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Creator / Founder, ABoxOf

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The Khan Academy in using points and badges for rewards is not fostering its main objective to teach mastery of the subject.

Isn't learning something new the reward in its self? Studies are now coming out that seem to question what gives us our drive to learn and achieve. Using outward rewards (extrinsic) like points and badges can harm learning because it puts a nonessential element in the mix. It confuses the whole point of the lesson to strive for stickers, stars, badges, and points. That is not what we really want to teach!
These carrots and sticks seem to be a fun way of rewarding learning but they can de-motivate and harm the true point of the lesson. Growing as a person, the internal feeling of simply mastering a new skill (intrinsic reward) far outweighs any extrinsic reward and is the true motivator.
Please take this into consideration before expanding the wonderful teaching model.

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    Mar 20 2011: It probably depends on the age of a student. I'm 49 and I would find it ridiculous if somebody would give me badges or any other prizes for learning something.
    However, for kids it probably might work. In general though, I believe more in self motivation than external motivation, because I think self motivation is more sustainable.
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    Mar 22 2011: I'm a teacher, and my students bring me their books to show me what they've done. If I don't give them any feedback, they're disappointed. I can say "you need to pay more attention to verb endings" or I can say "that's a big improvement" or I can say "you obviously understand this, why don't you try the next exercise?" But I have to say something.

    And if they've mastered something, I have to sign off on that mastery in some way. People expect recognition for their achievements.

    Very few people study karate in secret, but plenty will tell their friends about what they're learning and how they intend to achieve their next belt. Great cooks usually invite their friends around for dinner, and will be very disappointed if nobody says how good it was. Mastery in itself is often not meaningful, without being acknowledged.

    The badge, or the positive comment from a teacher written in your homework book, is a recognition from someone of your achievements. As someone said, it's no different from Boy Scout badges or a tedcred score. It's a means to reassure yourself that you're as good as everyone else, it's no different from a facebook post about what you had for breakfast - it may seem banal, but people like it.
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      Mar 22 2011: Chris, yes, I agree with the feedback for the students at school and I also agree with the recognition. Isn't that what grades are for ? Aren't good grades a recognition for a job well done ?
      Isn't a promotion or a salary increase at work a recognition that you are exceeding your bosses expectations ?
      What is more important in Karate ? having a diploma that shows that you earned the x Dan or a win over a difficult foe ?
      So, It's not about being against recognition, but about getting USEFUL recognition (e.g. good grades, winning in a game, promotion,....)
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        Mar 23 2011: USEFUL - yeah. Recognition for doing something worth doing is good.

        Of course, we like recognition for pointless stuff too. That's why we love Facebook, but getting a badge that says we can be proud of something merit-worthy, that's geat!
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          Mar 24 2011: Yes, unfortunately there is recognition for pointless stuff and that's bad because it dilutes the overall value of recognition. I mean if you get recognition even for trivial things then who cares about putting real effort into something in order to earn recognition ?
      • Mar 24 2011: I don't think all students connect grades with recognition for a job well done. Some connect grades just with doing what the teacher wants you to do and that's not always the same as mastery. Another problem with grades is that they sometimes come to late to use them as motivation for doing the task again, but better. By the time the grade is determined, it's on to the next unit. I see that problem as consistent with Kahn's learning how to rid a bicycle metaphor.
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          Mar 24 2011: Yeah, I forgot we are living in a time where everybody wants instant gratification.....lol
  • Mar 20 2011: This is so true. I also think that the value of nailing 10 in a row is pretty nice by itself. Just seeing my progression in the planet-like system is perfect for me too.
  • Mar 24 2011: The design of successful video games seems to reflect that badges, points, and levels are motivators. They provide small indications of success as you tackle a larger problem. Not everyone can see a struggle as leading to a long-term positive outcome while they are in the middle of the struggle. Objective recognition awards along the way might provide small indicators of success to keep up motivation until mastery of a complex problem or topic is achieved. Successful video games designers also need to carefully balance challenge/rigor and opportunities for success.

    While I'm primarily thinking of kids as I write this, achieving small milestones seems helpful to adults also. Of course, most adults have had more practice than children at keeping up motivation for long-term gains.
  • Mar 21 2011: I also find it interesting that it should be pointed out that this discussion that TED uses badges...I just noticing that made me interested in seeing what it took to get one.
  • Mar 21 2011: I think people are over simplifying the research on motivation. Extrinsic motivation has been proven to work well on certain things and not others; intrinsic motivation has been shown to work well on certain things and not others. Both types of motivation work, but in different contexts. Badges and awards work well for denoting status and mastery and they have been proven successful in motivating everybody from gamers (World of Warcraft) to high level programmers (see stack overflow.com) This issue is not which is better but what actually works. It is a mistake to assume that learning something new is a reward in itself. It completely depends on how the individual views the task plus the nature of the task itself. Rewarding a student for speed and accuracy in "math facts" works for most people because the task is mechanical, objective and focused. Paying a person in hopes that they will become avid readers will probably have the opposite effect.
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      Mar 21 2011: Whether a reward might be helpful or not depends on a lot of things.
      If in school, your reward are the grades. The better you are the better your grade. Isn't that similar to a badge ? Why is there an additional badge necessary ?
      The fact is, different people are motivated differently. For some, getting a big badge when passing an exam might be an incentive, but for others it isn't.
      Example: let's assume you study a foreign language. What is more motivating ? getting a badge for some accomplishment or actually mastering the language.
      Even in math. What is more satisfying ? Being able to solve a complex mathematical problem or collecting badges ?
  • Mar 21 2011: I believe there is quite a lot of data that suggests rewards can demotivate in all sorts of contexts (watch the RCA video on motivation). I'm unsure on the generational gap. My children have been raised in a video game world, and therefore are quick to respond to the rewards systems. My son, in particular, seems to enjoy the progression component embodied by the rewards, rather than the rewards themselves. After all, these are virtual rewards!! Maybe that makes a difference....interested in other views on this part.
  • Mar 20 2011: I don't know. I don't think all education has to be intrinsic. If I don't particularly like a subject but I have to take it in school, no amount of, "for the love of it" will make me want to learn it. We all learn differently and we all have different desires. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts offer badges because it gives kids things to strive for. The badge is something tangible that says, I have mastered something this particular thing.
  • Mar 20 2011: I don't think it is very bad but it puts the learning on a positive vs negative basis as opposed to the neutral attitude we had of learning before the badges.
  • Mar 19 2011: I guess what I am asking is are points and badges negative influences on learning?