Digital Badging

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Contents

Module Summary

“Digital badging”—the issuing of validated digital icons certifying learner achievements—is seen as a way to bridge informal learning, formal learning, and employment. It has been discussed as a way to increase learner retention in formalized learning sequences; it is also seen as a way of encouraging non-formal and informal learning outside the classroom. This module focuses on digital badging as one aspect of the gamification of learning.


Takeaways

Learners will...

  • explore what digital badging entails and some common uses of digital badges in higher education and how the receipt and collection of digital badges may be beneficial to the recipients
  • consider some of the theoretical underpinnings for digital badging; consider how digital badging is related to gaming; review why digital badging is seen as supportive of lifelong learning and informal learning; consider some of the current research topics related to digital badging
  • think about how digital badging is integrated with some socio-technical systems, including social media platforms, learning management systems, and others
  • review some common names in the digital badging space, think about what the respective reputations about these are, and think about some related costs and terms of use
  • consider some factors for whether to go with a digital badging endeavor as an organization


Module Pretest

1. What is digital badging? What are some common uses of digital badging in higher education? [Credit for prior experiential learning? Conference attendance? Publishing? Reviewing?] How is digital badging supposed to benefit those who receive badges?

2. What are some of the theoretical underpinnings for digital badging? How is digital badging related to gaming? Why is digital badging seen as supportive of lifelong learning? Informal learning? What are some current research topics in the area of digital badging?

3. How is digital badging integrated with socio-technical systems? Social media platforms? Learning management systems (LMSes)? Others?

4. What are some common names in the digital badging space? What are the respective brands known for? What are some of the costs? What are some common terms of use?

5. What are some factors to consider in deciding whether to go with a digital badging endeavor as an organization?


Main Contents

1. What is digital badging? What are some common uses of digital badging in higher education? [Credit for prior experiential learning? Conference attendance? Publishing? Reviewing?] How is digital badging supposed to benefit those who receive badges?


Broadly speaking, digital badging refers to the issuing of a small visual icon to signify some achievement, and it has been used in a number of fields. For example, on social media, it has been used to encourage prosocial behaviors and activities. They have been used to promote thoughtful healthcare for consumers (Cudney, Murray, Sprague, Byrd, Morris, Merwin, & Warner, 2015, p. 3417). Visitors to tourist sites have benefitted from digital badging to enhance their experiences (Lagiewski & Kesgin, 2017).

To promote business frequenting, digital badges have been used to encourage visitors to real spaces via mobile-aware social media platforms (Wilson, 2012). Customer loyalty programs have been built around mobile apps encouraging check-ins at store locations (Cudney, Murray, Sprague, Byrd, Morris, Merwin, & Warner, 2015, p. 3417). Badging has been used to promote consumer social ventures (Hall-Phillips, Park, Chung, Anaza, & Rathod, 2016, p. 484).

In the educational context, “digital badging” refers to the conferring of meta-dataed digital proofs of learning and skills. Digital badges generally consist of the following elements:

  • a designed visual element
  • metadata
  • the backing of an organization that is “vouching for” that learning

[In terms of metadata, open badges contain the following: “badge name, badge URL (description), badge criteria, badge image, issuer, issue date, recipient, tags, alignment (standards), expiration date, evidence URL,” and others. More information is available on OpenBadges FAQs.] In the prior, the expiration date suggests that all learning is somewhat dated and may expire. Researchers suggest that the interpretation of badging will require some sophistication, given the varying levels of oversight and credibility of the granting organizations. The visual icon design of the digital badges also may inform whether it is credible or not, with risks to “crude or simplistic badge designs” (Dyjur & Lindstrom, 2016, p. 390).

