Badgification of learning

A response to

I remember at school we had a credit system, earn a credit for your house. It was a way to exert some extrinsic pressure on us to perform, but I was enough of a nerd to want to learn the stuff anyway. I remember once a maths teacher congratulating me on solving some problem and asking if I wanted a credit. I answered that if she wanted to give me one then fine, but I wasn’t really interested. I think she was quite non-plussed. I think it unsettled her whole notion of how to motivate students.

Today though, although I won’t go much out of my way to unlock an achievement when playing on the Xbox, I will occasionally. I play the games just for fun, to get to the end, but if I see there’s an achievement for, for example, stabbing people with an arrow rather than shooting them with one, I’ll hit the B button occasionally rather than the Y one. That’s pretty much as far as I’ll go to get a badge.

It surprises me therefore the degree to which badgification of courses is taken seriously as a concept. Qualifications are weak enough as an indication of learning. I got through all of my A levels by simply rote learning, and actually only really understood the material when I had to teach it 10 years later. The whole attributing a badge automatically, which is really the only attribution a system can make without the intervention of an actual human to assess the learner, seems to be particularly pointless, on the level of an attendance certificate. The only time I ever really felt my learning was properly being assessed was during my viva. A nerve-wracking experience, and I felt I’d been put through the wringer, but I knew at the end that I’d proven I knew what I knew, and knew my externals knew I knew. But to hand out something just because something is completed, rather than understood, is the other end of the spectrum. We might as well put a badge in the back of a book for someone to peel off and stick to their shirt when they’ve got to the end of it to prove they know what it’s about.

To me, the idea of badges is another example of the sleight of hand involved in MOOCs which replaces education with content, and yet still calls it education. I think they’re useful, they make materials accessible to far more people, but materials are only one aspect, and to complete one really proves nothing.