Recognizing Learning with Digital Badges

Christine Chow and Nate Otto

Abstract: This chapter on recognizing learning presents the first of of four categories of principles uncovered by the Design Principles Documentation Project; the other three categories are assessing, motivating, and studying learning. This chapter summarizes the principles for recognizing learning that emerged across thirty badge content development projects as the enacted the intentions outlined in their project proposals. This chapter also considers (1) how the broader project factors constrain the ways those projects could recognize learning, (2) how recognition practices in turn impact project assessment, motivation, and research practices, and (3) the tensions that can emerge over different approaches to recognizing learning.

At their core, digital badges, including those that conform to Mozilla’s Open Badges specification, serve as credentials that recognize specific achievements. In light of the considerations around badge system design, this paper describes general design principles for recognizing learning with digital badges. Studying the recognition category means exploring the implications of decisions about what learning claims badges are to represent and how the badges appear to their audience. This includes options like recognizing learning that takes place out-of-school and giving attention to a diverse range of skills that were previously not represented by traditionally established credentials. The recognition design principles take into account a combination of topics and range of skillsets that learners can develop and master.

When we talk about recognizing learning, we focus on decisions about the types of learning and achievement to recognize, the connections with existing credentials for this learning, and how learners interact with badges to unlock their value. New questions appear such as what badges signify, how they should be interpreted, and how they can be used in the emergent ecosystem. For example, design decisions about who issues the badges, whether they are endorsed by outside experts, and even the visual design have implications for their interpretation when learners present them either professionally or socially.

This has led to shifts in models or frameworks for thinking about credentials, contributing to a growing body of literature on alternative credentialing and the comparisons made to traditional transcripts and degrees. For instance, badges allow institutions to recognize learning at a more granular scale. Halavais (2013) explained that “microcredentialing… represent[s] learning and experience at a smaller scale, and offer the possibility of more diverse, detailed, and dynamic records of learning experience.” Credentialing systems, then, can give greater focus to a broader array of skills. Further, Halavais (2013) raised questions for additional research on microcredentials, including how they may be “interpreted by those who see the markers but may not be a part of the cognate communities” and how “they influence gatekeepers for particular communities: those charged with recruiting and hiring new employees, and those who admit students in higher education.” Among the concerns for badge system designers is planning how badges will communicate value to these audiences not intimately familiar with the environment in which they were issued.

Badges may represent different things to varied people and contexts. They are a means of communicating value between different communities, and there is the potential for badges to be meaningful outside of closed systems to other groups, such as potential employers, institutions, and organizations. Recognition practices can give greater weight to both formal and informal learning, opening up opportunities to articulate skills to employers and institutions and enabling credible, valued ways of presenting one’s learning.

Designing a badge system, from its claims of learning to its assessments and motivational effects, is not a matter of implementing a list of supposed best practices. Following the thread of Design Based Research, our project argues that design decisions should instead focus on building “local theories” (Cobb, Confrey, diSessa, Lehrer, & Schauble, 2003) to describe the value and function of badges, and these decisions should aim to match specific practices to the goals and context of the organization. Questions about what practice is the best fit for the project’s goals and limitations are more important than finding out what is best for all systems. To help support design and research of badge systems in the future, our project assembled general design principles, from which projects may craft new practices and describe those they see in the wild.

Assembling Design Principles

The Design Principles Documentation (DPD) project captured the specific practices of thirty digital badge projects to identify general design principles for recognizing learning with digital badges. We followed the projects as they progressed from intended practices, as outlined in their proposals to the Digital Media and Learning competition, to enacted practices of the projects’ badge system implementation. The principles below illustrate the diverse ways these projects chose to recognize learning in their badge systems. Together with principles for assessing, motivating, and studying learning, these principles aim to help system designers develop a more complete picture of how the components of their system work together to shape and enhance the learning experience.

