HomeAdults / Young AdultsEnjoying Learning: Motivating Adults through Content (Part 3)

Enjoying Learning: Motivating Adults through Content (Part 3)




Man sat at desk smiling while workingHaving looked at different types of motivation, and considered what makes different materials motivating, Mark Hancock, co-author of the English Result series, now introduces his taxonomy of intrinsic motivations: the IPEC taxonomy.

What kind of EFL material is intrinsically motivating and most likely to induce ‘flow’? Some indications may be found by looking outside the language classroom. What kinds of things do people do spontaneously in day-to-day life, without looking for extrinsic rewards?

One such potential activity is playing computer games. Malone (1981) presented a theoretical framework for intrinsic motivation in the context of designing computer games for instruction. He argued that intrinsic motivation is created by three qualities: challenge, fantasy, and curiosity.

Challenge involves outcomes which are uncertain and which depend on a combination of luck and skill. Fantasy is the imagined world the player moves in. And curiosity is the intellectual arousal the player feels when they believe their knowledge is incomplete.

Of these three, fantasy is the quality which seems most specific to computer gaming and less obviously applies to the adult EFL domain – which is not to say it is absent, in role-plays and simulations for example. It may be useful, following Malone’s example for computer gaming, to develop a taxonomy of intrinsic motivations specifically for the EFL context, and this is what I will attempt to do in what follows.

My taxonomy can be summarized by the initials IPEC: Interest, Personalization, Entertainment, Challenge. We will look at each of these in turn.

I: Interest
Material which aims to provoke cognitive and sensory curiosity. This would include real-world articles and images: human interest stories, amazing and curious facts, surprising customs, striking and incongruous photographs. Such material is abundant in modern coursebooks, but since these are made for a wide audience and are printed long before use, they can’t hope to tap into the interest which comes with up-to-the-minute issues of local relevance for a given class. Nor can coursebooks provide for specific individual interests since these are never going to be homogeneous even in a single class.

P: Personalization
Material and activities which give learners the opportunity to express themselves and exchange information about their lives, beliefs, belongings, experiences, ambitions, habits, interests and so on. While the category Interest relates more to input material, usually texts, Personalization relates more to student output, often in discussions or written work. However, input texts of a more interactive nature can provoke a personalized response. An example would be the ‘personality tests’ which are so popular in magazines, or almost anything which allows an element of choice, such as a reading maze, where you choose where to go next. Once you have made a choice, you have a stake in the outcome and this is an ‘attention magnet’.

E: Entertainment
Material which aims to attract learner attention because it is funny, amusing, gripping, aesthetically pleasing, engaging or involving. Unlike the category Interest which addresses real world issues, this material is fictional, and examples would include short stories, plays, jokes, comedy sketches, films, music, poems, songs, cartoons and art. The fact that the content of this material is not ‘real world’ has sometimes been held against it in EFL. However, although the content may be fictional, the existence of such material definitely is real world. Fictions, narratives and language play fill our everyday lives outside the classroom as Guy Cook (2003) has pointed out. Indeed, part of what many of our learners hope to be able to do through English is have access to English language films, books, songs and so on.

C: Challenge
Material which requires learners to test their skills and luck in situations with an uncertain outcome. Like Personalization, this category is more about learner output than input. Examples would include puzzles, quizzes, guesswork, detective work, collaborative games and competitive games. Note that this category may blend with Entertainment where the challenging activity is set in an imagined context such as a role-play – this is where Malone’s category Fantasy sits within this taxonomy.


The IPEC taxonomy is intended as a way of keeping in mind all the possibilities when it comes to preparing or choosing teaching material and activities with intrinsic appeal. When we choose classroom texts and tasks, we obviously use the criteria of how well they suit our teaching point and how appropriate they are to the level of our students, but intrinsic appeal is often considered afterwards, as if it were an optional extra. However, if you believe as I do that learning is more likely to be effective when learners are to some extent intrinsically motivated, then it make sense to be more systematic in using intrinsic appeal as a criterion in preparing or selecting material.

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  1. Hi Mark,
    How are you doing?
    I’m Ana Paula Pires , I’m from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I’m sure you don’t remember me because you taught in Brazil a long time ago. When you taught at Cultura Inglesa (Rio) in a place called Campo Grande ,I was also a teacher there. I used some your materials at the time about pronunciation.
    I am preparing a list of teachers and teacher trainers to come to Brazil for a Seminar that takes place every year at CNA Duque de Caxias (it’s a language school in Rio de janeiro, Brazil). And your name came to my mind since you have very good books and new theories about motivation, which is something that interests me a lot.
    We have this seminar in July and next year it will be on the same week of Braz-Tesol 13th National Convention.
    Do you think you would be able to come to Rio? Do you think Oxford University Press would support your coming?

    I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

    Best Regards,

    Ana Paula

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