Badges For Learning: An Abridged Recent History

We recently produced this one-page recent history of badges for learning, to support our efforts to develop a badging system for the Hive Learning Network. We thought it might be of interest to others as well.

In 2005, Microsoft introduced the Xbox’ 360 Gamerscore system, which is considered to be the original implementation of an achievement system. According to Wikipedia, “in video gaming parlance, an achievement... is a meta-goal defined outside of a game's parameters. Unlike the systems of quests or levels that usually define the goals of a video game and have a direct effect on further gameplay, the management of achievements usually takes place outside the confines of the game environment and architecture.

 

 

In 2007, Eva Baker, the President of AERA, gave the Presidential Address at their annual conference, entitled “The End(s) of Testing.” After exploring a wide range of problems with the current use of assessments within schools, she focused on her key recommendation: the development of Merit badge-like “Qualifications” that certify accomplishments, not through standardized tests, but as “an integrated experience with performance requirements.” Such a system would apply to learning both in and out of school and support youth to develop and pursue passionate interests. Baker envisioned youth assembling their Qualifications to show to their families, to colleges, to employers, and to themselves. Ultimately, Baker believed “the path of Qualifications shifts attention from schoolwork to usable and compelling skills, from school life to real life.

 

 

In came the alternative assessment and games & learning academics, like James Paul Gee, who combined the two. They recognized that Baker’s “qualifications” closely resembled, using the parlance of the digital age, the “achievements” within digital games. They were inspired to transfer these powerful in-game learning tools into the real world. They combined “achievements” with “qualifications” to create “digital badging systems.”

 

 

Work in this area remained largely under the radar until 2011, until the release of the White Paper, “An Open Badge System Framework,” authored by Peer 2 Peer University and The Mozilla Foundation. The paper provided some much needed definitions and an overall framework. Badges are explained as “a symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, skill, quality or interest,” and the paper provides as examples uses by the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, PADI diving instruction, and the more recently popular geo-locative games, like Foursquare.

 

 

The report asserts that badges “have been successfully used to set goals, motivate behaviors, represent achievements and communicate success in many contexts” and proposes that when learning happens across various contexts and experiences, “badges can have a significant impact, and can be used to motivate learning, signify community and signal achievement.” The report also makes clear that the value of badges comes less from its visual representation than from the context around how and why it was conferred. The stronger the connection between the two, the more effective the badging system will be. “Badges are conversation starters,” the report explains, “and the information linked to or 'behind' each badge serves as justification and even validation of the badge.” For example, a badge should include information about how it was earned, who issued it, the date of issue, and, ideally, a link back to some form of artifact relating to the work behind the badge.

 

 

In September, 2011, the HASTAC launched the Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, to fund $2m worth of new badging systems. The rest is history.