Badges provide an alternative form of credentialing learning, and design principles for using badges to recognize learning have implications for formal and informal credentialing practices. The principles in this area have an impact on a badge system’s outcomes by informing questions of what types of learning are important to recognize, whether or how badge should be tied to formal academic credit, and how to establish the credibility of an organization’s badges.

It is important to note that the findings do not describe “best practices.” While many projects shared some of the same general principles, they employed different specific practices. The general principles listed here must be translated into specific implementations tailored to the context and goals of an individual badge system. Some principles may not be appropriate to any one project’s context. Furthermore, decisions about how to employ badges to recognize learning achievement are made in complex relationships with decisions in other categories of badge system design, such as assessing, motivating, and studying learning.

Principles for Recognizing Learning with Digital Badges

The following descriptions of each recognition principle draw on selected examples from the DML competition.

Use Badges to Map Learning Trajectories

 Using badges provides an opportunity to organize the achievements recognized by the system into a structure that matches the layout of the underlying subject area or the order students can move through it. Most projects organized learning by determining (a) levels of badges that chart out a progression of learning or by offering (b) routes or pathways, such as through meta-badges, which are awarded upon the completion of a specified set of lower badges. This could represent higher-level mastery of a group of sub-skills for example. While allowing designers to prescribe a specific path through material, badge pathways can also be structured to give students freedom over what they learn and the order in which they earn the badges.

Example: NOAA Planet Stewards aims to teach young people about careers in oceanography. System designers wanted students to be able to pursue their own interests, so they chose to use quest-based learning. Planet Stewards organized its badges (Figure 1) by naming them for careers in the ocean sciences. Students could move along ordered pathways in five categories, earning three career badges in each. When a student attains all three in one category, they also earn a “super badge.” The badges allow Planet Stewards to constrain how learners move through the system, but also to show them the possibilities for what learning they can do and give them options for what to learn first.

Figure 1. Marine Life Badge Pathway for Planet Stewards Project

Align Badges to Standards

In many ways, education standards do the same work as badge system designers deciding what to recognize. Standards like the Common Core State Standards in the US are widely known, and there is an existing audience interested in teaching and assessing the concepts included. Many projects built a badge system around the elements of (a) national or international standards. Because of the credibility and investment in various standards, aligned badges have increased external value to the earners.

Alignment to standards is presumed to improve transparency of the credential and help to facilitate better communication of the knowledge and skills of badge earners. Badges can link to the evidence for each claim that a student has mastered a standard component. Some of these standards were formal or government backed, while others were the less formal such as "21st Century Skills." and some are even (b) internal to the community where learning occurs. Alignment could be complete and direct, or loose. Highlighting the relationship between recognition and assessment, the formality of this alignment was usually defined by the formality of the assessment practices involved. Some projects used (c) both community and national or international standards.

Example: The Providence After School Alliance (PASA) Pathways for Lifelong Learning partners with after school and extra-curricular programs to offer learning opportunities to middle and high school students. Specifically, the badges for high school students are aligned to the nationwide Common Core State Standards. The project employs the Rhode Island Program Quality Assessment (RIPQA) to set consistent standards for quality improvement. The project explained, “All high school program curriculum and standards alignment are reviewed by school district curriculum leaders to ensure quality and rigor” (PASA DML Proposal). By aligning badges to a set of standards, the project can communicate the skills represented by a specific badge.

Have Experts Issue Badges 

Integrating experts in the badging process boosts the credibility of the credentials and its value in a knowledge-based economy. This contributes to the validation of the badge and its potential usefulness in professional settings. At some level, an expert is associated with issuing badges. But the nature and role of this expert varied quite a bit, as did the way that the expert was him or herself credentialed. Sometimes the expert held an external credential, while other times the expert was credentialed by the community; some projects include both. Practices that implement this principle vary by how experts are credentialed. Either they are credentialed (a) by an external accredited entity, (b) by community, or (c) by both an accredited entity and community.

