What badge system designers can learn from games

Digital Badges in Education

Open Badges started gaining traction around the same time as ‘gamification’ began to attract attention. Somewhat understandably, the result was that in the early days badges were synonymous with gamification. The similarities and differences are more clear these days, with those implementing badges still having a lot to learn about badge systems from game designers.

In Chapter 5 (‘Good Badges, Evil Badges? Impact of Badge Design on Learning from Games’) of Digital Badges in Education: Trends, Issues, and Cases, the authors list different ways of understanding incentives in terms of badge system design. Their interviews with game designers raised four key points:

  1. “[T]he importance of integrating well thought-out incentive design from the beginning of the game design planning process, rather than design elements being added on at the end as an afterthought.”
  2. “[T]he need to take into account the characteristics of the target audience, in particular factors such as player type and the target audience’s familiarity with the game genre.”
  3. “[T]he game’s incentive system plays a key role in increasing and maintaining appeal.”
  4. “[A] key strategy mentioned by the designers was to include multiple routes and incentives within a game.”

In addition, the research “revealed three main functions of the game’s incentive system: signaling, challenging, and affirming.”

  • Signaling: “when the incentive system implicit provides a tutorial for in-game activities by showing which aspects are either important or not important to focus on in order to be successful within the game.”
  • Challenging: “when the incentive system presents tasks that require particular levels of skill or persistence to achieve. This sets the bar for receiving that 5-star or 100 percent rating, to push the player out of the comfort zone of their normal level of in-game performance.”
  • Affirming: “when the incentive system acknowledges what the player is doing by providing just-in-time affirmation of in-game actions so that the player feels like the game is paying attention to them (by using appropriate, relevant feedback.”

The authors introduce a ‘Badging Player Profile’ (BPP):

Badging Player Profile

From here, the authors introduce different ways to conceptualise badge systems, including Hickey (2012), Antin and Churchill (2011), and the authors’ own (Biles and Plass, 2016).

Hickey’s (2012) approach is that badges can have one of four functions: 

  1. Recognizing learning
  2. Assessing learning
  3. Motivating learning
  4. Evaluating learning

Antin and Churchill (2011) outline five badge functions from a social psychology perspective:

  1. Goal setting
  2. Instruction
  3. Reputation
  4. Status/affirmation
  5. Group identification

Biles and Plass (2016) introduce the Educational Badge Typology (EBT) framework based on the difference between formative, process-based badges, and summative, credentialing badges. 

Educational Badge Typology (EBT)

 The authors explain their diagram in the following way:

Badges related to learning goals are divided into complementary tasks and learning tasks. Complementary tasks can either be classified as Mastery (altruistic), such as helping other students, or Achievement (reputation), such as advancing to a certain social status. Learning tasks are those directly connected to learning goals or common core standards outlining domain-specific knowledge. These tasks can be either Mastery focused where the student needs to demonstrate learned competency or Performance focused where the student needs to demonstrate excellence in that competency when compared to their peers or a set cut-off level.

This chapter will be particularly useful for helping people get out of their usual way of thinking when it comes to qualifications and credentials. While the EBT could probably do with presenting in a clearer way, the integration of Hickey (2012) and Antin and Churchill (2011) is valuable.