Could achievement badges be the motivation your students need?

One of the common causes of learners’ lack of motivation and failure to complete is a failure to understand why the learning activities are valuable. Are learners in your courses asking themselves:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • When will I be done?
  • Why does this matter?

If they are, they might also be coming to conclusions like:

  • I’d rather spend my time on something else.
  • I’m not going to make it to the end—I can’t even see where the end is.
  • This doesn’t matter to me.

Badges Boost Student Motivation

One way of addressing these problematic perspectives is to make learning achievements highly visible, clearly defined and modularly designed.  This can be defined as:

  • Highly visible = I can literally see what I’ve learned.
  • Clearly defined = I understand what I’ve learned.
  • Modularly designed = I can achieve milestones with manageable time and effort and see how these results are connected to each other along a longer pathway.

Badges provide a practical way of implementing these goals, in any type of learning environment and on any topic.

What are Learning Badges?

What are badges? The Connecting Credentials Glossary of Credentialing Terminology definition is:

Badges use digital technologies to represent learning achievements. Open badges use open standards that support interoperability and connections among systems and contexts…. Badges are flexible with regard to how issuers create them, define their use, and develop their criteria (which are publicly viewable, embedded in the badge and verifiable). Therefore, badges are used to represent granular competencies as well as deeply linked, rich experiences and complex learning. Badges are being used in conjunction with, and/or as modular components of traditional credentials such as degrees. (p. 2)

Badges can be awarded to learners as they learn specific concepts, demonstrate certain learning outcomes (like a threshold score on an assessment) and/or master defined competencies. More granular definition of learning milestones helps learners stay motivated and understand their progress. Specifically, badges can be used to make learning:

  • Highly visible = I can see my badges accumulate as I achieve learning milestones, for example, my collection of badges represent assessments I’ve passed and/or competencies I’ve mastered.
  • Clearly defined = Each badge contains a description of the criteria for how I earned that badge, for example, the requirements of the assessment and/or the competency statement.
  • Modularly designed = I can see a collection of badges I’ve earned and those I’m working toward achieving, with the relationships among them, for example, badges representing a set of hierarchical competencies.

These benefits not only address common problems with motivation, but also contribute to the overall value of credentials, as the badges are clear, connected components of the larger learning goals of a certificate or degree.

Modularity is Essential

The American Council on Education’s white paper Quality Dimensions for Connected Credentials outlines the characteristics of credential modularity:

  • “The credential includes units that carry independent value. These units might also be credentials.
  • The units within the credential can be combined in multiple ways with other units and credentials to create career pathways.
  • The credential is stackable—that is, one credential can be built on another to demonstrate attainment of broader, more complex and/or more specialized knowledge and skills over time.
  • The credential includes measurable milestones to help students understand their own success along learning pathways to careers and further growth.” (p. 22)

And these characteristics help define the big picture value of modularity:

Modularity supports connectedness by making credentials more componentized and less monolithic, leading to more connection points and possible relationships among credentials. Modularity also helps students understand the components within credentials and how they connect to each other and to larger goals such as socioeconomic mobility and lifelong learning.  (p. 22)

So badges representing modular learning achievements give us not only the immediate benefits of increasing learner motivation and understanding of progress, but also the stepping stones to make certificates and degrees more valuable.

For more explanation of how badges add value, see the Quality Dimensions for Connected Credentials section on badges (pp. 35-37).

To get started putting badges to work in your learning environment, contact Learning Objects.