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Remember the participation badge you got for showing up to your grade 9 track and field competition? This isn’t that.

I’m talking about acknowledging the mastery of knowledge and skill sets to encourage iterative and deep learning. Done properly, badging can recognize the internally motivated among us.

But I don’t want to dismiss my (and your potential) initial resistance to badging because I believe it helps us better focus on the success criteria for valuable badges. Badging meets resistance because those of us who got participation badges considered them utterly worthless and we did so precisely because they were issued to anyone who managed to just show up for the race. To participants who trained for the day and genuinely competed, the badge was insulting and demotivating. Done hastily or half-heartedly, badges can discourage learning. To be effective, badges must:

  • Be issued selectively, probably on the basis of some pre-established criteria,

  • Be issued by a credible person or institution and

  • Be publishable (or displayable) in a place that is meaningful to the recipient.

Effective badging requires planning and preparation in both the design and build (development) phases of your eLearning project.

Designing badges

As any member of the scouting movement will tell you, participants are required to complete a tasks and then present evidence before being they are awarded merit badges. Badges in eLearning should mirror this structure. If you have established performance outcomes and rubrics (your learner success criteria), you’re on the road to badging.

However, if you only have a fuzzy idea of what the performance outcomes should be, then you need to invest more time in the planning and design phases of your project to establish these criteria before you are ready to leap into the world of badges. An eLearning vendor can help you identify performance outcomes and map them to a learning strategy so that your badges are relevant. Already have those success criteria defined? Beware of badging overkill. Don’t apply badging for mandatory content as it defeats the motivational purpose of badging and rapidly diminishes their stock.

For badges to be valuable to learners, they must have a compounding effect. A single badge tells something of a learner’s interests and skills, but an amalgam of badges tells a fuller, interwoven and altogether more interesting story about their interests and abilities. Its this prospect of telling the fuller story that motivates learners to seek out, accumulate and display badges for professional development. (More on displaying badges in the section below.) Done properly, badging should be integrated into your eLearning strategy.

Building badges

At their heart, badges are images with metadata; metadata are what distinguish a meaningless participation badge from a sought-after badge for professional development. Badge metadata contains information on the evidence of a learner’s concept mastery, the validity of the issuer, the duration of the badge’s validity and any other vital information the issuer wishes to communicate.

On the subject of the duration of a badge’s validity, setting time limits (or expiry dates) on badges makes perfect sense as most knowledge and skill sets require maintenance to remain current. Once expired, badges shouldn’t disappear. After all, the currency your skill and knowledge set is not the same as not having that skill or knowledge set. Your badge’s metadata will determine its credibility, so consider this issue with care.

Because badges need to be published in a place that is valuable to the learner, they must be platform agnostic. In other words, just as learners have the freedom to accumulate (or to elect to not accumulate) whatever badges they want in whichever order they choose, so too should they have the freedom to decide where and when to make those badges visible. If you’re delivering your learning via LMS, find out if your LMS supports badges and if they can be exported from your LMS to be published on other platforms such as LinkedIn.

Getting started

Properly planned for, designed and delivered, badging can support learning in the modern world by providing relevant, flexible, interesting and valuable methods of credentialing. So how do you get started? I firmly believe that experience is the key to relevant instructional design and development. You can’t design and build badges without first experimenting with them as a learner. Go out and earn some badges!

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