Motivation is a bit of a hot-button issue for both teachers and game designers, mainly because it’s so necessary for continued success but so difficult to design for. There are two types of education – extrinsic and intrinsic.
Extrinsic motivation, like it sounds, is a motivating force that comes from outside of the person. Stickers, gold stars, and grades are great examples of this from teaching. Game design has really embraced badges, achievements, and gear to motivate players to continue the game. Generally speaking, extrinsic motivation is showy, but otherwise useless, and when the goodies stop coming, whatever behavior was being motivated by the goodies trickles off to a stop. Think about the misbehaving child who cleans up his act once he’s promised some sort of treat. More often than not, once the treat has been acquired, the bad behavior is back because the child has no reason or desire to continue being good. (The savvier misbehaving child also quickly figures out that bad behavior will get him more treats than good behavior if the situation isn’t handled correctly…which makes things fun when different people are handling the child.) It’s the same with gamers. If the gamer has become attached to the achievements, once they’re done earning them they’re also done with the game.
Intrinsic motivation comes from within the person. It’s the child who persistently practices cartwheels until she gets them right because she wants to be able to do them. It’s the gamer who makes a point of exploring a game map from one end of the other because they’re having fun exploring new places. The intrinsically motivated person is more likely to become engaged and to return to an activity because they enjoy it or it fulfills a goal they personally set for themselves. It’s also harder to design for because it’s dependent on the person herself rather than any reward the teacher or game designer can set out.
Generally, it’s agreed, both in education and game design, that intrinsic motivation is better than extrinsic motivation because those who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to return, to push themselves to accomplish more.