5 Tips for Designing Impactful Badges

Micro-credentials also known as digital badges continue to gain attention in higher education as a possible avenue for offering non-traditional credentials to students. While it’s relatively easy to pull together a few activities and bundle them together as a credential, the reality is a badge needs to be well designed to hold long-term value for your learners. Here are a few guiding principles you can follow to ensure your badges have a greater impact on your students’ learning.

In serving as the pedagogical lead for Penn State’s Digital Badging platform, I had the opportunity to collaborate with quite a few faculty to design and offer badges to students. As you may imagine, the design of the badges has a significant impact on how and what a student is able to learn while earning a digital badge. Here are my top 5 recommendations for designing impactful badges.

Be Specific:
Start with a manageable piece of information, something that students will not be intimidated by. This should be a foundational skill or concept that can be built upon as a student progresses through their learning and earning of the badge.

Repetition:
Ensure the badge builds on the skills introduced in the first few steps. Students need an opportunity to truly develop a skill, one of the best ways to do this in a badging scenario is through repetition. Repetition provides the learners with the ability to establish a foundational piece of knowledge and then build upon that. It’s similar to building a house; start with the foundation, then add a new layer at each phase.

Variety:
As you add new phases to the learning process of a badge, consider adding variety to how the knowledge or skills are applied. By providing students with different situations to apply the information, you expand upon the learner’s ability to recognize new and unique ways of applying their newly acquired knowledge.

Granularity:
A key strategy to keep in mind when developing badges is to be granular. The more specific you can be with a badge the easier it will be for your learners to understand the skills they are developing. If a task or knowledge set is too broad, it can be challenging for learners to understand and apply later on.

Focus:
As much as possible you will want to tie the badges directly to learning outcomes or assessments in the course. Badges can sometimes be viewed merely as achievements for rewarding an individual for participating in an activity. For example: awarding a badge to a student who serves as the president of a student organization. While this is a nice achievement to offer the individual, it would have a greater impact if the leadership skills associated with that role were identified as part of the badge. Knowing what skills the individual should have an identifying them as steps to complete within an applied context would be much stronger and more meaningful for both the student and a potential employer who is interested in seeing how that individual demonstrated those skills.

Designing a high-quality digital badge can be challenging, but hopefully, these 5 principles will help you reach the goal of helping your students earn badges that have a stronger long-term value. But these tips are just the starting point for good badge design. What other qualities do you think might be beneficial to badge design?

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