We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges

Badges are, simply put, another system of rewards.  They offer feel-good rewards for any particular task.  They seem very similar to individually wrapped peppermints that are thrown across classrooms for correct answers.  The real questions in life offer no peppermints or badges.  Real, authentic efforts to improve oneself should be reward enough.  There are very damaging side-effects that come from extrinsic motivation such as badges.  People come to expect reward for any task and will not complete something if there is no reward.  Learning should be intrinsically motivated because the learner sees the value in learner a certain skill or content not in order to receive a reward.

@MisterEason via http://justeneason.com/2011/09/24/we-dont-need-no-stinkin-badges/

2 comments

Hi Sheryl,

I'm new here so I hope it i okay to jump into the discussion?  I work mostly with adult learners, beyond the formal classroom, in informal settings like community coalitions, provider networks and such.  I provide workshops both online and offline for adult learners, usually under contract with an agency or organization. While I really can't speak to the K-12 student view I am most curious about badges for adult learners. 

I read the post about whether we need badges or not so much.  When it comes to adult learners (at least from my perspective) badges are less about rewards and more about acknowledgment, accomplishment and perhaps an indicator of mastery or competency (or at least could be). In formal adult education we have grades, certifications, and degrees. We add letters behind our name -- all seem to me a form of badges.  We author books and papers and often link to them in our email signature or bio - also seem like a type of badge.  I think what we may be talking about here is an extension or expansion into thinking about recognition and accomplishment that takes us beyond the methods we've used in the past?

In working with adults in training and learning environments, I'm curious how this idea of "leveling up" with badges will play out. I've not added badges to any of the workshops or micro-courses I provide (at least not yet) but have been thinking about doing so.

I wonder how many here work with adult learners and curious whether the context of adult learners shifts any of the thinking about whether badges are useful or helpful in any way? Does age matter?

Hi LaDonna, thanks for adding your comments! And welcome, glad you joined the conversation -- (It's a little confusing here because I uploaded the link to Justen Easen's blog post, and our site makes it look like I'm the author. Hope that didn't muddle things!)

But back to your comment -- Speaking anecdotally, I know of adult learners in informal learning settings that wanted acknowledgement for their achievements in basic computer skills, learned during free classes in public libraries. Not all of the learners were looking for jobs, but I noticed even retired seniors wanted to be recognized for their knowledge -- many of them were proud of the skills they'd acquired and did a lot of social sharing to help others improve their computer abilities. I think many of them would have appreciated an opportunity to display their skills through an open badge system.

I like your question: Does age matter? There's an article by Kathryn Ecclestone and John Pryor called 'Learning Careers' or 'Assessment Careers'? The Impact of Assessment Systems on Learning (British Education Research Journal, Vol. 29, No. 4, Aug., 2003) that speaks to this. A couple of quotes from the article resonate with the idea that age does matter, primarily because the majority of adults work: "Participating in organized learning as an adult serves as a strategy for coping with risks associated with contemporary career trajectories." They also mention that there is "considerable ambiguity and volatility in learner identities," contingent on social, cultural, and economic conditions that influence decisions and responses. What motivates learners will likely fluctuate throughout life, with an individual's "learning career" or "assessment career" beginning in youth. "There is evidence to suggest that young people develop learning careers through complex interactions between personal dispositions and learning strategies within particular contexts, structural and institutional conditions and peer norms, teaching and learning activities."

This is probably touching on the "commodification of learning" that bothers some people, but when you work with adults struggling to re-enter a dismal job market, credentials of any kind take on greater urgency.