I’ve blogged in favour of digital badges in the past, not because they’re colourful motivators – which arguably they are, at least for some people – but because they represent an achievement.
While the robustness of the criteria for earning a badge may be challenged, as may be the assessment of meeting said criteria, the concept holds true: a badge must be earned by demonstrating that you have done something.
What that something is is a variable to be defined. Some badges such as the ones that are popular among IT geeks are earned by completing a training program or by passing an exam. I call these “certification badges”.
However I maintain a stronger implementation of the idea emerges when we earn the badge by successfully executing a task (or a suite of tasks). I call these “practitioner badges”.
For example, you might complete a 40-hour course and pass a massive multiple-choice quiz to earn an XYZ-issued “Project Management” badge. That’s quite an achievement.
But I’d be more impressed (and more confident as an employer) if you were to demonstrate how you’ve applied the XYZ-endorsed principles to a real project in the real world, thereby earning a “Project Manager” badge. To me, that’s a greater achievement because it shifts the focus of the exercise from the activity (learning) to its outcome (performance).
In an organisational context, I see opportunities to blend the tasks to enrich the experience. For example, one task may be to apply a principle to your current project, while the next task is to share your reflection of doing so on the enterprise social network; thereby facilitating not only metacognition and expert feedback, but also peer-to-peer knowledge sharing.
Celebrating the latest cohort of people who’ve earned badges in the same forum may also generate a bit of FOMO.
In any case, my point is a badge should be more than just a pretty face. I propose we distinguish between two types of badge – namely a certification badge and a practitioner badge – with the latter representing an achievement above and beyond the former.