In higher education, digital badges have been used for the following (and more):

  • motivating learners from K-12 through post-graduate studies,
  • applied in STEM fields, in pharmacy studies and the health sciences (Sera & Wheeler, 2017), and other areas,
  • motivating teachers in their professional development endeavors, and to enable them to customize their workplace learning (Gamrat, Zimmerman, Dudek, & Peck, 2014),
  • encouraging individuals to be more communicative and participatory in online social learning spaces to co-create social knowledge (Pedro, Santos, Aresta, & Almeida, 2015), or even just being a member (Karlsson, Bradley, & Godhe, 2014),
  • encouraging creative problem solving (Ionica & Leba, 2015),
  • supporting learners in the design of their respective learning paths and their own self-regulated learning (Cucchiara, Giglio, Persico, & Raffaghelli, 2014),
  • increasing the sense of fun in learning (through an extrinsic award),
  • offering Badged Open Courses (BOCs), such as by The Open University in the UK (Law, Oct. – Dec. 2015, p. 302), and badged Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) (often with auto-assessment for badging),
  • marketing learners to potential employers (by enabling the posting of digital badges on professional social networking sites, e-portfolios, web pages, social media platform user accounts, resumes, CVs, graduate school applications, and others),
  • crediting peer reviewers of peer-reviewed publications (mostly periodicals),
  • encouraging specific work-based behaviors (by affecting worker motivations and performance and “competitive traits”) (Cardador, 2017, p. 355 - 356), and others

In K12 . Digital badges have been deployed to encourage afterschool learning for young people for “Expanded Learning Experiences” or ELEs (Davis & Singh, 2015, p. 74). Indeed, on child-based social networking sites, there are built-in badging reward systems to encourage learning activities (Valentine, Leyva-McMurtry, Borgos-Rodriguez, & Hammond, 2016).

In higher education. One main challenge that many hope that digital badging will solve is that of learner retention. With “withdrawals prior to degree completion…at about 30% in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries,” and most of these happening in Y1 of learner studies, badging can give learners a sense of accomplishment and encourage persistence, with the certification of “knowledge, skills, and competencies” (Mah, 2016, p. 285).

Another approach is closely tied in with “gamified mass-scale courses” in which desired learner behaviors are rewarded with automatic badging (such as for postings on a discussion board) (Ortega-Arranz, et al., 2017).

Badging has been designed to encourage more learner engagement while working with mentors in virtual learning environments and to encourage learner collaboration among themselves (Langston, Moon, Todd, Gregg, & Wolfe, 2015).

In the research literature, there have been programs designed to help learners with specific learning needs in local contexts, such as in the study of civic information (Blevins, LeCompte, & Wells, 2014) and information science (Walker, Lee, & Lonn, 2015), among others. In terms of professional development, digital badging is thought to benefit faculty professional development (Yu, Dyjur, Miltenburg, & Saito, 2015). Few instructors in higher education have formalized training in teaching, but they may acquire non-credit learning in teaching and earn digital badges for their professional development efforts (although some prefer “a certificate of completion” to badging in this research) (Dyjur & Lindstrom, 2017, p. 386).

Some Additional Insights

A review of the research literature brought out some other insights:

Learner receptivity to digital badging. Several localized studies found learner openness to digital badging. One found “improved enthusiasm for study, confidence and overall interest” (Law, Oct. – Dec. 2015, p. 303; Law, 2016).

However, the larger question has been whether gamifying learning has positive effects. One study did not find any learning differences between gamified and non-gamified learning sequences (McKernan, Martey, Stromer-Galley, Kenski, Clegg, Folkestad, Rhodes, Shaw, Saulnier, & Strzalkowski, 2015). In another study, the researchers disaggregated gamification elements and studied their effects separately:

Our results show that badges, leaderboards, and performance graphs positively affect competence need satisfaction, as well as perceived task meaningfulness, while avatars, meaningful stories, and teammates affect experiences of social relatedness. Perceived decision freedom, however, could not be affected as intended. We interpret these findings as general support for our main hypothesis that gamification is not effective per se, but that specific game design elements have specific psychological effects. (Sailer, Hense, Mayr, & Mandl, 2017, p. 371).

In another case, digital badging may lead to learner demotivation in the long term and poorer learner performance outcomes (Hanus & Fox, 2015). [People are complex and may not be so easily gamed, in one sense.]

The importance of learner characteristics. The research shows that gamification in general may not necessarily enhance the learning outcomes. Certain learners apparently benefit from digital badging. In one study, those with high expectancy for the learning and intrinsically motivated to learn appreciated digital badging and benefitted more from their availability; the converse was that badges “also could disenfranchise students with low expectancy values” (Reid, Paster, & Abramovich, 2015, p. 377).

