Shiny Badges

The world seems to fall in and out of love with the concept of badges in education at an astonishing rate. One minute they’re claiming they represent something tangible that showcases hard work and dedication. The next they claim that it cheapens the process of learning. “Why strive for a badge when you can strive for knowledge?” they scream. 

I’ll tell you why. Because many students don’t make that connection between learning and knowledge. As crazy as that sounds. Learning is what you do at school, and for most students school is a chore. They’re there because they have to be or because their friends are present. Learning is hard and knowledge is nice, but it’s not something that is easily presentable to your peers or parents. You can know loads about a certain subject and be completely in the dark about another. Sometimes kids just need that little piece of flair to enhance their confidence and show others what they know.

It’s like the sticker on a test. Or a test on a fridge. It’s proof. Proof that you learned and proof that you’re proud of it. Most students won’t display a test or a sticker or a badge because they think it’s really cool looking, it’s because they want others to take notice. Look at my accomplishment! Isn’t it great? I’m proud of myself.

Sure, it’s blatantly extrinsic to promote kindness and hard work with badges, levels and experience points, but these are the things students like. Learning to learn is a very hard concept to wrap your head around when you are at a young age. I didn’t want to learn chemical symbols, I wanted to learn how to beat that darn Water Temple. Why? Because it’s fun to succeed and even more fun to show others that you made it. Everyone likes rewards and pay offs. Lots of people love their jobs, but that doesn’t mean they would keep working them if you stopped paying them. As much as humans hate to admit it, we love shiny badges. We love the things that motivate us.

Badges are great for another reason. They may be extrinsic, but they lead to intrinsic thinking. Children may start their quest to learn because there is a reward on the line, but as they mature they realize that knowledge is a reward. The ultimate reward. Getting students to learn, in fact getting ANYONE to learn, by using incentives should not be frowned upon. Hold your badges up with pride and say, “Look at what I did, world. Look at what I know.”

Got something to say? Go for it!