Example: Design for America (DFA) is an extracurricular program that guides students in applying human-centered design to foster social change. The organization has expanded into a nationwide network of design studios led by university students, who work together with community partners on local projects. The badge system incorporates experts in the process of validating the credentials, wherein professional mentors called “Design Professionals” review and award badges to users.

Seek External Backing of Credential 

External backing is presumed to increase the value or usefulness of the badge as name recognition is a driving force in getting schools or employers to recognize the badge. Projects can gain either (a) formal external endorsement or ensure that badges are at least (b) externally valued.

In the projects that sought external backing, this seemed different than just using badges as a means of external communication. Whether or not the badge is actually externally endorsed, existing formal relationships can increase its external value. In some cases, a badge is formally endorsed and carries the insignia of the endorsing institution. A variation on the practice could be the operation of a badge system on behalf of an organization who would like to recognize certain achievements but does not have an instruction or assessment infrastructure.

Example: BuzzMath is an online program that enables students to practice and develop their math skills. Initially, the project was intending to obtain endorsement from the Common Core State Standards initiative and the state Department of Education. As described in BuzzMath’s proposal, “These endorsements would validate the quality, alignment, and rigor of the curriculum and assessments used by students to acquire each badge” (DML Proposal 2). As with other badge programs we studied, BuzzMath found the pursuit of formal endorsement fruitless. As enacted, the badges are contextually accredited in that they are awarded within an accredited school by a state licensed teacher. The badges are aligned to the Common Core, and teachers award badges based on a rubric.

Recognize Diverse Learning

Credentialing a diverse range of learning experiences can make visible the knowledge and skills that would otherwise only be implicitly noticed or not recognized. While this principle could be uncovered in nearly all of the projects at some level, we highlighted several projects that embraced it explicitly. These projects recognized skills and learning outside of what is traditionally recognized in formal learning environments, giving badges for both "hard" and "soft" skills. For programs within or on the periphery of the formal learning ecosystem, adopting a complementary credential is an opportunity to broaden what is recognized to encompass new categories of learning and accomplishment.

Example: MOUSE Wins! recognizes a broad range of soft and hard skills, awarding credentials at the level of micro-achievements, called Wins!, and macro-achievements, which are represented by badges. Reflecting the spectrum of skills relevant to the workplace, the project issues badges for not only computational or digital skills, but also for collaboration and communication. The badge system also designed Community Wins! in which students can issue micro-achievements to their peers for providing inspiration or demonstrating creativity or technical skills.

Use Badges as a Means of External Communication of Knowledge and/or Skills

As with the previous principle, most projects did this at some level. But some projects really made a concerted effort to increase communication of the learning or accomplishment that the badges represent by providing links to the data or evidence of learning.

Example: Design Exchange is an initiative by Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, together with their partner LearningTimes, to build a badge system for their existing DesignPrep program. The program offers learning experiences for students in underserved high school students in New York City. The program provides the chance for students to develop design thinking skills and learn about fields, such as fashion design, architecture, and 3D design. While portfolios are typically self-curated, “A portfolio doesn’t show you everything. It doesn’t show you how well you learned, how far you progressed, and the period of time. It doesn’t say how open you are to collaboration, or to direction, or to criticism. It doesn’t say anything about your openness to new ideas, being challenged, and trying new things. Those are all important parts of a designer that aren’t necessarily reflected in your portfolio….so I think badges on that front can tell companies how they supplement a portfolio. Badges can lead back to the work” (DPD Interview September 2012). The program uses badges to communicate skills and abilities that portfolios, grades or transcripts cannot fully get across, capturing the process of arriving or creating the final product of the artifact.

Determine Appropriate Lifespan of Badges

The Open Badges specification allows issuers to optionally determine an expiration date for a badge. By default, badges are records of achievement that do not expire, and they remain valid unless the issuing organization stops supporting their badge infrastructure. While many projects did not explicitly discuss whether or not their badges would (a) expire or (b) require renewal or upgrading, a few made strong cases for learners being able to have permanent credentials that will always exist to recognize that specific skill, knowledge, or experience. Conversely, some badges make a claim that by its nature becomes less valid over time. Protecting the validity of the system may require setting an expiration date on these badges, which is an option in the specification.

