Badges and motivation

Digital Badges in Education

In Chapter 6 (‘Impact of Badges on Motivation to Learn’) of Digital Badges in Education: Trends, Issues, and Cases, the authors explain that the traditional intrinsic/extrinsic binary on types of motivation is a problematic construct.

Thankfully, there are number of learning motivation theories that can inform possible interactions between badges and learners’ motivation. Achievement goal theory (Maehr & Zusho, 2009; Pintrich, 2000) suggests that motivation to earn badges can be described on two interacting scales of learning goals: approach to avoidance and mastery to performance. A motivation to learn based on a mastery goal is associated with the learner’s interest. A performance goal is based on a desire to learn in comparison wither how much other people are learning. Approach goals suggest that there is a motivation to achieve a learning goal, while avoidance goals represent a desire to not fail at the learning objective. Applied as a 2×2 matrix (Cury, Eillot, Fonseca, & Moller, 2006) (see Figure 6.1) learners could have a performance approach goal orientation and be motivated to earn more badges than their peers, or have a performance avoidance goal orientation and want to earn enough badges to be similar to their peers. Learners could have a mastery approach goal orientation where they earn badges that represent what they want to learn, or a mastery avoidance orientation where they are concerned with keeping the badges that represent their learning.

2x2 matrix

The authors counter the “viable concern that badges could negatively impact learners’ motivation” due to them “becom[ing] only concerned with earning badges” by saying that “if learners are able to connect their badges to their learning, then badges could support their motivation to learn by reinforcing their intrinsic motivation.” In short, the badge is an external motivator, but not an extrinsic one.

Importantly, the authors state that, “Research on digital badges is far too limited to draw any definite conclusions on the effect that badges can have on motivation to learn”. However, they do note that their own research suggests that “the motivational impact of badges is likely connected to learners’ identity.”

This chapter is less specifically helpful than the previous one, but the 2×2 matrix of achievement goal theory is definitely useful in thinking through the reasons learners might want to earn (and keep hold of their) badges.