Value, Impact, and Potential of Badges
Digital badges hold great potential to help teachers, schools, and programs assess and research learning. Digital badges offer expanded value for employees, such as credits towards degrees, and schools could use digital badges to determine the top applicants for their institutions. The goal or justification, given for using digital badges is to provide proof of a particular set of skills beyond courses taken and degrees earned.
Findings indicate that adopting digital badges as a mode of assessment may benefit students with higher expectations of learning and a higher regard for the tasks they are studying, but may also result in students with lower expectations being left out. Although digital badges are touted as a way to record individual achievements, we cannot escape the idea that learners will strive to earn badges as a reward. Digital badges threaten to be the equivalent of steroids-type curriculum resumes: showing skill sets achieved, but providing no concrete evidence and no artifacts to show for these skill sets.
Although a great deal of the value of a digital badge comes directly from its electronic nature, tangential benefits flow from its digital composition. That badges can be more easily issued than a diploma, for example, both in terms of physical production and traditional fanfare, means they can be offered more often or for more granular purposes or topics. The technology for issuing badges is also readily available to anyone and contiguous with the Web, elevating the likelihood that groups not traditionally in the degree-granting realm will join the arena to give credit to those who meet their standards. One reason badges are garnering attention is that they represent the convergence of several areas of recent activity and thinking around improving learning outcomes and practical benefits to learners. Badges are at once a way to look at achievement from a multidimensional, metadata-driven perspective; easily mark the progress that otherwise goes unacknowledged at a time when there are more ways than ever for people to learn and share; connect to or reinforce learner engagement, motivation, and progress; and display evidence of achievement for observers reviewing learner skill sets.
The potential value and impact of digital badges include a range of possibilities:
Achievements can be observed or measured in almost any setting, and badges can play a role in recognizing those accomplishments. Recognizing learning and successes from any part of an individual’s life—including achievements in both formal and informal settings not traditionally assessed or recognized at all in both formal and informal settings—opens up possibilities for people of all ages to share a more complete narrative of personal identity. If you combine more ways to garner recognition with improved ways to share and curate, lifelong learners can truly back up their lifelong learning.
Decentralized credential granting: The ability to give formal recognition no longer needs to be solely the prerogative of degree-granting institutions or established certifying bodies or programs. Individuals or organizations with expertise and a willingness to put their reputation or brand on the line, for example, can give badges to those who obtain skills, knowledge, or achievement they value.
Granular levels of achievement recognition:
By dispensing with the notion that granting credit is primarily the domain of educational institutions or professional associations after extended periods of study, more activities and different demonstrations of ability become the subjects of recognition. A more granular set of achievements can also aid hiring managers, admissions officers, or those assembling teams to find the person with the skills they are seeking. Ability to visualize overall and incremental progress: The visual nature of badges—including such traits as shape, colour, size, text, and iconography—and their relative form and placement in Digital Badges for Adult Learners 12 compared to other badges make them very conducive vehicles for illustrating current or anticipated progress toward goals. Motivation and engagement: Badges tap into many of the principles known to engage and motivate people in games. There is great interest in how this «game mechanic» element of badges can enhance engagement and motivation in learning settings.
Recognition of prior learning:
Badges can play a role in the recognition of prior learning. Completing a prior learning assessment can potentially save a learner time and resources toward a degree or certificate program, and extending the process to the awarding and recognition of retroactively issued badges would also provide a more efficient learning pathway.
Recognition of embedded learning experiences:
Granting credit through badges can level the playing field and thus make it easier for local community groups, learning program providers, and training programs to offer opportunities to earn badges that meet national or association-based standards. National organizations can endorse or allow local groups to sign on to recognize the standards through their existing programs. This gives adults more opportunities to have the skills they demonstrate and develop validated by groups with whom they already interact daily and against an accepted set of criteria.
New forms of achievement:
More aspects of life, learning, and individual contributions are technology-mediated, meaning there is a wider spectrum of measurable data and observable records of achievement today than ever before. These data points can be used and correlated through automated and qualitative means to award credit for contributions and skills not previously acknowledged. For example, a local agency could correlate data from a reporting site with records relating to attendance at school board meetings and determine that a particular person deserves recognition for broad-based civic engagement. Assessments and grades are not the only ways to determine successful completion, and institutions, communities, peers, and individuals have a broader range of ways to discover evidence of achievement.
New forms of assessment:
Assessment is no more inherent to what defines a badge than it is to what defines a diploma, yet most people would rightly assume that some form of evaluation Digital Badges for Adult Learners 13 against criteria led up to the moment a badge or diploma was issued. So although badges do not automatically mean the reinvention of assessment, certain unique characteristics of badges do bring the reconsideration of assessment possibilities to the forefront of the conversation about badges. For example, if the end game is no longer defined only as a diploma from a formal learning setting, and the «prizes» can now be skill- or competency-based milestones that can be earned in any setting, the notion of assessments can also begin to deviate more from traditional tests, quizzes, and essays to alternate forms of evaluation.
Although encouraging self-directed learning is first and foremost pedagogy—a method for teaching and learning—and can therefore be fostered in all kinds of environments and by a wide range of tools, many of the concrete characteristics that define digital badges and badge systems make them well suited for fostering the pursuit of individualized pathways for learning. The granular nature of badges, the suitability of offering them through learning opportunities occurring in a variety of places through a range of organizations, and the concomitant exploration of alternative forms of assessment including such things as self-nomination and personal portfolio development, all make badges a particularly helpful approach to individualized goal setting. With a common specification and format for badge metadata, any organization, application, or platform can easily issue and display achievements, whether it was the originating source or not. In addition to the potentially granular nature and verifiable source of badges, learners can better present themselves and their credentials in any new settings they enter.
Identity curating for the badge earner: Badge portfolios or collections allow earners to tell a story about what they can do, how they contribute to various communities, and what they bring to new settings. This ability to curate one’s public identity is at the heart of the badge ecosystem.
Scale-up of the impact of organizations:
Thinking in terms of creating badge constellations— individual opportunities for achieving the recognition that can be assembled by, with, and for learners in myriad ways—increases the potential impact for an organization. By disaggregating diplomas and honours as de facto components of all learning opportunities, organizations can potentially reach more people than only those who have the time and interest to settle into a Digital Badges for Adult Learners 14 long-term commitment. Badges can be designed to encapsulate values and criteria important to one organization but also be issued by other groups. This, too, can affect the scale of the impact of an organization. In the end, the learner benefits by being able to construct a whole learning experience from parts offered by different entities, and organizations benefit by reaching new audiences in new ways and by focusing on providing learning opportunities where they can have the most impact.
As a proxy for a cluster of descriptive data about an achievement, badges are easily searchable and help connect people with well-suited jobs or projects. Over time, reputations of particular schools and programs will develop regarding the readiness of their graduates for specific challenges. People will come to regard specific badges similarly as a result. Human resource professionals can use badges as a filtering method to isolate potential candidates.
Predictions for success and learning analytics:
By marking or certifying skill sets previously unacknowledged, we open up the potential to correlate badges with the learning styles and approaches employed to earn them. We can also use badges to correlate with future job performance data indicating how well certain badge earners do in certain roles or with specific tasks.”