Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Abraham Lincoln as an Adult Learner

Warren Greer, Western Kentucky University


Over the last two decades, research has identified factors that foster versus undermine human motivation and wellbeing with important implications for learning and performance. Much of the research is concerned with intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation and autonomous versus non-autonomous learning environments. The data suggests that learning and performance are often significantly enhanced in autonomy-supportive environments that foster intrinsic motivational perspectives. This study examines the lived experience of Abraham Lincoln in the context of his adult learning motivation, forming a qualitative narrative around his adult educational experiences. It was hypothesized that Abraham Lincoln benefited from learning experiences with high levels of both intrinsic motivation and autonomy-supportive contexts. Results indicate that Abraham Lincoln experienced near total autonomy in his learning activities and that most of his adult learning activities were intrinsically-motivated. A discussion section explores the relevance of the findings to select topics in adult education.