Digital Badges

A digital badge I created with Adobe Spark

As the educational landscape is reshaped by technology and shifts towards personalised learning, traditional learning credentials are increasingly seen as outdated and incongruent with this change (Macfound, 2013). One more flexible and personalised method of recognising achievement is the digital badge.  

Essentially, a digital badge is a form of online recognition for completing courses, work experience, assignments, projects and learning new skills. In short, it’s a type of digital repository that holds information about a user’s achievements in metadata format (Auh & Sim, 2018). These badges, which can be earnt and issued by affiliated organisations, use metadata which is hardcoded into the image file and links back to the issuer, verifying credentials (Macfound, 2013).

learning design

In order to authenticate the digital badge, Mozilla have developed the Open Badges Infrastructure (pictured left).

Digital badges – An Innovative Learning Approach?

As learning becomes more student centred, badges offer a more flexible and personalised approach to recognising achievements. Unlike certificates, badges recognise soft skills such as the ability to collaborate and problem solve (Macfound, 2013). They also allow learners to manage courses and credentials at their own pace, and credentials can be accessed anywhere, anytime (Auh & Sim, 2018).

Potentially, digital badges could also display learning abilities and the attendance of workshops, assignments and projects completed (Auh & Sim, 2018). This would allow employers to find out more about employees than they could with a traditional resume. Digital badges can also be used for learning analytics, thereby revealing how learners achieve while offering a more personalised approach to learning (Auh & Sim, 2018).

As courses are becoming shorter, faster, more readily available and increasingly online, it is believed that paper-based certificates are becoming less and less useful (Oddone. n.d.). Furthermore, digital badging could increase student success and accessibility – further democratising education – by combining new and traditional degree paths (EDUCAUSE, 2019).

Digital badges are also much more suited to an increasingly technological world as they make learning more adaptable to change. Additionally, as they accommodate a wider variety of student needs and skills, they increase student motivation and recognise that learning is a lifelong pursuit that reaches far beyond the austere halls of traditional education (Macfound, 2013).

Importantly, as you can see in the video below, digital badging could potentially be a powerful motivator for students to learn.

Operant conditioning

The fact that digital badges can be achieved anywhere, anytime could make them a powerful learning motivator. Behavioural psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning proposes that you increase the frequency of a certain behaviour through reward and decrease its frequency through punishment (McLeod, 2018). As badges have the potential to be far more frequently attained than traditional paper-based credentials, they could be a powerful tool in reinforcing positive behaviour.

Furthermore, as badges recognise soft skills, skills not typically found on resumes and accreditation can easily be transferred across educational institutions, credentials could be more readily attained by learners with disabilities and access needs. Digital badging could, given time, create a more democratic and transparent educational landscape (Macfound, 2013).

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