Example: BuzzMath designed a badging system with a focus on mathematical achievement. The project integrated the capacity for users to earn badges that exist permanently. To ensure COPPA compliance, BuzzMath intends to make badges viewable in a private backpack to specific people with restricted access, such as the student, the student’s parents, and the school. The project is looking to migrate the badges over to the open backpack when students are thirteen. This practice illustrates the considerations of the lifespan or duration of the badge.

Recognize Educator Learning 

Some projects awarded badges specifically to educators in addition to recognizing student achievement. These were sometimes that same as the badges for students and other times they were specific to the educators. Generally speaking, these badges were often used to recognize the educators’ participation in the broader learning ecosystem. The DPD project identified projects using this principle only when they made a distinctive effort to recognize educator learning.

Example: Sweet Water AQUAPONS integrates its aquaponics horticulture science program into participating schools by partnering with a participating teacher or supervisor. That educator must be able to commit to ensuring the provided aquaponics installation stays in good working condition so it is a functional learning tool. To make sure teaches are up to the task, AQUAPONS encourages teachers to learn through the platform and issues them the same badges as they give to students. At first, AQUAPONS staff evaluate student portfolios when students apply for badges, but as teachers gain greater experience, they will gain the ability to recognize their students’ learning through the website themselves.

Example: NOAA Planet Stewards, implemented by 3D GameLab runs its program by partnering with high school teachers, who sign their classes up for the Planet Stewards online quest-based learning platform. In order to maintain the validity of the badges, 3D GameLab requires teachers to complete a pre-training before they can “unlock” the badge system for their students to quest through. As part of this process, teachers are issued a badge recognizing them as a NOAA-certified ocean sciences instructor.

Award Formal Academic Credit for Badges

A few projects used badges to supplement formal grades for the learning that happens in school. For instance, a couple of projects have formed partnerships to grant academic credit tied to badges, increasing the value of the badge for badge earners.

Example: In their badge system design, PASA has built in the possibility for tying formal credit to the badges that students earn. The high school badges for students’ extra-curricular experiences are aligned to the Common Core, with the potential for translating to academic credit in schools and providing a means to communicate those experiences to educators, institutions, and organizations.

Constraints and Tensions when Recognizing Learning with Badges

As described in the first part of this report, two important general findings from the DPD project concern (a) the relationship between the four types of practices, and (b) the tensions between different approaches to each practice. Following is an explanation of these two findings as they relate to recognition practices

Tensions between Ecosystems, Recognition, and Assessment

        Looking across projects revealed the many ways that existing ecosystems constrained recognition practices. Where these ecosystems already existed, the existing goals, values, and curriculum constrained the kinds and ways that learning could be recognized. A project’s history and goals are the touchstones in decisions about how to implement a general design principle as a specific practice, or when deciding whether it is possible to implement a principle at all. The DPD project has identified a contextual factor arising that has particular influence on the shape of the practices eventually enacted in a badge system:

Design implication: new or pre-existing learning goals. A project’s curriculum, including the learning objectives intended for recognition with badges might already be determined, which limits the process of the badge system design to matching practices to this content and structure. Answering these finer-grained questions is not necessarily easier than implementing a fresh curriculum and fresh badges at the same time. A fully considered badge system design does not consist of simply strapping badges to an existing program solely at the existing points of recognition. Design involves consideration of the interaction of practices across categories. For example, badges often function as rewards, and questions about the value of extrinsic motivation appear when they are introduced.

Grant (2013) described five classes, or “buckets” for badge system design that illustrated different approaches of badging projects. The approaches are named as “new,” “integrated,” “layered”, “responsive”, and “badge-first” builds. This analysis combines consideration of whether learning objectives are already defined with a classification of where the project lies in the development of its badge system and its technological platform. Grant selected these classes to reflect the common configurations of being at different stages of development of these three system components and emphasizes that projects will potentially move from one bucket to another as development proceeds. There are challenges at each stage.

