Are you using badges yet?
If not, you may be feeling the need to “refresh” users’ experience of your content by introducing a badge system. In all likelihood, one or more of your competitors has either introduced badges or is putting together a plan to do so. Just as with games, the conversation about badges is quickly shifting from “Should we…?” to “How do we…?” and “How soon can we…?”
Services like Foursquare and Facebook have reminded us that collecting and displaying badges for others to admire can be satisfying and fun, even as adults. By combining contests and challenges with geo-location data and social networking, these services enable us to receive points and gain status for checking in at various places. Not only are our network connections notified of our peregrinations, participating merchants can publically reward loyal customers and thereby encourage repeat visits from other patrons.
Badges are more than coupons, though. In the aggregate, they tell stories about us, about how we spend time, possibly where and with whom. More importantly, they indicate achievement, skills, affiliations, expertise, and participation. As artifacts of our activities, they also imply something about our determination, curiosity, perseverance and commitment (or, depending on what the badge commemorates, sloth and an ability to waste time).
A well-designed badge system (i.e., a series of inter-related badges) does several things at once:
- It articulates the path(s) to success
- It provides incentives that are meaningful to the target audience
- It rewards desired behaviors and achievements
- It represents the badgeholder’s status, competencies and attainments to the rest of the world
- It facilitates community attachment and reputation-building
- It encourages collaboration and teamwork
- It promotes mentorship and leadership
- It opens doors to new avenues of exploration and accomplishment
It’s no wonder, then, that organizations whose purpose is to educate and inform see badge systems as an important addition to traditional approaches to credentialing and certification. Through badge awards, issuers can reward and communicate much more about a recipient’s performance than a single grade or score could ever hope to convey.
Perhaps the most promising aspect of badge systems is the opportunities they provide for stimulating attainment of higher order thinking (analyzing, evaluating and creating). By building challenges into badge systems that require active application of skills and information in “higher order” activities, badges become reliable indicators of a badgeholder’s abilities to incorporate new knowledge in effective, even sophisticated, ways.
Over the next year or so, we can expect to see badges appear in some interesting venues, from community colleges, training providers, and membership organizations to news websites, social networks and political campaigns. Some of these initiatives will roll out in conjunction with a larger “gamification” strategy. Many will use badges as the on-ramp to the road to game-based communication.
The Mozilla Foundation is giving the badge movement additional gravitas. With support from the MacArthur Foundation, they are building an “Open Badge Infrastructure” (https://wiki.mozilla.org/Badges) so that badgeholders can display the badges they’ve earned across websites, regardless of when or from whom the badges were received.