How to Use Badges for Positive Growth

How to Use Badges for Positive Growth

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6 Lessons on Badges from Global Kids

It isn’t uncommon to hear the gamification sphere talk about the dangers of using badges. People claim they are typically used as an extrinsic reward, which leads to consumers quickly losing interest in gamified applications and services. Couple this danger of using badges with Gartner’s prediction that 80% of gamified solutions will fail by 2014 due to poor design, companies and designers looking to adopt gamification as a strategy to meet business objectives need to be aware of useful implementations.

That said about being meticulous on design, badges can still be used effectively as a positive growth tool. This past spring and summer, Global Kids—a premier non-profit organization dedicated to developing youth leaders that come from underrepresented demographics—conducted a beta-tested study on “Six Ways to Look at Badging Systems Designed for Learning”. Having listed the six ways badging systems can be used for achieving goals related to personal growth and learning, Global Kids tested their own unique system on two of their programs. To list, Global Kids listed these six goals that badges can be used to achieve:

  1. Badges as Alternative Assessment
    1. Provides evidence-based assessment complementary to the primary forms of evaluating performance and growth. By giving badges for integrated experiences with performance requirements, they become a form of formative feedback as well as an indicator of abilities.
  2. Gamifying Education with Badges
    1. Aside from having to achieve primary goals and tasks, badges could be used to gamify education by attaching them to achievements that exist outside the original environment. For example, when writing a research paper, a badge could be given for using a certain amount and variety of citations. Educators hope badges can be used for deeper engagement as well as teaching material that isn’t necessarily in the core curriculum.
  3. Badges as Learning Scaffolding
    1. Scaffolding refers to providing guidance for people to tackle learning opportunities that engage them at a certain level before assigning harder challenges. Simply, this is using badges as a way to guide people through integrated experience while customizing to their current interests and abilities. An example could be using an onboarding badge to unlock another set of badges as a way to keep a learner engaged on an intrinsic path towards growth.
  4. Badges to Develop Lifelong Learning Skills
    1. Badges support learners to give archetypes and value to what they are learning, by recognizing the importance of achievements based on performance. Badging systems offer participants a venue to understand their learning identity by basing it off a theory that how well people learn and their respective motivations translate to how the participant naturally learns.
  5. Badges as a Way to Teach Digital Media & Learning Practices
    1. Viewed as a way to shift from old-fashioned learning environments and spread Digital Media & Learning practices. Using badges not only to earn them, but also to comment on and praise the achievements of peers, digital media badges can be used as a tool that extends the benefits of teaching through digital media.
  6. Badges to Democratize Learning
    1. Some systems can be used to democratize the learning process, providing a two way street between “badge accreditor” and earner. Learners can shape the content of their badges, the tasks required to earn certain badges, and they may even use badges as a collaborative tool to extend group learning.


The two Global Kids’ programs were Virtual Video Project and Race to the White House. The Virtual Video Project focused on created an animated film about climate change while teaching youth about what they can do to live in a more sustainable world and the Race to the White House had youth create a game that allows players to “vote” on electoral issues that should receive political attention in the 2012 election (ex. Gun violence, college tuition, healthcare, taxes, etc.)

For these two programs, Global Kids implemented their own badging system based on the list of six existing systems to determine how the youth working on these projects could achieve them. They were:

  1. Hard Skills: Things learners can do (ex. Ability to create a creative storyboard)
  2. Soft Skills: Things learners can do, but are harder to measure (ex. Ability to respectfully participate)
  3. Knowledge: Things learners know
  4. Participation: Things learners did
  5. Roles: Identities youth can take on through achieving the first four types of badges


At the end of implementation of these badges during these two programs, Global Kids was able to create a white paper on the data collected during the summer programs to come up with conclusions on which of the six badging systems were the best effective as a positive growth tool. Two of the six badge systems collected enough supporting evidence to show that badges can be used effectively.

Quoted from Global Kids:

  1. Badges as Alternative Assessment
    1. GK Youth in the past have not had a vehicle, nor a reason, to provide us with such detailed information about their learning. All we might have observed, for this youth in particular, was that she was effectively collaborating with her group; not that the program provided her an opportunity to develop these skills nor that she had an awareness of her growth. Badge submissions like this provided us with information about both the youth and the educational impact of the programs.
  2. Badges as Learning Scaffolding
    1. If we look at the individual constellations constructed by each youth—the group of badges they chose to pursue—we can see youth chose different paths through the system. Looking at just the three youth who earned the most badges, while they shared 10 badges amongst them, only two were shared by all. This provides evidence that everyone is a unique learner and that learning by scaffolding allows a learner to choose a personal growth path while contributing to a group effort.

Bottom Line

As cliché as it sounds, never say never. In the Coursera gamification course taught by Prof. Kevin Werbach, he advised people to be wary of the dangerous pitfalls associated with points, badges, and leaderboards. He was making a point towards the idea that extrinsic rewards just for the sake of being a reward isn’t really a motivating nor engaging tool. However, since meaningful feedback is one of the core strengths that makes gamification beneficial, badges used to recognize meaningful achievements and provide meaningful assessment can become powerful motivators as well as powerful indictors of a person’s status.


via Joan Ganz Cooney Center

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