum because she is regulating her own actions.
In terms of education it is vital to conceptualize motivation as a spectrum or continuum. Most students fall somewhere in the middle area and are in need of extrinsic motivation to give them the push they need to be successful in school and in finding and pursuing their passions. Our goal as educators is to find the right degree of extrinsic motivation for each student.