Using badges for learning

What are digital badges?

A digital badge functions just as a physical badge and is a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, or quality that can be earned in various learning environments. A digital badge system has been found to effectively increase students’ motivation, which is in turn essential for student achievement. Digital badges also fuel the chief motivators of adult learning, which are autonomy, mastery, and purpose, because they “can be attained by choice (autonomy), are a direct reflection of specific tasks (mastery), and can help guide one toward a larger goal (purpose).”[1] Furthermore, studies have shown that the use of rewards as extrinsic motivation is sometimes needed to increase students’ intrinsic motivation. However, opinions of the usefulness of digital badge systems are divided. Supporters of the digital badge system see it as a method to aid students in meeting criteria associated with instructional goals and to improve achievement while stoking their passion for learning, but opponents of digital badges argue that the system would decrease students’ intrinsic motivation and lead them to focus on winning badges. Nonetheless, studies suggest that digital badged are useful, effective, and motivational, but to varying degrees depending on the pedagogical orientation of the course.

Practical tips for designing digital badges

  1. Be certain that students positively view and are familiar with the technology used.
  2. Decide what is needed to earn a badge, such as the completion of a single course module, multiple modules, or a combination of skills.
  3. Be sure that the online material adequately reflect the particular skills that the badges represent.
  4. Understand how the badge will benefit the students and why it matters that they achieve it.


[1] Ady, K., Kinsella, K., & Paynter, A. (2015). Digital distinction: Badges add a new dimension to adult learning. Journal of Staff Development, 36(4), 24-27.