Do badges get in the way of learning to code?

January 20, 2012 at 10:10 am 5 comments

Badges are the hot idea in open learning these days.  The goal is to provide some kind of certification, different than a degree.  MITx is providing an actual certificate.  The critique of the Codecademy in the below piece is that interest in programming should be intrinsic, and learning should not be motivated by an extrinsic reward like a badge.  At my most idealistic, I agree — intrinsic motivation clearly leads to the best learning.  However, almost every student in higher education today is there for a future job, or for a degree, or for some other kind of extrinsic reward.  I don’t see badges as being more or less extrinsic than a job or degree.

The pursuit of knowledge about programming shouldn’t be conflated with the pursuit of badges. That’s the beauty of this sort of DIY learning tool too — the people who want to learn to code want to learn to code and the reward should be that knowledge, not some virtual item.

via Codecademy and the Future of (Not) Learning to Code.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  January 20, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Badges are not really that new. Teachers have been giving out stickers for years. And the Boy and Girl Scouts have been big into badges for 100 years. You’d be amazed at what high school students will do for a sticker even today. Yeah, tough jaded high schools students. And I seem to remember seeing stickers on the football helmets of college football players from time to time as well.
    The problem with badges is not the badges themselves but how they can be used and misused and attempts to “game” the system without learning things by students.
    Gamification is the new buzz word. Good or bad, love it or hate it you’ll find it is out there. Microsoft came out with something called Ribbon Hero ( I have heard from some teachers who are using it in class. Sometimes students look for a little extra reward for trying something new. Sure in an ideal world students would be learning for the sake of learning. Of course we wouldn’t need grades either if this were a perfect world.

    Yesterday Microsoft announced an add-in to Visual Studio that adds achievement badges to software development ( How will it play out, if at all, in education? Honestly I have no idea. But it is an interesting turn of events.

  • 2. Andy Ko  |  January 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Another interesting question in the intrinsic/extrinsic debate is what effect extrinsic rewards have on learners who are already intrinsically motivated. I could see how badges might supplant intrinsic motivations by being more immediately gratifying, but they could also complement them because of their immediacy. That, and there’s a whole design space of extrinsic rewards, full of rewards that may have differential effects.

  • 3. Jenny  |  January 20, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Hi Mark, wondering what you think of this as an example not just of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, but of the hot-button issue of “practical” vs. theoretical computing knowledge. Is it enough to have skills that are very much in immediate demand in the workplace? Will folks who have badges and certificates but not a four-year computing degree lose out over the long run?

    • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  January 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      It’s a great question, Jenny. A related question is how much theoretical knowledge the average CS graduate has. My students are constantly pushing for more relevance, for more practical application. I’m teaching educational technology this semester, and I have students complaining that implications from a psychology experiment “could not possibly be implemented in today’s schools.” I try to explain, “That’s not the point. Psychology is trying to tell us how people learn and think.” Maybe the correlation between badge-knowledge and undergraduate-knowledge is actually depressingly high?

  • 5. Extraminds  |  January 21, 2012 at 12:24 am

    Are you taking about Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange(MITx)? Students are discussing about the same topic. What exactly is the point of discussion?


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