10 lessons from my readers on badges, motivation

Extrinsic motivators and badges can motivate student learning, but intrinsic motivation is powerful, too. My readers offer great insight on motivating students.

Extrinsic motivators and badges can motivate student learning, but intrinsic motivation is powerful, too. My readers offer great insight on motivating students. (Public domain photo via Pixabay)

My readers constantly amaze me.

A great conversation ensued on my recent post: “Badges vs. curiosity: What should motivate students?” They engaged in a great sharing of viewpoints from both sides of the intrinsic/extrinsic motivation spectrum.

The best way to sum up everyone’s input was that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation have their place in education. Most agreed — and I do, too — that both are necessary and encourage learners in different ways. Having both is kind of like teaching to multiple intelligences or modalities: they reach students differently, and neglecting one for another will leave some students out in the dark.

Most of my own argument on motivation, in hindsight, appeared to be for using extrinsic motivators, but I also agree that it’s most powerful when both are present. One of my early posts here (almost two years ago!) was about using mastery, autonomy and purpose to motivate. It’s based one of my favorite TED Talks, Dan Pink’s talk titled, “The puzzle of motivation.” I still think intrinsic motivation and students’ curiosity are the best routes to get learners excited about something. But intrinsic motivation doesn’t work for everyone in every subject, I’m finding, so classrooms can really benefit from that “1-2 punch” of both.

Here are 10 of the best takeaway messages from the great comments left from my readers about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation:

1. Badges can be come “just one more ‘test’” — Suzanne is a librarian from a K-5 Title I school with 95 percent of students on free and reduced lunch. She encouraged intentional, meaningful use of badges in education. She wrote, “Like food, clothing and shelter that we already provide, we’re trying to get that love of learning in their minds and hearts before they leave us. So if they don’t get a badge, it’s another failure.”

2. 27 ways to encourage intrinsic motivation in your students — Suzanne shared a link to this infographic that offers great game-changing ideas to help students find their inner drive: http://elearninginfographics.com/intrinsic-motivation-infographic-27-ways-encourage-intrinsic-motivation-students/

3. Sometimes, the task is unnecessary — Laura wrote that she leans toward extrinsic motivation generally but sees intrinsic motivation light the fire of student learning. She wrote: “You do have those occasions where the children are so completely motivated or engrossed in the task it is unnecessary – and that can be quite often really. It certainly has a lot to do with the nature and background of the students themselves – my kids, coming from a somewhat privileged background, almost come to school with this expectation.”

4. Going without grades and extrinsic motivators may not be the answer — Alfonso Gonzalez tried this and didn’t get the results he expected. So he tried gamifying his class, adding experience points like you’d find in a video game as a positive reinforcement. So far, he likes what he sees. He wrote: “Kids have told me that they really want to be acknowledged for doing the right thing and I think experience points and badges can, and do, do that.”

5. Use game tactics in class — Marianne Ferreira wrote that she uses competition in sites like Quizlet (online flashcards) and Kahoot! (gameshow-style quiz game) to get students excited about learning vocabulary. Students seem to study more for those than for her old vocabulary tests.

6. Badges don’t need to be added as incentives — Of the hundreds of comments on the Ditch That Textbook blog, Alex Enkerli wrote one of my absolute favorites all-time. He’s a Learning Technology Advisor for Vitrine technologie-éducation, which deals with Quebec’s college system. Vitrine has done open labs about badging in formal and informal education, and his insights were fascinating. (You can read them in full in the post here.)

He wrote: “Badges are representations of achievements. They can be used to recognize diverse forms of learning. They take meaning in a much broader ecosystem, which involves issuers, earners, and other users (including potential employers). Traditional credentials may not be that effective at those things, especially not in most implementations. Badge programmes may also fail at providing much value beyond the “carrot and stick” model. But badging is flexible enough that it can accommodate a lot more. Besides, the very exploration of the potential for badges can do a lot to expand our horizons.”

7. Data on use of badges is mixed — In Alex Enkerli’s labs on badging, preliminary data is showing that the use of badges works well for some students and not so well for others. He wrote: There are some cases (especially with young male learners) where they do provide a strong motivation, in a way similar to gaming scores. The effect can even be stronger than grades, which is saying a lot given the frequent obsession with grades. But there are plenty of cases (the majority, in one ongoing project) where badges are perceived as having no impact on motivation. Which clearly doesn’t mean they’re useless.”

8. Badges can assess the value of prior learning — Alex Enkerli wrote: “There’s a lot to be said about badges for intrinsically motivated learning. The criteria and evidence parts of Open Badges shift the dynamic quite a bit when learners are able to use the badges they’ve earned. As pointed out during a lab session, the seminal experience at P2PU’s School of Webcraft was about recognize prior learning by practicing Web designers. These people already had incentives to learn, since their work required it. What was missing, though, was a way to assess the value of their learning. In a world in which educational institutions focus on credentials, that case provides a lot more depth than one might expect at first blush.”

9. Class points systems and classroom jobs can motivate — Anna “Frau” Davis wrote: “Comparing this year with last, I feel like 2 things have made my classes better. 1. Having a class point system. As a class, they can earn or lose points by their behavior. After a certain number of points they can cash them in for rewards. Most classes choose to save up to have a “free day”. 2. Classroom jobs for students. So I do give them behavior grade individually, if they complete their “job”. These are both extrinsic things, but have found that students will go above and beyond the requirements I set in hopes of earning bonuses. This is great for first and second year, but third year and AP I do not use these strategies as much.”

10. Our purpose drives our motivation — Mark wrote:  For me there has to be a reason for learning something. If you think about it as teachers why do we spend time researching new tools and reading blogs? The reason is we want to be better teachers… We have purpose in increasing our knowledge as we use it for something. Rewards can work to an extent but you will see serious results if you give your students a reason to learn besides earning a badge. The question should be, what is my subject used for in the real world and connect it to that. Then you will see motivation.

 Which of these thoughts resonates with you most? What are your views on motivation and/or badging? Leave your ideas in a comment here!

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