One implication here is that if a curriculum already exists for the project, then this presents challenges in figuring out how to build a badge system that matches the project’s well-established requirements. Supporter To Reporter built their badge system on top of a curriculum that already included its bronze, silver, and gold medals across three areas of sports journalism skills. The project had previously decided on complex rules for the order in which students could earn these badges. In order to recognize achievement in such a complicated system, complicated assessments were required, including programming new components of the Makewaves online platform that hosted learners’ portfolios, issued badges, and performed automated assessments.

On the other hand, if projects are building the curriculum and badges at the same time, then this introduces a different set of challenges. For example, BuzzMath chose to base their badges on competencies identified by the Common Core standards and had to spend significant time developing new content that would precisely map to the standard. The project team needed to iterate their assessment design several times, adjusting length, problem sources and question types, based on feedback from teachers and a curricular expert.

In both these examples, the contextual factor of which bucket projects started from made them expend extra time and effort developing their system and tools to match the unexpected challenges set down by their starting point and goals.

Constraints resulting from recognition practices. As elaborated in the the introductory chapter and in the other three chapters, recognition practices serve to constrain assessment, motivation, and research practices. In a less obvious way, this means that these other three practices can serve to constrain recognition practices. This was most pronounced in the case of assessment, where projects appreciated that any learning that they wished to recognized was going to need some sort of assessment practice to provide evidence to support that recognition claim. Put differently, one of the most basic challenges involved with recognizing learning is ensuring that the learning claims embedded in badges are backed up by valid assessments that truly indicate whether the earner’s accomplishments match the criteria of the badge. In her article “Badge System Design: What We Talk About When We Talk About Validity,” Casilli (2012) addressed questions and assumptions of the validity of digital badge systems, including the authority of the badge issuer, the skills or knowledge represented by a badge, and the indications that can be made from badges about learning. It explored questions regarding the validity of the learning claim represented by a badge, the credibility with which the badge is perceived, and consistency of the measurement of learning as it adheres to a set standard. In order to create a system where the claims of learning contained in the badges are valid, those claims must be appropriately tailored to the learning objectives, the assessments used must be appropriate, and evidence attached should back up the assessments.

As will be more thoroughly explored in the chapter on motivation, recognition decisions have major consequences for how learners are motivated to participate in the badge system. The decisions about what learning will be recognized and the content of the badges, including their branding and visual design, have direct consequences on the possibilities for which motivational principles are available. Often, the practices developed in the recognition category directly exemplify one or several motivation principles. As shown by the project profiles that constitute the appendices to this report, there is often overlap between the practices as seen from the lens of each different category. For example, in Sweet Water Foundation’s AQUAPONS badge system, the program found that badges essentially issued by learners themselves after self-assessment motivated far deeper self-reflection and engagement with the complex interrelated principles of aquaponics than expected. We have described this practice in each of the recognition, assessment and motivation sections.

Tensions Between Different Approaches to Recognition

As elaborated in the introduction and in each of the four chapters, another challenge projects faced concerned different approaches to recognizing, assessing, motivating, and studying learning Generally speaking, these challenges are rooted in the tensions between traditional associationist perspectives, modern constructivist perspectives, and contemporary sociocultural perspectives.

Associationist recognition practices. Associationist perspectives are embodied in learning recognition practices that focus on relatively small and specific associations. Associationist recognition practices are embodied by the use of “selected-response” assessment formats like matching and multiple-choice items. This is because selected response assessment items involve recognizing the correct (or the most correct) association correct. This is a rather different way of recognizing learning, as compared to the recall processes recognized with short-answer formats or the constructive processes associated with essay items and performance assessments.

Associationist recognition practices are perhaps best exemplified by BuzzMath, where the learning pathway is represented by a more formative Practice Document and a more summative Challenge Document; both recognize learning in terms of very specific mathematical procedures. While some of the practice documents include short answer “fill in the blank” items, students progress through the system by completing the multiple choice items on the challenge documents in order to eventually earn badges.