In other cases, learning effects have been somewhat superficial, making a change in surface-level behavior but not in deeper learning, in some senses:

The deployment of game mechanics produced greater student contribution in the discussion forums, but no significant difference on students' recall of factual knowledge. However, we found that the use of game mechanics had a positive effect on motivating students to engage with more difficult tasks, and that the quality of artifacts produced by participants in the experimental groups were higher than those in the control groups. (Hew, Huang, Chu, & Chiu, 2016, p. 221)

There is still much work to be done in terms of empirical research on digital badging and the various contexts in which this has been or will be instantiated.


2. What are some of the theoretical underpinnings for digital badging? How is digital badging related to gaming? Why is digital badging seen as supportive of lifelong learning? Informal learning? What are some current research topics in the area of digital badging?


Theoretically, digital badging is seen to draw from situated theories of learning (credited to Jean Lave, Etienne Wenger, John Dewey, and Lev Vygotsky). Situated theories focus on the context in which learners experience, interact, and apply their learning. Within this are social constructivist elements, which suggest that people co-create meaning together. There is also a competency-based aspect to digital badging.

Practically, digital badging is seen as a gamification feature and part of micro-credentialing, the extension of “credit” from both formal and informal entities. It also draws some power from the credit for prior experiential learning efforts (to provide university credit for demonstrable life-learning experiences).

Lifelong learning. Digital badging is seen to support lifelong learning because this may motivate people to learn continuously over a lifetime—to acquire new knowledge and skills, to stave off learning (and skills) decay, to interact with other learners, and to contribute to society. The idea is that the prosocial learning may be recorded and ascribed to the individual in a federated way (from any number of sources) over time. Such badging could encourage learners to design their own customized learning paths in highly original and unique ways based on personal and intrinsic (and extrinsic) motivations. People may maintain learning portfolios “throughout their life” and to contribute to their reputations in a Web-wide way (Devedžić & Jovanović, 2015, p. 606). Digital badges are one part of the learning infrastructure that enables and encourages lifelong learning (Romero, 2015).

Informal learning. Formal learning refers to the traditional learning paths through public or private schools (and certified homeschooling). Informal learning refers to any learning outside of those formal channels. These may include open-source MOOCs, online learning communities, apprenticeships, hobbyist learning, and any number of self-directed learning opportunities that people may take on.

Some current research topics in digital badging. There are a number of different types of research ongoing about digital badging, many of them since 2010 or so. In the educational space, they include topics such as the following:

  • What are the technologies behind digital badging?
  • How receptive are particular target learners to digital badging?
  • How receptive are particular fields to digital badging to promote learning?
  • What are effective ways to leverage digital badging to particular target learners for positive effects (while controlling for negative ones)?


3. How is digital badging integrated with socio-technical systems? Social media platforms? Learning management systems (LMSes)? Others?


Digital badging may be built into various socio-technical systems, or they may be deployed through third-party packages, or they may be built from open-source technologies and standards.


4. What are some common names in the digital badging space? What are the respective brands known for? What are some of the costs? What are some common terms of use?


Mozilla’s OpenBadges is an important entity in the space.

There are some commercial entities as well. At this time, those are beyond the purview of this review.


5. What are some factors to consider in deciding whether to go with a digital badging endeavor as an organization?


These systems may be deployed at local levels with built-in digital badging features within socio-technical systems already. At institution level, though, there are a wider range of considerations.

  • For example, how will credit for informal learning be aligned with formal learning? Are these complementary or competitive?
  • How will the various types of desired activities—professional development, constructive social engagement online, informal learning, volunteerism, conference attendance—be set up and rewarded with digital badges?
  • How will such endeavors be run with integrity?
  • How will the projects be financially sustainable?
  • Who will be responsible for accurate record-keeping, and how will those records be protected?
  • When the related technologies are updated, how will these be handled?
  • What happens if there is apparent attempts at hacking or gaming of the badging system? How will such issues be fairly resolved for all stakeholders concerned?


The actual designs and deployments of such digital badging systems may be rife with challenges, given the interests of various groups on a university campus (Mewburn, Freund, & Rutherford, 2014). There are investments required of all stakeholders (administrators, faculty, staff, and learners) and learning curves all around.

