Malone, T.W., & Lepper, M.R. (1987). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. In R.E. Snow & M.J Farr (Eds.), Aptitude, learning, and instruction volume 3: Conative and affective process analyses (pp. 223-253). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.


Malone and Lepper (1987) had a focus with instructional design built entirely on intrinsic motivation, using a definition from Bruner of “one that finds both its source and its reward in its own exercise,” and making a learning environment fun (p. 223). Their argument was centered on the fact that intrinsic motivation is inherently necessary for learner engagement with activities. As such, they introduced a taxonomy with two parts for designing intrinsically motivating educational environments: individual motivations and interpersonal motivations. This taxonomy relies on elements of competition, challenge, curiosity, control, fantasy, and work with peers to engage the learner on various levels to keep them engaged through the entire learning process.

Key Points

  • Learning is most likely to happen when it is both intrinsically motivating and endogenous.
    • Intrinsic: Engaging in learning for its own sake rather than to receive an external reward or gain
    • Endogenous: Authentic, integral relationship between content and motivation
  • Four kinds of intrinsic motivations that are individual: Challenge, curiosity, control, and fantasy.
  • Three types of interpersonal motivation: Cooperation, competition, and recognition.
  • Intrinsic motivation is inherently individual but encouraging interpersonal relationship and student interactions with the use of categories can help gauge the effectiveness of different motivation-based environments.
  • This taxonomy is most effective when the environments involve as many motivations as possible rather than picking and choosing.
  • Feedback in this taxonomy should be frequent, clear, constructive, and encouraging for the learner to be as efficient as possible (p. 232).
  • Instructors need to be very thorough when choosing what they are using in the classroom with their learners and clearly defining tools (“used as a means to achieve some external goal”) versus toys (“used with no external goal”) for optimal student success (p. 234).
  • Clearly defined goals are necessary for success with intrinsic motivation.
  • Allow the learner to have a certain amount of control in their learning environment for an empowering learning experience and increased intrinsic motivation.

Design Principles and Examples

Malone and Lepper (1987) introduced a taxonomy with two parts that work together for intrinsic motivation in educational environments: individual motivation and interpersonal motivation. Figure 1 :Individual motivations in intrinsically motivating educational environments. (Tropf, 2019, para. 3-4) shows the individual motivations. Activities and engagements should provide the following within the four elements:

  • Challenge
    • Goals
    • Uncertain outcomes with different levels of difficulties
    • Various points of feedback,
    • Ability to gain self-esteem and self-efficacy
  • Curiosity
    • Interactivity between learner and environment
    • Environment should intrigue and interest learner
  • Control
    • Reactive learning environment
    • Choice
    • Power
  • Fantasy
    • Appeal to emotional need
    • Relationship to material that was learned

The interpersonal motivations focus on the relationship between learners or between the learner and the educator. The following three categories and recommendations are made based on increasing the motivation for engagement in the activity:

  • Cooperation
    • Increase activity appeal by encouraging work with one another while also allowing for individual work time
  • Competition
    • Appeal could increase if competition with peers is increased
  • Recognition
    • Appeal of activity could increase if the activity efforts received social recognition

In 2005, researchers Habgood, Ainsworth and Benford applied this endogenous fantasy concept to digital games and while they found that variable such as flow and representation in game mechanics were equally important, they could not discredit the importance of fantasy in educationally effective computer games.

Guiding Questions

  1. There is a lot of discussion surrounding the need for choice with intrinsic motivation. How do you appease the need for choice with intrinsic motivation in the classroom without overwhelming a student’s cognitive load (Clark, Nguyen, & Sweller, 2005)?
  2. How would you propose overcoming the “test of time” with game-based learning that Malone and Lepper (1987) discuss as it relates to its appeal and effect for prolonged and/or repeated use necessary for learning?
  3. How best do you meet the needs of students in your class in terms of challenging them and their intrinsic motivation when they may be at different levels of learning/understanding? How might this look different in a class of 20 versus a class of 200+?

Additional Resources & References

Clark, R.C., Nguyen, F., & Sweller, J. (2005). Efficiency in learning: Evidence-based guidelines to manage cognitive load. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Garris, R., Ahlers, R., & Driskell, J.E. (2002). Games, motivation, and learning: A research and practice model. Simulation and Gaming, 33(4), 441-467.

Habgood, M.P., Ainsworth, S.E., & Benford, S. (2005). Endogenous fantasy and learning in digital games. Simulation & Gaming, 36(4), 483-498.

Tropf, L. (2019). Part V: Motivations for game-based learning. Retrieved from http://www.immersedgames.com/part-v-motivations-for-game-based-learning/



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