Digital badges provide great opportunities to recognize, assess, and motivate learners in and/or out of traditional learning contexts.
Digital badges are web-enabled tokens of accomplishment that contain specific claims and evidence about learning and achievement along with detailed evidence supporting those claims.
Badges traditionally consist of an image and relevant metadata (e.g., badge name, description, criteria, issuer, evidence, date issued, standards, and tags).
In this post, we’ll go beyond the badge graphic to discuss what you’ll need to consider as you build up and offer your first badge, or build a badging ecosystem.
Some initial ideas
There are multiple ways to build, offer, and award badges.
- You can have individual badges, or linked/connected badges.
- Badges can be created by the organizers (top down) or the community (grassroots).
- Badges can be reviewed and awarded instantly (congrats…you showed up), reviewed/awarded by peers/mentors, reviewed/awarded by governing/accrediting body (facilitators)
- Badges can be private (live only in the learning management system – LMS) or public (openly viewable online)
- Badges can live only in the LMS or be transportable (earners can display and share elsewhere).
- Badges can begin/end with the learning experience, or continue on after the event/experience has concluded.
There is a balancing act between the badging ecosystem, the issuers, the earners, and the culture or community of the group. If there is perceived value within the community, the badges will not be of value. Keep in mind…you never fully know how valuable these digital certificates and credentials will be until you offer them.
As you begin developing badges, keep in mind that just because your textbook or grade levels are organized in a linear fashion, learning often times is not.
To that end, we want to think about various learning pathways that we may seek to highlight or identify for learners as they interact and connect.
Stepping Stones – This type of pathway is sequential and prescriptive. That is to say they guide the learner in a fixed, linear order from which it is impossible to deviate. This kind of pathway may be useful for:
- Compliance training (e.g. health & safety)
- Induction (e.g. on-boarding at a sports club)
- Process-driven environments (e.g. assisting with surgical operations)
Collection – This type of pathway is prescriptive and non-linear, allowing a degree of user choice. This kind of pathway may be useful for:
- Academic options (e.g. university modules)
- Early specialization (e.g. car mechanics focusing on performance tuning)
- Gamifying content (e.g. encouraging users to pay for all modules on offer)
Constellation – This type of pathway is descriptive and non-linear, allowing the greatest degree of learner freedom as the specific order and content is not specified in advance. This kind of pathway may be useful for:
- City-wide, nation-wide, or sector-wide badge systems (e.g. employability)
- Interest-based learning (e.g. coding)
- Lifelong learning (e.g. telling the story of evolving interests)
Ultimately, the options are limitless as you think about what you would like to build and recognize.
Here’s the process I recommend as you plan, develop, and revise badges. You can learn more about this process in this Coggle.
Understand & Define
I would suggest getting started on this journey by researching and reading everything you can about open, digital badges. Read up and see what others are doing…and write your own definition of badges. Please blog about your research, curation, and synthesis of this research.
As you develop your badges, I suggest you think deeply about the skills or competencies that you want to highlight with your badges. Clearly define and identify – at a granular level – what you would like to acknowledge with your badges. When you develop, and award badges, your audience will need to easily think about, or consider what your badge is all about. What are the skills or competencies you’re highlighting? Do they meet the qualifications? How can they improve their skills so they can earn your badge?
Build all of the Components
Depending on the badge platform that you’re using, you’ll need to import a couple key components into your badge. You’ll need an image, or graphic. You’ll need a title. The two most important elements (at least to me) are the description and the tags. The description is the granular components of what your badge is awarded for. The tags connect your badge to other global communities, or discussions. Please be clear, distinct, and thoughtful as you include these elements. As always…please blog about your thinking along this process.
Award Badges and Iterate
The final step in the process is to award badges and see what the effects are. Despite the massive amount of time I spent thinking and researching open badges, I still learned a lot from posting and awarding badges. Use feedback from this process to iterate and inform future badge development. You may also use this knowledge to edit and revise the badges you’ve already developed and awarded. Blog about your thinking during this process. Tag your blog posts appropriately and allow the open badging community to learn from your learning.
Please understand that these are only my thoughts about open, digital, or web badges. What I share here I learned from discussions with Doug Belshaw, building and breaking things in the Mozilla Open Badges Google Group and Community Calls. There is a great community of folks out there that are busy building with digital badges and online certificates.
I also worked with some of my graduate students to conduct a lit review on open badges, edit Wikipedia, and develop our own badging system. As you work your way into development of badges, I would also consider viewing the following playlist on YouTube.
This post was accompanied by an online workshop on digital badges in middle and high school classrooms. The slide deck for the session is embedded below.