What seems to work is somewhat of an iterative and revisionary approach to digital badging systems, with nuanced and adaptive designs (Põldoja, Jürgens, & Laanpere, 2016). There are benefits of co-designing digital badges with the potential recipients of the particular digital badges, such as in a project to promote out-of-school science learning with teenage learners (Bell & Davis, 2016). There are some general extracted themes for effective badging system design (Otto & Hickey, 2014), but they will not be summarized here. It does helpful to consider digital badges as “rewards, feedback mechanisms, and narrative” for more efficacious badge design and deployment (Fanfarelli, Vie, & McDaniel, 2015).

To give a sense of the complexity, learner autonomy and assessment may be difficult to achieve simultaneously (Karlsson, Bradley, & Godhe, 2014, p. 170). Both are valuable in their own ways and for different reasons, but the proper mix may be challenging to achieve (especially for a wide range of diverse and real-world learners).

As researchers have noted, digital badging not only has to provide a “trustworthy record” but to be seen as such and to be seen as and treated as valid (Davis & Singh, 2015, p. 72). In other words, potential graduate school acceptance officers, employers, and others, need to trust the digital badges in order for them to be efficacious. Part of that trust comes from how assessment is done of the “learning, participation, or achievement” and namely, how the binary decision is made whether to offer a badge or not…and then what the “appropriate evidence” was to back up the issuance of the badge (Otto & Hickey, 2014, p. 181).

Buy-in to digital badging also depends on factors external to the institution. As one research team noted: Badges would be more accepted in higher education if there are clearer “personal learning paths for learners” (Põldoja & Laanpere, 2014, p. 172).

There is very much a sense that this is in its early stages.

Examples

There are various online examples of digital badging, for educational and social and marketing purposes. Do explore.

How To

There are a variety of ways to create digital badges, and these vary across different systems.

Possible Pitfalls

One possible pitfall in the use of digital badging involves the newness of the endeavor. While people have become more accepting of micro-credentialing, and some systems have been around for some years, this is all still fairly new, and technologies and practices are still being evolved. One very important element involves working to ensure that a system is not gamed to give badges where none were actually earned. The challenge of establishing credibility and actual and earned reputations will likely be a challenging one for even years to come, given the cybersecurity challenges of online systems in general. In terms of respect for digital badging, the receptiveness is not a given.

Another potential pitfall involves human motivation. While digital badges have been shown to improve learner motivations in some cases, the counter argument is that extrinsic motivations (like digital badging and the accompanying “brags”) may detract from the learning itself and the more potent intrinsic motivations. In the research, in contexts where people volitionally choose to pursue one course of action or another, extrinsic motivations have been found to displace intrinsic ones (“motivation displacement”) and to place the focus on external gains like potential rewards or avoidance of punishments. (To mitigate such displacement, “careful instructional design” has been suggested to ensure that badges are sufficiently challenging and inherently meaningful (Devedžić & Jovanović, 2015).


Module Post-Test

1. What is digital badging? What are some common uses of digital badging in higher education? [Credit for prior experiential learning? Conference attendance? Publishing? Reviewing?] How is digital badging supposed to benefit those who receive badges?

2. What are some of the theoretical underpinnings for digital badging? How is digital badging related to gaming? Why is digital badging seen as supportive of lifelong learning? Informal learning? What are some current research topics in the area of digital badging?

3. How is digital badging integrated with socio-technical systems? Social media platforms? Learning management systems (LMSes)? Others?

4. What are some common names in the digital badging space? What are the respective brands known for? What are some of the costs? What are some common terms of use?

5. What are some factors to consider in deciding whether to go with a digital badging endeavor as an organization?


References

Bell, A. & Davis, K. (2016). Learning through participatory design: Designing digital badges for and with teens. In the proceedings of IDC ’16. June 21 – 24, 2016. Manchester, United Kingdom. 218 – 229.

Blevins, B., LeCompte, K., & Wells, S. (2014). Citizenship education goes digital. The Journal of Social Studies Research: 38, 33 – 44.

Cardador, M.T., Northcraft, G.B., & Whicker, J. (2017). A theory of work gamification: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something cool? Human Resource Management Review: 27, 353 – 365.

