More than just a pretty face

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”.

Assorted badges, including one stating Qualified Dog-Petter

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.

4 thoughts on “More than just a pretty face

  1. Hmmm. I’d be more interested in a badge, that I’d argue was a well designed one, which recognised both the learning (knowledge) and application (performance). If we’re supposed to be designing learning journeys, why wouldn’t we similarly design badges for them?

  2. Effective learning experiences have performance baked into them as part of the instructional design. For example, a training program might include a role play or a hypothetical scenario; that’s good, but a real-world scenario in which the learner makes a difference to the business is better. The former I’d argue would earn the learner a certification badge (or knowledge badge to use Clark’s lexicon), while the latter would earn a practitioner badge (or performance badge). Returning to your point Neil, let’s design our learning experiences with a view to issuing practitioner badges.

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