One advantage of recognizing associationist learning is that the distinction between recognition and assessment practices is typically quite small. In some cases they are actually the same. Another advantage of recognizing associationist learning is that it can be quite readily and objectively assessed.

Constructivist recognition practices. Constructivist perspectives are embodied in learning recognition practices that focus on “higher-order” kinds of knowledge. In contrast to the more procedural and factual knowledge of associationist recognition, constructivist recognition practices focus on more conceptual and contextual knowledge. This is why constructivist learning is often referred to as “understanding.”

For example, in Who Built America projects, learning is recognized in terms of teachers’ creation of sample lessons that are then evaluated by experts against a rubric. While the rubric refers to specific elements of the lesson, the implicit conclusion that can be drawn from that evidence is the the teacher “understands” how to make a lesson that embodies the broader goals of the project. While there is social interaction involved in the peer assessment process, the learning that is recognized and assessed is defined in terms of individual conceptual understanding.

One of the challenges of recognizing constructivist learning is that it often requires the development of a specific and different assessment practice (such as a rubric or a quiz) to generate evidence. This often introduces the need for human involvement for the purposes of scoring essays or projects. In some cases, it may be possible to use machine-scorable multiple-choice items to assess constructivist learning. But in other cases, doing so will prove problematic.

Sociocultural recognition practices. Sociocultural perspectives are embodied learning recognition practices that focus more on social knowledge. In contrast to associationist and constructivist practices the recognition of social learning will involve consensual judgements across entire communities of learners. The most obvious examples of sociocultural recognition occur in social networks where recognition can be “crowdsourced.”

One of the best examples of recognizing sociocultural learning is found in the badges associated Stack Exchange. This is a “question & answer” site that is widely used among programmers. Users enter questions at the site and are directed to answers that have already been provided to that question, or new answers that are provided by users. All of the users vote answers up or down. Badges are earned based on the overall judgement of the community, rather than the judgement of an individual. While some of the DPD projects indicated that they hoped to recognize crowdsourced knowledge, none of them had enacted practices for doing so at the time of the first interviews.

There are many challenges in recognizing sociocultural learning. The obvious challenge is that the very notion of “social learning” violates many peoples’ assumptions about the nature of learning. Stack Exchange is one of very few “high-stakes” badges associated with crowdsourced learning. But thanks to the sophisticated system and the well defined nature of the content, potential employers are willing to pay handsomely to be put in touch with the rare individuals who have earned the highest level badges around particularly difficult questions. Nonetheless, one of the advantages of recognizing sociocultural learning is that doing so can create sophisticated learning ecosystems.

        Recognizing informal versus formal learning. A related set of tensions exist over         different recognition principles when they constitute different types of recognition, such as a distinction between formal, informal, and crowd-sourced recognition. These types have vastly different requirements and affordances. Formal recognition involves traditionally established forms of credentialing, whereas informal recognition provides new ways of recognizing skills and learning. Crowd-sourced recognition includes socially defined peer recognition and the value that peers ascribe to badges. In this process, the value and credibility of the claims are constructed by everyone, and in this process individuals are coming to a collective judgment of what is valued. Among the DML projects, practices that awarded high-stakes formal academic credit for badges were rare. Even projects that aligned their badge systems to standards from the formal education system were not able to directly translate their badges into formal recognition. In order to gain formal credentials for this learning, students typically still had to pass through traditional assessment channels.

The digital nature of Open Badges also raises fresh possibilities for secondary recognition that comes from peers, with the capacity of sharing badges to an audience of peers via social media. This audience may ascribe greater value to certain badges, communicating or cultivating aspects of identity or expertise on particular subjects or topics. It dives into the effects of recognition that are not as apparent, such as peers recognizing the value of the badge or how the badge may be accepted. Since badges can be pushed out and shared with one’s network of peers, then the value of the badge can increase with peers’ acknowledgment. There are challenges intermingled with the perceptions of learners and the image of the badge. Practices aligned to principles such as “Use badges as a means of external communication of knowledge and/or skills” attempt to harness the sharability of Open Badges to give them value for the earners.

