With the Mozilla Open Badge project and any number of recent initiatives, the idea of using badges for documenting learning continues to gain interest and traction in the field of education. What is a digital badge? Think of a digital equivalent of boy scout badges. A badge is granted when a scout demonstrates a given skill. Criteria are set for each badge and a person must give evidence of meeting those criteria to earn the badge.
As I continue to think about the affordances and limitations of digital badges, here are the benefits and limitations that I see so far.
Affordances of Digital Badges
I will use the acronym BADGES to represent six affordances that people associate with digital badges.
B – Break Down – Digital badges encourage us to break down evidence of learning into discrete bits of knowledge or skill. Instead of simply earning an “A” or a “Pass”, one’s mastery is described at a much more granular level. Using digital badges, a course might be broken into a series of 5-10 individual badges that each seek to verify evidence of learning in each 5-10 different areas. That has the potential to offer a much more accurate picture of what an individual knows or can do than a quiz, test, or overall course assessment.
A – Aggregation – What if I want to learn from multiple organizations and then showcase evidence of my learning in a single place online? Digital badges make that possible. That is part of the power behind something like the Mozilla Open Badge project. This concept of aggregation is also built into services like Credly.com and Degreed.com as well. This opens up the possibility for the unbundling of learning experiences and documentation of that learning across many organizations and contexts.
D – Demonstration – Badges typically require a person to prove what they do and do not know, what they can or can’t do. This is much more focused upon real student learning than measures like seat time and time on task. It helps us to move toward a competency-based and evidence-based approach to learning. The other part of this is that the demonstration need not be limited to a formal learning context. One might show knowledge and skill outside of a formal classroom as evidence of meeting a formal learning goal within a classroom. The way in which I learned something becomes less important than the evidence of what I know or can do now.
G – Gamification – Gamification is simply the use of game principles in non-game environments. While badges alone do not make for a game, this small element of games (the use of badges and similar forms of recognition) can serve as a motivator, especially for the achievers in the group. Not all are motivated by visible signs of achievement, but (even as I caution against too much emphasis on carrots) it does help some learners.
E – Expiration – While it is not mandatory, badging systems allow one to set an expiration date for certain badges, requiring the badge bearer to return for more training or to provide more current evidence to keep the badge. This allows us to address the need to have evidence of current knowledge, not just that a person once had the knowledge and skill.
S – Speed – Some argue that badges are helping to speed the education move toward assessment and competency-based learning, and away from more vague evidence of learning in typical grading systems.