Badges and Intrinsic Motivation

Bright Idea Badge

Gamification and badges are something we see in many settings outside of school. Essentially a badge is micro certificate to visibly recognize accomplishment of something. In the classroom, badges can be used to recognize students mastering content, to reinforce classroom behaviors such as timeliness and homework completion, and for encouraging students to extend themselves beyond minimum requirements.

Extrinsic or Intrinsic

Gamification is typically aligned with behaviorism and encourages extrinsic motivations. Certainly the focus could become the accruing of badges and not about the learning. I would argue that grades have the same problem. The focus becomes getting a good grade, not about learning the material. Unlike grades, badges provide the student specific feedback about what they have accomplished.

Visible Progress

Grades can fluctuate up and down. I remember many times talking with students and parents who could not understand how this week they have a C when last week the student had a B. Badges, on the other hand, can not be taken away. When a student accomplishes something, the accomplishment can be displayed with a badge. As the student earns more badges the student sees their accomplishments grow. This visible display of progress can help a student to connect their efforts with forward progress. This display of forward progress can be intrinsically motivating for some students. Without the discouragement of failure as the grade goes down, the student can feel pride in their accomplishments as their hard work earns them visible recognition.

Conversations

What can make badges intrinsic motivators rather than extrinsic is the conversations you have around the badges. Are you celebrating with the student what they have accomplished, recognizing their forward progress? If the conversations are centered around the learning the focus will be on the learning. However, if the conversations are around badge earning this will put the focus on the badges and thus more on extrinsic motivators.

Competition

When talking about gamification you have have to be careful about competition. Competition can motivate some students and demotivate others. It is always best to compete against yourself. If students are using the badges to one up each other this will put the focus on badge earning and result in an extrinsic motivator. Try to keep the conversations around learning and positive growth for each student, not around comparing students to each other.

Badge Choices

The badge choices you offer students can influence if they are intrinsic or extrinsic motivators. Offer badges that reflect student accomplishments in learning. Encourage students to try new things by offering badges. When students accomplish challenging tasks this improves their self efficacy. Badges help to reinforce to students that they have overcome many challenges.

Badges that focus on gaming the system will detract from intrinsic motivators. If the badge accomplishments are too easy or do not reflect something the student values then the badge is the reward. Having some fun and silly badges helps to create a positive culture in your classroom. However, if the majority of your badges are not around real accomplishments then the badging process becomes a game and an extrinsic motivator.