        Platform-related constraints on recognition. In addition, the platform and infrastructure constrained the design and recognition practices of digital badge systems. Many projects addressed these challenges by adapting their approach and workflow or concentrating more of a specific aspect of the project. Often, adapting to the capabilities of the platform required simplifying elements of the badge system or rules for how students could move through learning pathways. Or conversely, as seen in the S2R Medals badge system, requirements of the learning pathways forced upgrades to the platform to mold it to the goals of the program.

Table 1. General and Specific Badge Design Principles for Recognizing Learning

General Design Principle

Description

Specific Design Principles

Use badges to map learning trajectories

Guide learners to objectives by recognizing steps along the way. Use paths, levels, or metabadges.

Level badges (LevelUp, Global Pathways, Who Built America, Story Corps U, Roadtrip Nation, News Hour, BuzzMath, Design for America, Intel, Manufacturing Badges, AQUAPONS)

 
Provide routes or pathways (4H, BuzzMath, MOUSE Wins, Planet Stewards, S2R Medals, SA&FS)

Align badges to standards

Choose which learning to recognize by following public or internal standards.The incorporation of formal and informal standards increased external value.

Use standards internal to community (Global Kids-Hive, Pixar)

Use national or international standards (LevelUp, Youth Filmmaker, Story Corps U, Roadtrip Nation, News Hour, BuzzMath, Intel, Manufacturing Badges, Partners In Learning, PASA, NASA Robotics)


Use community and national/international standards
 (Global Pathways, Who Built America, 4H, Digital On-Ramps)

Have experts issue badges

When experts recognize learning, the badges may gain greater credibility and carry more weight in the market.

Credentialed via external accredited entity

(LevelUp, Global Pathways, Youth Filmmaker, BuzzMath, Design Exchange , Intel, Digital On-Ramps, Planet Stewards, SA&FS)


Credentialed via community
(Design for America, MOUSE Wins)


Credentialed via accredited entity and community
(Who Built America, PASA, NASA Robotics, S2R Medals)

Seek external backing

Gaining external endorsement of a badge increases the value with name recognition.

Externally endorsed (Youth Filmmaker, 4H, Intel, Nature Badges, Planet Stewards)


Externally valued
(CSSN, Manufacturing Badges, NASA Robotics, S2R Medals, AQUAPONS)

Recognize diverse learning

Badges allow educators to recognize other types of learning that don't fit in their traditional credential systems.

Recognize diverse learning (Global Leadership, Roadtrip Nation, Intel, Digital On-Ramps, MOUSE Wins, Manufacturing Badges, PASA, Planet Stewards, YALSA, AQUAPONS)

Use badges as a means of external communication of knowledge and/or skills

Consider the audience for the information the badge carries, and recognize learning that this audience needs while presenting data and evidence of learning.

Use badges as a means of external communication of learning (Who Built America, Global Leadership, Badges For Vets, BuzzMath, Design Exchange , Intel, Digital On-Ramps, YALSA, S2R Medals, SA&FS)

Determine the appropriate lifespan of the badge

Provide credentials with lasting impact for an appropriate duration, maintaining accessible evidence.

Never expires (Who Built America, 4H, BuzzMath, Digital On-Ramps, Planet Stewards, NASA Robotics, S2R Medals)


Requires renewal or upgrading

Recognize educator learning

Badge systems can recognize participating educators for their achievements.

Recognize educator learning as well (Global Pathways, CSSN, Partners In Learning, PASA, NASA Robotics, S2R Medals, AQUAPONS)

Award formal academic credit for badges

Granting credit either internally or through partnerships is one way to ensure a badge has value in the existing education marketplace.

Award formal academic credit for badges (Youth Filmmaker, PASA)


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