Hello, I'm Elizabeth. I'm new to the updated version of Duolingo, because my Spanish teacher doesn't want us to get distracted with our Spanish course. I decided to take a French course for myself. When I got started, I noticed that there were different things like badges. I've never seen them on here before. What's the purpose of them???
Hi Elizabeth, if by badges you mean the "shields" with 1-3 stars on them, they're called achievements and are only available for some people as Duolingo is "testing" them. As to the purpose, I don't really know. It may encourage you to acquire more of them, and may make you happy if you gained another one?!? Personally I could live without them =)
At all times there are many features being tested by Duolingo so it's very likely different accounts may have some different features. Also, accounts being used in classrooms can be restricted by teachers i.e. certain features (like access to the forums) may be disabled by a teacher (talking about distractions =p).