Badges as Goals: Achievement Goal Theory

scout merit badges

Image by Flickr user zen and used under Creative Commons License

This is part of a series of posts that will build into my final paper for the Motivation course I am taking this semester. I want to emphasize that this a rough draft and welcome comments, especially ones that point out flaws in my logic or understanding of the motivational theory under consideration. I’m going to try and use my “blogging” voice here rather than my “boring academic voice” that I use in my official paper, but I apologize in advance if I don’t entirely succeed.

In achievement goal theory, it is the learner’s goals for learning that are most salient. In this conceptualization, students who take a mastery goal approach towards their learning focus more on their own individual ability to master new ideas and competencies. Students with a primarily performance goal approach focus more on their ability to prove they are better than others or that they can be judged successful by others. As Ames and Archer (1988) contrast them, the performance goal orientation is associated with “achieving success with little effort,” while a mastery goal orientation is described as valuing the process of learning itself “and the attainment of mastery is seen as dependent on effort (260).” In this theory of motivation, students adopting a mastery orientation have more positive outcomes, including a willingness to pursue challenging tasks, and use more self-regulating behaviors, and persevere in the learning tasks. In contrast, students with a performance goal orientation experience more negative outcomes, including an unwillingness to fail and anxiety.

Using achievement goal theory to predict the ways in which these divergent orientations towards learning might impact a learner’s motivation within a badge system can be useful. Badge systems are certainly patterned after similar systems within digital games, where these goal orientations have resulted in the negative outcomes associated with performance goal orientations. Studies that have examined gamers’ motivations have found a negative impact on mood when players adopted a performance goal orientation towards the game, valuing achievements over other aspects of game play (Ryan, Rigby, & Przybylski, 2006). Additionally, there are contextual factors that interact with these individual student orientations. Classrooms, for example, can be organized in such a way as to support a mastery over performance orientation and thus impact student motivations and outcomes, with classroom performance goal structures correlated with multiple negative outcomes for students (Lau & Nie, 2008). This suggests that these learning sites, like classrooms, should consider students’ achievement goal orientations and encourage a mastery approach whenever possible.

The Khan Academy emphasizes displays of competence over task mastery, an emphasis that aligns with a contextual goal structure that is performance goal oriented. By awarding badges and points for watching videos or answering rote questions without making mistakes, displays of competence are rewarded. These badges, in turn, are displays that rank users against each other, which could also explain the rampant cheating that some of the Khan Academy users have resorted to, certainly a maladaptive outcome predicted by the interaction of a student’s performance goal orientation with the Khan Academy’s performance goal orientation.


Ames, C., & Archer, J. (1988). Achievement goals in the classroom: Students’ learning strategies

and motivation processes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 260-267.

Lau, S., & Nie, Y. (2008). Interplay between personal goals and classroom goal structures in

predicting student outcomes: A multilevel analysis of person-context interactions.

Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 15-29.

Ryan, R.M., Rigby, C.S., Przybylski. (2006) The Motivational pull of video games: a

self-determination theory approach. Motivation and Emotion: 30, 347-363.



Article Global Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendfeed Technorati Digg Google StumbleUpon Eli Pets

3 thoughts on “Badges as Goals: Achievement Goal Theory

  1. Hi Andrea,
    I think the term “master goal orientation” in the last sentence of the first paragraph should be replaced with “performance goal orientation”. (Otherwise it reads mastery goal orientation promotes positive outcomes and, in contrast, negative outcomes. )

  2. I so appreciate you catching that! This is why I love blogging my papers. I have fixored it. Thanks again :)

  3. I agree, I love getting content out there because when you’re working with theory terms it can all blur together after reading it through a few times.

Leave a Reply to Crowski Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Additional comments powered byBackType