Badges for Learning: Gamification and Education

After yesterday’s class discussion on gamification and it’s potential in the education space, I decided to learn more. My quest to learn more is driven by pure curiosity, my experience as an AmeriCorps member in the public school system, and my public policy studies in education.

Gamification in the business space: I’ve learned that gamification is the the use of game design elements in non-game contexts.  Yesterday’s discussion brought a few examples to light such as the use of universities to encourage students to attend sporting events and entering them into the running for big games in other sports.  Another common example is the use of awarding badges to active users or participants in forums or webpages; both the website Yelp and Trip Advisor have use badges as an award system.  In this manner these pages have turned every day use of their resources into a game, by giving users awards the companies are creating achievement goals, a common element in a game.

FUN FACT: As a planet, we spend 3 billion hours a week playing video and computer games.

As someone who’s not an active user on sites that award badges, and unfortunately am not an undergrad any more who can participate in the sporting event challenges, I am not privy to first hand experience of these gamifications.  Upon first introduction to the idea of badges, it reminded me of my time as a girl scout when I received badges for learning wilderness skills or helping the environment through conservation.

Yelp has 20 badges that its users can potentially earn through checking into the required locations.  The badges will then signal other users the area of “expertise” or interest of that user.


Gamification & Education: a brief history

Through my research of education and gamification I’ve revisited some games from my childhood which were considered some of the first products to implement gamification in the education space. Carmen San Diego and Math blaster were two of the examples I found.

Furthermore, the games where others were able to interact with one another such as World of Warcraft and Game Star Mechanic allowed users to build their own communities.  Now there’s also platforms such as the Mozilla Open Badges Project which allows users to earn badges for their skills.

Badges in the online classroom?:

If these badges and previously  implementations of gamification in business and educational learning were successful why not use them for online learning?  And if they are utilized in online education, will they make an impact? One example of gamification already being used online is through Kaplan’s courses.

In pilot, Kaplan’s online university used challenges and badges to spur students to work harder and improved grades by more than 9%.

Kaplan employed the use of Badgeville into its online information of technology courses and is in the midst of employing these elements into its business courses.  The badge system awarded students for being more active in the online forums as well as gave additional badges to those that took on optional assignments.  The system began as a pilot and has since been implemented with 700 online students.  Furthermore, the introduction of these badges has demonstrated that at some point 85% of the students have challenged themselves with the optional assignment or question earning that extra badge.

Most significantly, the “unsuccessful rate” — the number of students who failed the course or did not complete it — decreased by 15.76%.

This badge program is just the beginning of gamification in the online learning space.  As more colleges offer online courses or even add an online element to a traditionally offered course, gamification will and should be added into the mix.

Here’s a powerful infographic that demonstrates the connection between education and gamification:



  1. I think badges are a potentially significant advance for the education world, but I do think they are limiting in and of themselves. In relying on my past education work with at-risk youth in inner cities, I am afraid that badge incentive structures free of any tangible reward may have a limited impact. There have been some controversial incentive structures employed by a few teachers where they actually paid students for their achievements, and I believe that type of instant and tangible gratification.

    I understand the on-line and college setting is very different than dealing with middle school youth in South Central, but I do wonder how to best use the games they play to advance their actual lives. I really appreciate the post, thank you.

  2. Love me some Carmen San Diego. These badges in online learning communities are essentially 21st century “gold stars” where you can motivate kids to learn by fostering competition. I think the best gamification strategy for education is the Progression Dynamic that Seth Priebatsch discussed in his TEDx talk about game layers. By breaking big tasks (such as education) into smaller segments that can be accomplished sequentially, the end goal becomes much more attainable. I know when I have big term projects due at the end of the semester, I am less successful than when I have projects with check-ins throughout the semester.

    Thanks for the interesting post! How do you think badges could work in #MI621? Could we have a twitter badge? A badge for reading the HBS cases that no one wants to pay for?

  3. I think that the power of reward (whether it is intrinsic, tangible, social, whatever) can be quite powerful and there are, as you point out, many opportunities to capitalize. One risk with taking this route with education is making sure that the badges are relevant and something that the students are really striving to earn, and once they do earn them, still perceive value. I love the “Carmen San Diego” and “Math Blaster” throwbacks – another good reminder that a lot of social media topics are different iterations of things that we have been using for a long time. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Great post. Some of the sites that I researched for my presentation about foreign language learning used gamified systems (busuu, DuoLingo). I think its a great way to get students motivated, but there are some potential pitfalls like Chad mentioned, especially for younger students. I think the topic kind of harkens back to some of what Daniel Pink said in his talk about motivation. If we liken grades to a monetary reward (the outcome/extrinsic motivators), then one has to make sure that badges don’t become a pure replacement or determinant of grades. So gaining badges (or any other form of gaming achievement) for the sake of mastery and purpose is the ideal. Whether that works in practice, I don’t know, but I think it may do a better job of it than traditional grading systems.

  5. Good post! personally I think gamification is an awesome idea, probably because I’m a very competitive guy. As we talked in class about SCVNGR, I think its a great way to give people incentive to try harder at things then they otherwise would have. While badgeville may have a hard time with this, I think it is important that the awards become physical in nature too (Money, prizes, etc.), and not just status. being able to have a certain badge is great, but what happens when you reach the end? By giving the winners a prize for playing besides just a badge will be able to keep them from giving up or becoming disinterested.

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