No more Fake Badges

One of the most well known and most maligned and most misused elements in gamification is the badge. It seems that people have strong feelings about them. They love them or they hate them. I love them but … only when they are used appropriately and effectively. When they have meaning to the person receiving them and when they show real accomplishment. This is one of the reasons I often hear the loudest cries of foul and hatred from those with the most diplomas (which are really just badges). They had to work hard for that piece of paper on the

Think of it this way. If someone just showed up at a university and sat there and they ended up, after a designated time period, with a diploma, people would think that was ridiculous but often that is exactly how badges are handed out. Hey, you showed up, here’s a badge. You clicked on a few things, here’s a badge. Well, duh, no wonder people on all sides hate them. For instructors this completely minimizes the importance of the learning process and for the learners it is no better. People want to be recognized but they also want to feel they earned something. When you completely devoid something of meaning it becomes … meaningless.

So let’s rewrite this script. First, I don’t want to ignore the fact that people showed up, particularly in learning. Sometimes that fact that someone is showing up should count for something, just not a badge which should be reserved for signaling a significant accomplishment. It should be acknowledged when someone is showing persistence and really trying. A student may be struggling to meet the goals of a course but by encouraging them and showing that their attempts are valuable to the learning process, you can increase the likelihood that they will stick with it. Also, as long as they are trying you can better help them because you are getting feedback about what they are struggling with. I have often posted announcements or sent emails to students who I see are working away at something. Maybe a “hey, I see that you tried those exercises three straight days and it looks like you are really getting the hang of it now” or “hi, it looks like you have been really trying to work through that content and that’s great, but maybe you are a little stuck; here’s a link to an article that might give you a different way to tackle it.” Or maybe a little group thing like “hey, I see that John, Mary, and Sue have really been active in the discussion area; have you all had a chance to check out their latest messages.”

On the other hand, make the badges a real badge of honor. A symbol that the learner really accomplished something. Have they mastered a certain skill? This badge shows that you have mastered all of the features of PowerPoint covered in the Basic Level course. Have they exhibited a particular trait consistently throughout a course? This badge shows that you served as the leader of your team that completed the project on X. Can you include a peer-awarded badge? This badge shows that your peers voted your discussion posts the most valuable to their learning in this course. See now they are specific and have an accomplishment tied to them. Still people say to me, so what? Well, here’s an example. One group I worked with decided to use badges because they have a number of offices and increasingly build teams from people distributed across locations. Maybe I don’t know all of these people really well but through the badging I can see put together a team that had unique skills needed for a particular project. If I can see that someone has a particular competency in a software application or that a person has had experience leading a team successfully those badges become useful not just to the person receiving them but also as a beacon to others. Or maybe I am stuck on a particular project and need help, I can see who else has a badge in a particular competency and reach out to them to see if they can help me get unstuck. Or maybe I find myself a tribe of people who have had similar experiences that I can bond with.

Really the possibilities are limitless for ways to design a good badge system for a particular situation. It may not be universally applicable, but if it serves a useful purpose within your given context, go for it. What’s right for one instance may be entirely wrong for another. Only you can decide what would represent meaningful recognition and what would represent meaningful accomplishment in your situation.

Just no more Fake Badges please.