Badges and instructional design

Digital Badges in Education

The eighth chapter of Digital Badges in Education: Trends, Issues, and Cases is ‘Instructional Design Considerations for Digital Badges’. The authors note early in the chapter that badge designers need to “think not only of the individual badge that they are developing but also how it might relate to a future offering within a badge family.”

After a simple ‘Learning Hierarchy Analysis’ (i.e. what kind of learning depends on what other kind of learning), the authors cite Grant (2013) in differentiating very generally between between badges with existing content versus badges with new content. 

  • Badges with existing content: this may involve the badge designer having to “deconstruct the entire curriculum and rebuild it from the ground up” to ensure badges are “truly integrated and not just grafted onto the instruction”. This approach is time intensive.   
  • Badges with new content: although this depends on context, there are “three broad-based considerations” to bear in mind. First, badges need some kind of “design uniformity within the badge family”. Second, it’s important to “consider how the alignment of learning objectives, tasks, required evidence, and assessments demonstrates the badge activities reflect accepted norms of the learning context.” And third, bringing in users to the design process is “recommended to ensure that the digital badges represent the needs and interests of the potential stakeholders.”

A number of other considerations are raised by the author, including whether the badges are awarded for asynchronous or synchronous activities, whether badges expire, how many tasks are required to achieve each badge, and the method of assessment. The last of these is important, as the assumption is often that formal assessment is required to give out *any* form of credential. However, as the authors note, badges “may be awarded based on assessment and evaluation of presented evidence, or for some non-assessed criteria, such as attendance at a seminar.”

Following this, the authors discuss ways in which badges can be evaluated (“peer, single evaluator, multiple evaluators, automated evaluation, or a combination of these”), the number of ‘assessment attempts’ that should be allowed, and the structure of badges. They explain that there are broadly two approaches to structuring badges: stratified and hierarchical:

  • Stratified: “offers an approach similar to that of traditional grading” including tiered credentials for progressively difficult levels of work quality or performance.
  • Hierarchical: “can be used to create a progressive series of learning challenges or to reflect skills that build on each other”. 

To be honest, I’m not sure I understand the difference between the above two approaches – at least in practice.

As discussed in previous chapters, the authors explain the concept of a ‘meta badge’, giving the example of Penn State University libraries’ information literacy badges:

Penn State University libraries' information literacy badges

This approach utilizes four meta-badges to provide a path to summarize parts of the overall experience. This offers a mechanism to show a learner other things they can do and learn after completing the first badge, the relationship between the activities, and how these can be summarized when they reach certain levels of completion.

As instructional designers, the authors note (quite rightly) that “the pedagogy and learning theories behind the design of the badges are more important than the technology itself.”