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Badgification of learning

A response to http://lg.dlivingstone.com/2013/04/21/badges-badges-badges/

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.


9 thoughts on “Badgification of learning

  1. Yes will be interesting to see what happens with badges – guess it is all about what and how they are awarded. Doug Belshaw from Open Badges gave a good keynote about them at the PELeCON conference. Also interesting to see what role MOOCs will play… with both badges and MOOCs what impact will they have on formal education?

    • Hi Grianne – as you know I’m a fan of badges *if* they’re to be used to show some meaningful attribution: an assigned ‘goal’ has been reached or approved or some thing. I’ve looked at giving badges for collaboration / engagement on my blog but still think that’s not really an appropriate use of badge, even though its still a valid use for them.

      MOOCs seem to be a good way for badges to demonstrate making the required contribution and / or engagement on weekly or target basis.

      I liked what you did for the OLDS MOOC and the badges there – what response did you get from the badges?

      All the best, David

  2. Hi Mark

    I share similar concerns, but during the recent #oldsmooc course I was unexpectedly surprised by my positive experiences of badges. The were actually motivating in a bizarre kind of way – I think perhaps in the first few weeks when it was all slightly chaotic it was good to just have a little token of acknowledgement. Also I think they were integrated into the course at the right level – just the right side of tongue in cheek 🙂 Some of the badges needed peer verification and that was good too. By the end of the course there were a core of us who had got to know each other and I was gratifying to be able to give something back to them too.


  3. Ah ,,, that could be the element that makes MOOCs work, peer assessment. I think one of the reasons why I’ve felt quite lost when I’ve done MOOCs is the feeling of shouting in a huge crowd and no-one hearing anything. On the connectivism MOOC in 2008 one of the posts on the forum said that it was like wandering through a forest more than following a course; you can follow one trail or another and although it might be aimless there is still something to be learnt. Errm I was going for an extended metaphor there with the forest and falling in one without anyone hearing, and not making a sound but I’ve lost the thread ….. anyway … learning sets. If you could divide people into learning sets, so then there is feedback to your thoughts, and your peers could assess you and award badges, then I can see that working. It would depend on the quality of your peers (and having enough of them complete) but that could be the glue that holds MOOCs together.

  4. Back to the start on this…

    Not sure what your response was to the main thrust of my original post though – that badges can/do work best for kids, and those offered by diy.org seem quite good for a few reasons. Obviously (your own case) badges don’t appeal to all children, but mine seem very taken by them – and that the badges on offer include lots of activities that I’m more than happy to encourage my kids to undertake is nice, and helps give some useful structure.

    With undergrads, I have to say that my experience of badges has not been great – I haven’t really persisted with attempting to use them, but the small experience I did have was that mostly people who got the badges would have done (most of) the same activities anyway. It can give a ‘nudge’ in behaviours though… ideally towards good behaviours and activities. But not so great that I’ve tried to embed them in my undergraduate teaching…

    • Ah yes, “response to” is a phrase i use very loosely, I really only got into blogging via Grainne’s advice which was to look around and see what inspired you, and just write what you think; so these aren’t necessarily counter-arguments, more along the lines of “oh this made me think that”. I still like to acknowledge the source of the original idea though.

      I don’t disagree with anything in your post. Badges can attract people, give feedback on progression, and get the balance between some structure with flexibility. As long as we don’t see them as some panacea then I’m not against them.

  5. Pingback: Warum Gamification in der Ausbildung kein Modewort sein muss - Management Circle Blog

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