Cucchiara, S., Giglio, A., Persico, D., & Raffaghelli, J.E. (2014). Supporting self-regulated learning through digital badges: A case study. In Y. Cao, et al. (Eds): ICWL 2014 Workshops. LNCS 8699. 133 – 142.

Cudney, E.A., Murray, S.L., Sprague, C.M., Byrd, L.M., Morris, F.M., Merwin, N., & Warner, D.L. (2015). Engaging healthcare users through gamification in knowledge sharing of continuous improvement in healthcare. In the 6th International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics (AHFE 2015) and the Affiliated Conferences, AHFE 2015. Procedia Manufacturing: 3, 3416 – 3423.

Davis, K. & Singh, S. (2015). Digital badges in afterschool learning: Documenting the perspectives and experiences of students and educators. Computers & Education: 88(2015), 72 – 83.

Devedžić, V. & Jovanović, J. (2015). Developing open badges: A comprehensive approach. Educational Technology Research and Development: 63: 603 – 620.

Dyjur, P. & Lindstrom, G. (2017). Perceptions and uses of digital badges for professional learning development in higher education. TechTrends: 61:386 – 392.

Fanfarelli, J., Vie, S., & McDaniel, R. (2015). Understanding digital badges through feedback, reward, and narrative: A multidisciplinary approach to building better badges in social environments. In the proceedings of the Symposium on Communicating Complex Information. Feb. 23 – 24, 2015. Communication Design Quarterly: 3(3), 56 – 60.

Gamrat, C., Zimmerman, H.T., Dudek, J., & Peck, K. (2014). Personalized workplace learning: An exploratory study on digital badging within a teacher professional development program. British Journal of Educational Technology: 45(6), 1136 – 1148.

Hall-Phillips, A., Park, J., Chung, T.-L., Anaza, N.A., & Rathod, S.R. (2016). I (heart) social ventures: Identification and social media engagement. Journal of Business Research: 69, 484 – 491.

Hanus, M.D. & Fox, J. (2015). Assessing the effects of gamification in the classroom: A longitudinal study on intrinsic motivation, social comparison, satisfaction, effort, and academic performance. Computers & Education: 80, 152 – 161.

Hew, K.F., Huang, B., Chu, K.W.S., & Chiu, D.K.W. (2016). Engaging Asian students through game mechanics: Findings from two experiment(al) studies. Computers & Education: 92 – 93, 221 – 236.

Ionica, A.C. & Leba, M. (2015). Gamification & research – partnership for innovation. In the proceedings of the 2nd Global Conference on Business, Economics, Management and Tourism. Oct. 30 – 31, 2104. Prague, Czech Republic. Procedia Economics and Finance: 23, 671 – 676.

Karlsson, N., Bradley, L., & Godhe, A.-L. (2014). Awarding a community membership badge—Teachers’ development of digital competencies in a cMOOC. In Y. Cao et al. (Eds): ICWL 2014 Workshops, LNCS 8699, 162 – 171.

Lagiewski, R. & Kesgin, M. (2017). Designing and implementing digital visitor experiences in New York State: The case of the Finger Lakes Interactive Play (FLIP) project. Journal of Destination Marketing & Management: 6, 118 – 126.

Langston, C., Moon, N., Todd, R., Gregg, N., & Wolfe, G. (2015). Leveraging virtual worlds for electronic mentoring. In M. Antona and C. Stephanidis (Eds): UAHCI 2015, Part III, LNCS 9177. 137 – 148.

Law, B. (2016). Open badges: Encouraging participation in software development modules. In G. Vincenti, et al. (Eds): eLEOT 2015. LNICST 160. 144 – 151. Institute for Computer Sciences, Social Informatics and Telecommunications Engineering.

Law, P. (2015, Oct. – Dec.). Recognising informal elearning with digital badging: Evidence for a sustainable business model. Open Praxis: 7(4) pp. 299–310.

Mah, D.-K. (2016). Learning analytics and digital badges: Potential impact on student retention in higher education. Technology, Knowledge and Learning: 2016) 21: 285 – 305.

McKernan, B., Martey, R.M., Stromer-Galley, J., Kenski, K., Clegg, B.A., Folkestad, J.E., Rhodes, M.G., Shaw, A., Saulnier, E.T., & Strzalkowski, T. (2015). We don’t need no stinkin’ badges: The impact of reward features and feeling rewarded in educational games. Computers in Human Behavior: 45, 299 – 306.

