Does Student Badging Work? Should We Be Using Them? What About Intrinsic Motivation?

@david @mgarcia @Certified_Educators @informed_members

Hi Everyone,
It’s week 2 of our reading group on student badging! This week, we’re focusing on whether or not student badging works. Is it an option we should be using instead of just getting kids to follow expectations based on intrinsic motivation? Use the resources below to explore and see what you think, and then respond to the follow-up questions below.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Resources: Check out this document by Alice Keeler on how to use badges with an intrinsic spin. This is another resource that debates badges vs. natural curiosity to learn. This resource explores best practices for using badging to promote expected behaviors.

Follow-Up Questions:

  1. Is there a happy medium between badges as both an intrinsic and extrinsic motivation? If so, what is it? Are there specific examples you have seen?

  2. After exploring the resources provided above, what possible challenges do you see in using badging to promote expected behaviors? How could those challenges be avoided?


@david @mgarcia Here’s week 2 of the badging group!

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In Alice’s article, I see the relative happy medium (or at least how it can be achieved). Much like with grades, the purpose of the badge is not the badge itself, but rather the conversation around the badge:
“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.”

I explored using badges to promote revision of work in a post I wrote a few years back as I re-introduced badging in my classroom.

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@brent.hall I really enjoyed reading the different articles you shared.

I swear that I had highlighted the same quote that @mgarcia shared and agree that once badges are created we must reinforce the focus on learning over the badges themselves! I think you can find a happy medium if you follow the advice that Amy Bucher shares: establish the academic/soft goals that you want your students to accomplish first and then create aligned badges that support them (not the other way around). If there is an alignment between what you want your learners to accomplish and the badges themselves, you can then invest them in learning within the badging system that you’ve built. I also recommend the other tips that Amy shares:

  • connect the badges to what already motivates students

  • create badges that honor the path that students must take to attain greater and more complex skills

  • but be careful not award them for everything (or else the badges can become devalued and meaningless)

Overall, I believe it’s important to recognize what Alice suggests…the real reward of earning badges are not the badges themselves, but what it takes to earn them (the learning, the meaningful challenge, the permanent growth as a learner). As Matt Miller mentions, some students will not be incentivized by these intrinsic rewards upfront. Badges can be used to support this change in mindset.

One possible challenge I see is even if you plan out the academic/soft skill goals that you want your students to achieve (long ahead of time), what can you do to invest the students in them from the beginning of the year (so that students are more likely to invest in the badging system that follows?).

One possible solution is to provide some room within your goals for student input, choice, and voice so that they can take some ownership of learning up front. I could see how this could be tough to do as things ramp up really quick at the beginning of the school year and would be curious to see how others are accomplishing this.

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I havent tried this as of yet and wonder how this actually works?

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I will be starting gamification and badging for the first time next year. My big goal is to reach every one of my students.

Last year I had several types of students in my classroom.

  • Grades: Some were motivated by their grades. Whether they were self-imposed expectations or those set by their parents I didn’t have to worry about these students. I found that they earned my math passes easily, but didn’t spend them.
    *Progress: I had given my students tracking sheets so they could color, cross off, highlight or check off each Formative assignment they completed so they could ‘see’ their progress. Several students were motivated by this. Some cared about their grades, but some just liked knowing they were making progress.
    *Consequences: Some students were motivated by the potential consequences at the school or at home. These kids were motivated when they were at risk of not being eligible for their sport or because they were grounded. These kids were only motivated during their sport season or when they wanted their beloved device back from Mom and Dad.
    *Strugglers: These kids haven’t seen many good grades, could care less about tracking their accomplishments because they feel like they haven’t accomplished much the last few years, or either don’t have any consequences to hold them accountable or they don’t care about the consequences.

My hope is that through gamification and badging, I can reach those strugglers. The majority of my students play games. Why not build on this? The badges I have chosen to broadcast are specific to mastery of math concepts in my classroom. However, I know that some students won’t be able to earn all those badges because their foundational math skills are too weak to build them all in one semester. So, I have been exploring other soft-skill type badges that can be awarded randomly award any kid that I feel has earned it.

Does it work? I don’t know yet. But I figure if I’ve been affected by the badging in the Formative Community, :wink: then maybe my students will be motivated in my classroom. My hope is that if I award badges for the skills and behaviors I want to see in the classroom, students will continue to display these behaviors after the badges are awarded… that they will want to do these things because it makes them feel good… which will build a foundation for intrinsic motivation… which will turn the focus to learning.


I think it’s great that you are identifying these different motivations. I agree that badging can be useful in supporting them! For those motivated by grades and progress, as Alice Keeler mentions, badges are great because they can’t be taken away. The benefit is that it gives students a more concrete picture of what they’ve attained (as opposed to a letter grade) and they can build off of that progress. For the students who are motivated by consequences, the badges can be a way for them to show the progress they are making to their parents and feel proud of their accomplishments. It can also be a way to help them change their outlook/relationship to learning - making it a more positive one. For the strugglers, I think it provides the opportunity to de-mystify the skills they are lacking and give them a possible starting point.

Perhaps you could makes badges for foundational skills that students are lacking. All students could take a pre-assessment on them and then those students who do not demonstrate that they’ve attained them can earn those badges over time!

I think this is an awesome strategy!

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Great idea. Our PLC was just discussing creating a diagnostic test for Algebra 1 students so we know those foundational skills from the start of the school year. Badges for those areas are a great idea.

Very cool. Bringing it back to the specific attainable goal.


Hi All!

The success of badging depends on operant conditioning and an understanding of Behavorial educational psychology techniques. Badging needs to be timely and the badge needs to have value in order for it to become a motivating factor for students. If I were a math teacher, I’m sure there is some equation/formula that could be written in regards to timing, frequency, value, and motivation with badging. More so, I think of badging in terms of dog training (think of your students as puppies and just swap out badge for treat!)

Badges themselves are extrinsic, and if students can be trained/conditioned over time, then the extrinsic motivation CAN be transferred to intrinsic, but I do hesitate on this notion, because I know from my personal experience through professional development, there comes a point where I don’t need the badge anymore and even if I am awarded a badge for specific tasks, I will disregard it. The experience is valuable with or without a badge.

In terms of a happy medium between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and badging, it all depends on the meaning of the badge and the tasks that need to be completed in order to earn the badge. Certified Educator badges hold weight because the educators should have completed a rigorous process to earn the badge-- the value of the badge is tied to value of the tasks. I was motivated to earn my certified educator badges for Formative and Edmodo because I knew that there would be value beyond the badge (access to a great community, having a stronger relationship with the companies, etc.).

Thanks for the resources and the opportunity to discuss this topic further!


I feel the same way. To add on to your thoughts on value, I think that badges can be a powerful tool towards recognizing progress and that effective badges clearly signify the skill/experience that the person has attained/undergone. I think this should be apparent to anyone whose looking at the badges that someone else has earned and can even be a great discussion starter into the deeper experiences aligned with it :slight_smile: