Digital badges are fast becoming the benchmark for online learning. As they've grown in popularity and use, learning designers have had to adapt to badges as well, incorporating them into their overall course designs. But just how are digital badges affecting learning design?
A quick refresher on digital badges
Digital badges are online graphics that provide context to a person's learning, certifications, and skills. They're an easy way for a person to visually display their knowledge in our increasingly-online world. As CEdMA member Kevin Streater explains it, "A digital badge is a credential, backed up by an awarding organization (the badge issuer) that can be validated."
The context is the important part of the badge, as that's its value. The badge is a clickable graphic that contains data on the badge name, criteria, issuer, date, recipient, standards, and more. Companies like Oracle, IBM, Salesforce, and Microsoft issue badges for their own certification programs, as do nearly 190 higher education institutions (according to UPCEA/Pearson).
As digital badges continue to evolve and take on more value, learning designers have to keep them in mind when creating and publishing their work.
11 ways digital badges affect learning design
- Badges force designers to be more aware of the skills they're trying to develop with their courses and ensure higher rates of skill transfer to learners.
- They encourage designers to change the formats of their courses to accommodate awarding badges at different stages of learning. Especially for longer or more complex courses, they may need to break the course up differently than they're used to and to add badges to the various milestones.
- Badges are "stackable", so designers must understand how courses can be rewarded, either through individual digital badges, "stacking," or using badges towards an official certification from a larger organization.
- They cause designers to pay close attention to the skills they're developing in courses and how they tie in to larger certification and credential programs. While designers may have been aware of this previously, it's overtly realized through digital badges, as they can be displayed on more platforms (email, LinkedIn, etc.)
- They allow designers to expand domain expertise as badges allow organizations to recognize soft skills and other domain achievements, such as presentation or management skills, which they may not be used to designing for.
- Badges help designers create highly specialized learning pathways for learners, as badges can be used to control entry into those pathways, and learners must earn certain badges prior to starting those specialized pathways.
- They provide a valuable level of information about learners, which designers can use to develop more complete or different learner personas. This may help with developing courses, badges, certifications, and learning pathways.
- Badges shorten the learning cycle overall by giving learners feedback faster than before. Learners progress through courses more quickly, which means learning libraries must be well-stocked and updated regularly. CEdMA member Kevin Streater suggested in a particularly complex course, badges "could be issued at the end of a chapter (after) assessing that the learner (has) successfully learnt those skills."
- They are a visible sign of domain proficiency and prerequisite learning, making it easier for learners to determine which courses they can take next. Designers will be required to publish learning pathways more publicly so learners will know precisely what to do next.
- Courses carrying digital badge recognition are more likely to attract and retain learners. This may lead to designers using different eLearning tools to create, publish, store, and manage courses than they're used to.
- Badges will lead designers to create more robust eLearning strategy roadmaps, as more learners will take courses. The roadmaps help provide context to the badges, giving them more value and weight online, leading to more learners, and so on. Preparation helps designers manage the increased workload.
Digital badges are here to stay and are growing in popularity. Many enterprise companies have created their own badge systems to reward employees, while others use the Open Badges platform to align with industry-wide badge programs.
While learning designers may have thought digital badges were going to be something mentioned only on a resume, they're turning out to be much more useful. HR departments use them to vet applicants, employees use them to demonstrate their knowledge and skills everywhere they are online, and so learning designers must keep them in mind when designing courses.
How does your organization use digital badges? Does it affect the way learning designers create and manage courses? Sound off in the comments as we'd love to hear your experience with it.