Mewburn, I., Freund, K., & Rutherford, E. (2014). Badge trouble: Piloting open badges at the Australian National University. In B. Hegarty, J. McDonald, & S.-K. Loke (Eds): Rhetoric and Reality: Critical perspectives on educational technology. Dunedin, New Zealand. Ascilite2014. 643 – 647.

Ortega-Arranz, A., Sanz-Martínez, L, Álvarez-Álvarez, S., Muñoz-Cristóbal, J.A., Bote-Lorenzo, M.L., Martínez-Monés, A., & Dimitriadis, Y. (2017). From low-scale to collaborative, gamified and massive-scale courses: Redesigning a MOOC. In C. D. Kloos, P. Jermann, M. Pérez-Sanagustín, D.T. Seaton, & S. White (Eds)’s Digital Education: out to the World and Back to the Campus. Ch. 9. 5th European MOOCs Stakeholders Summit, EMOOCs 2017. Madrid, Spain. May 22 – 26, 2017. 77 – 87.

Otto, N. & Hickey, D.T. (2014). Design principles for digital badge systems: A comparative method for uncovering lessons in ecosystem design. 179 – 184.

Pedro, L., Santos, C., Aresta, M., & Almeida, S. (2015). Peer-supported badge attribution in a collaborative learning platform: The SAPO Campus case. Computers in Human Behavior: 51, 562 – 567.

Põldoja, H., Jürgens, P., & Laanpere, M. (2016). Design patterns for badge systems in higher education. In D.K.W. Chiu et al. (Eds): ICWL 2016. 40 – 49.

Põldoja, H. & Laanpere, M. (2014). Exploring the potential of open badges in blog-based university courses. In Y. Cao et al. (Eds): ICWL 2014. 172 – 178.

Reid, A.J., Paster, D., & Abramovich, S. (2015). Digital badges in undergraduate composition courses: Effects on intrinsic motivation. Journals of Computers in Education: 2(4), 377 – 398.

Romero, M. (2014). Work, games and lifelong learning in the 21st century. Procedia—Social and Behavioral Sciences: 174, 115 – 121.

Sailer, M., Hense, J.U., Mayr, S.K., & Mandl, H. (2017). How gamification motivates: An experimental study of the effects of specific game design elements on psychological need satisfaction. Computers in Human Behavior: 69, 371 – 380.

Sera, L. & Wheeler, E. (2017). Game on: The gamification of the pharmacy classroom. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning: 9, 155 – 159.

Valentine, S., Leyva-McMurtry, A., Borgos-Rodriguez, K. & Hammond, T. (2016). The digital sash: A sketch-based badge system in a social network for children. Ch. 12. In T. Hammond, et al. (Eds). Revolutionizing Education with Digital Ink. Human-Computer Interaction Series. 179 – 189.

Walker, A.M., Lee, F., & Lonn, S. (2015). Scaffolds: Experimenting with student-driven digital badging in an iSchool context. In iConference 2015 Proceedings.

Wilson, M.W. (2012). Location-based services, conspicuous mobility, and the location-aware future. Geoforum: 43, 1266 – 1275.

Yu, L., Dyjur, P., Miltenburg, J., & Saito, K. (2015). Micro-credentialing: Digital badges in faculty professional development. In Preciado, Babb, Takeuchi, & Lock (Eds.), Proceedings of the IDEAS: Designing Responsive Pedagogy. 82 – 89. Werklund School of the Education, University of Calgary.


Extra Resources

There are numerous resources about digital badging that are available. Some basic ones follow.


About Digital Badging

7 Things you Should Know about Badges. (2012). EDUCAUSE. https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7085.pdf.

Digital Badge. (2017, Mar. 16). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_badge.

Digital Badges. (2017). HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory). https://www.hastac.org/initiatives/digital-badges.

Digital Badges. (2017). MacArthur Foundation. https://www.macfound.org/programs/digital-badges/. OpenBadges. (2017). https://openbadges.org/.


Badge Communities

Open Badges https://openbadges.org/community/ @openbadges

Badge Alliance http://www.badgealliance.org