Badges as a Design Problem

Over the last two years we have seen a proliferation of badges on social networks, and increasingly they are being used by educational and other institutions as a way of both encouraging and certifying learning. Their use has received even more encouragement by a competition supported by the MacArthur and Mozilla Foundations, and backed by the Department of Education, among others. There has been a significant backlash among many who see badges, and the “gamification” that often accompanies them, as reinforcing extrinsic motivations for learning, quantification of assessment, and bureaucratization.

Such criticism is not only valid, in many ways it does not go far enough. Badges, when badly designed, send mixed messages to learners, and seem to be far less about educating for creativity and inquisitiveness, and more about training for particular skills. In this presentation, I plan to provide an overview of my own experience in creating and using a badge system over the last several years, and suggest some important design considerations for using an effective badge system.

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