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IMC Trend Guide: Badges as a learning incentive

13. May 2015

Some learners will have fond memories of their early school days: the teachers cheerful reward stamps, placed at the bottom of painstakingly completed homework, were motivation enough to get them to try just that little bit harder the next time around. Back then the class quickly became swept up in the mania for collecting the prettiest - and the most - reward stamps and, as is so often the case, the things that appeal to children appeal just as much to adults. This is part of the reason why the e-learning sector is currently so intensely engaged with the idea of "digital badges".

What are badges and how can they be used in e-learning?

Badges are digital insignia or certificates of learning that motivate in the same way as the little reward stamps of yore ? and are already being used within e-learning to give positive feedback on a wide range of achievements. Badges can also easily be used in long-term, multi-module web-based training sessions and courses to show participants that they are already halfway through the course and that they will soon reach their goal. Through targeted use of this kind of micro-feedback at critical points in the training, learner perseverance can be increased, contributing to the overall success of the course. Badges can even be used to give specific praise such as "Well done! This week your performance was above the course average for the fifth time" or "Excellent! Your performance was one of the best for this task!" It can be very motivating to receive this personalised kind of praise. And why shouldnt e-learning courses provide this kind of positive feedback and small virtual trophies and badges to the best, the most diligent and the most creative learners? After all, top athletes and high-ranking officials are given praise and tangible rewards via much sought-after awards which offer incontestable proof of how good the recipient really is. Regardless of whether they are digital or not, badges are both a mark of excellence and a status symbol which identify their bearers as someone special. Badges can also be integrated into social media profiles to significantly enhance their impact. Why shouldn't we acknowledge when someone has worked in the field as a volunteer for an international relief project or was one of the best trainees in their year? Badges that are meaningful enough to really tell us something about their bearer can therefore be used to optimise a digital business card on social media and to make it more interesting. This digital business card can then be used by contacts in the learners own network, as well as potential business partners and employers, to glean all kinds of interesting information.

How to badge: knowledge is half the battle.

Since badges are normally non-complex grafics, they are extremely cost-effective to produce and can essentially be used in all different kinds of training courses. E-learning experts are aware, however, that to use badges effectively, the right approach is needed - and establishing this approach requires thought, time and resources.
While micro-feedback is quite appropriate for showing the proportion of the course completed in longer and complex courses, in a 5-minute mini course this kind of feedback would only distract from the essentials. It is also important that badges are meaningful, and in this context quality is much more important than quantity. How do I benefit if I get exactly the same badge for every completed unit and no feedback on the quality of my work or my individual strengths? Such a reward system would bore learners and their motivation would decline.
The appearance and content of the badges should also be appropriate to the target group and company using them. Whilst lively-looking badges with snappy slogans might not be well-received in an insolvency office, they could be well-suited to trainees working in the electronics market. Digital natives, a target group of young, social media savvy people, are also particularly keen on the concept of badges as extra incentives as PC games and game-based learning methods have already familiarised many of them with the concept.
The advantages offered by badges may not assuage the concerns of those who fear they might devalue the seriousness of their teaching, but as long as they are systematically integrated into learning strategy, they really can offer an opportunity to enrich any learning experience.


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