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The Evolving use of Badges in Education

by Nellie Deutsch on June 12, 2013


Rewards as a Way to Motivate Students to Learn

Today’s schools commonly use grade-based evaluations where students get rewarded for the knowledge they gain. Students are evaluated and rewarded with grades and sometimes other types of rewards, for tasks such as projects, behavior, skills, and taking tests. Evaluations are one way to reward learning. The rewards may come in the form of a grade (number, letter), words, badges, stickers, certificates, medals, trophies, money, or prizes. The rewards may be determined by peer, self, or teacher-based assessments. Rewards are a way to motivate students to learn.

educational badges image

Reports from studies conducted on the brain indicate that rewards promote learning. Reward-motivated learning: Mesolimbic activation precedes memory formation provides easy to read findings to support the claim that rewards promote learning. The reward structure seems to have many positive effects not only on learning, but on the learner’s personal development. Learners are able to gain confidence and develop openness to others through virtual games and the reward system.

Rewards can be physical or virtual. Physical rewards include trophies, badges, medals, and stickers. Everyone, young and old enjoys receiving rewards for a job well done.

Virtual Rewards are Beginning to Displace Costly Physical Rewards

Badges, trophies, medals and other physical rewards have turned into a business and schools pay a good deal of money for these physical rewards. The digital system of rewards is either free or costs very little. Today students can learn online to supplement traditional class learning and get rewarded for their efforts. The Khan Academy has a badge system to reward learners.
Video games and digital badges are examples of using virtual rewards. Virtual games seem to have a huge impact on people because of the reward system and the collaborative social learning aspect of the games. It’s easy to get rewards in a video game because players receive credit and are rewarded for effort and get feedback for doing a great job every step of the way. Encouragement is a great motivator for learning.

According to Tom Chatfield in his “7 ways games reward the brain” TED Talk, we can learn about learning from the reward system of video games. Tom gave a very convincing talk on the value of the rewarding system to learning and the learner.  

Video games are powerful motivators for learning. The participants interact with the game and others. The players are rewarded for their efforts as they strive to attain their goals. You cannot lose if you try. Video games are built for learning through a rewarding system and feedback.  

Virtual Badges

Another reward system that schools may consider are the virtual badge system. The Mozilla Open Badges (Open Badge Infrastructure or OBI) project was the first virtual badge system of its kind on the Internet. The virtual badge system is similar to the real world reward system, but easier and cheaper to implement since there’s no need to print or manufacture products.

Daniel Hickey, an Associate Professor and Program Head of the Learning Sciences Program, Indiana University School of Education explored audio and how to use the badge system to promote lifelong learning as motivation for higher education.

The need to find a way to motivate today’s and tomorrow’s learner is important to the future of every nation. A great deal of money is being invested in research to learn how to motivate people to learn. It was no surprise that Daniel Hickey received a grant of $400,000 by MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative to study how digital badges, a non-traditional mechanism to record and display achievements and accomplishments, could be used to recognize, assess, motivate and evaluate learning.

Digital Badges can help Motivate Online Learners

Learning in a traditional brick and mortar school with the grade system may not appeal to everyone. In fact, many students complain of ongoing pressure as a result of exams and tests. Some quit school and find that online distance learning a more effective way to learn. Learning online offers students a more relaxed way to learn.

The Vivo online rewarding system is a way for schools, students, and parents to reward participants online. The reward system is based on Vivo Miles. The system has proven to work because learners need motivation. Not many of us have intrinsic motivation. Rewarding students helps engage them on the tasks and sustain learning.

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
8 Research Findings Supporting the Benefits of Gamification in Education
Introducing a Game-Based Curriculum in Higher Ed
The Gamification of Education and Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Learning Benefits


Dr. Nellie Deutsch has a doctorate in educational leadership with a specialization in curriculum, technology, and instruction. Nellie is passionate about learning and helping others reach their goals. She has a relationship-based learner-centred approach to life and learning. She consults, writes, and presents (face-to-face & fully online) on e-learning. She uses Moodle for her course management system and WizIQ education online to connect to colleagues and students in real time. Nellie is a faculty member of Atlantic University, the program coordinator at the World Association for Online Education (WAOE), on the steering committee for computer assisted language learning interest section (CALL-IS) at TESOL International Association, manager, designer & lead facilitator of Moodle for Teachers (M4T) workshops at Integrating Technology for Active Lifelong Learning (IT4ALL). Nellie has been an ambassador to WizIQ since 2007. She organizes online conferences such as CO09-CO13 and Moodlemoot 2011-2013 that are sponsored by WizIQ.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Janvier June 17, 2013 at 11:00 am

I have taught and learnt in two different educational contexts(Burundian and British) and I appreciate motivating achievement through rewards. Every context is different and rewards can take many forms . When I passed my first national assessment at the end of primary school in Burundi, my dad bought me a French dictionary.I was over the moon and I kept it for many years. Not long ago, children were given chocolate in some schools in the UK to reward achievement. Best performance in Burundi and other countries in the world can be rewarded through grades and top learners can receive scholarship from the government so they can pursue studies in universities abroad.Though this reward system can motivate people, I believe intrinsic motivation is the better than extrinsic motivation.

Nellie Deutsch June 14, 2013 at 6:40 am

I now use badges in first Moodle MOOC of its kind on WizIQ. There are currently over 1900 participants. The participants are enrolled in two Moodle 2.5 websites where they learn and practice Moodle skills at 3 levels. Everyone is welcome to join:

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