March 26, 2014

Digital Badges Finding Use in Education and Across Industries

The concept of digital badges, as an important means to motivate and reward achievement, is appearing in industries ranging from education all the way to retail. In the preceding blog on the topic, Will Digital Badges Replace Resumes… and Diplomas?, we discussed two distinct benefits: motivation and certification. The motivating element in badging derives in part from gamification which has special resonance with Gen C. The certification aspect provides widely-accepted recognition to an individual’s development. Looking into the progress and adoption of digital badges, I’ve found a common theme of encouraging individual engagement in the creative ways industries are utilizing badges.

Higher education has been a leading adopter of digital badge systems for student development and learning recognition as the educational environment evolves to a hybrid online / on-campus setting. This hybrid environment has created a new outlet for students to learn and build their skills, but presents a challenge for motivating and recognizing student achievement. Companies including Blackboard and Pearson, along with universities such as Purdue and Quinnipiac, are developing innovative uses of digital badging to meet this challenge.

Blackboard jumped on board with digital badges and partnered with Mozilla to update Blackboardlearn. The company is incorporating a digital badge system as a means to incentivize students to learn bboardand further engage in a variety of educational and outside of the classroom settings. Their initiative is extending their traditional system to recognize efforts outside the classroom with awards for extracurricular activities, philanthropy, study abroad, and internships. Blackboard has implemented badges in their MOOC courses called Coursesites, to recognize the value and provide credentials for course completion. Through Blackboard’s partnership with Mozilla, students can display their badges in the Open Badge portfolio as well on networking profiles, social media sites, and personal web pages.

Purdue University imagePurdue University is an early adopter of the digital badge concept for online higher education and has developed mobile applications to make their system run smoother and more efficiently. A pair of mobile apps, Passport and Passport Profile, make it easy for students and instructors to create, award, and display badges, which enables Purdue to recognize skills earned in the untraditional learning environment. The Passport app helps teachers organize the criteria and objectives to create badges with tangible value for the earned achievement. Students use the Passport Profile app or any Mozilla Open Badge profile to display their badges on social media sites and personal pages.

Purdue’s first experimentation with badges was in their nanoHUB-U, a group of online courses about nanotechnology. Students registered for nanoHUB-U were required to complete courses based on a Purdue Passport imageset of criteria such as examinations and homework assignments. Once the criteria are met, a badge was awarded as certification of completion. Purdue is continuing to implement digital badges throughout a variety of programs.

QU logoDigital badge systems in education are not exclusive to online platforms: Quinnipiac University professors use digital badges within their classroom curriculums. Alex Halavais, an associate professor of interactive communications at Quinnipiac University, incorporated a digital badge system into his course to replace the traditional grading scale. Halavais course evaluation system is based on the number of digital badges each individual student achieves; that number is aligned with a corresponding letter grade. This alternative grading was intended to motivate students to customize their learning path with the understanding that each badge would be peer-reviewed to verify its relavancy and achievement. Unlike traditional learning, this digital badge system provides an alternative framework to standard exams.This unconventional way of learning, teaching, and grading illustrates one of the creative ways the education industry is using digital badge systems to meet their goals.

Pearson logoPearson is a notable education publishing and assessment service company that has joined the digital badging movement with their Open Badge credentialing platform, Acclaim. This platform takes digital badges a step beyond online display of achievement by providing a way to share and validate learning outcomes through high-credibility organizations. A common hesitation with digital badges is the issue of credibility; Pearson addresses this concern by providing validation of badge achievements. In applying Acclaim to the Mozilla Open Badge standard, Pearson plans to offer diplomas, certificates, and other professional credentials as Open Badges for academic institutions and credentialing organizations. Pearson offers badge-earners the confidence to display their Acclaimed open badges with this credible source validating their reward.Pearson image

Nike+ imageNike has been quick to recognize a good competition and their Nike+ Challenge includes a digital badge system serving as a competitive edge for users looking for a challenge. Nike+ includes services like mapped running routes, leaderboards, and performance feedback applications. Nike+ Challenge capitalizes on users’ competitive drive and encourages goal setting and achievement through reward recognition. Nike+ Challenge is a prime example of gamification and its effects on personal motivation and skill building, as Nike+ gold badge imageit allows runners to set challenges both personally and with opponents. One challenge is Nike+ Distance in which multiple runners compete for a gold medal badge and all participants receive a White Medal. This reward is designed as an incentive for the competitive runner, enabling them to track their progress and competitions, and further challenge themselves. An individual’s Nike+ profile includes their earned badges and all completed and in-progress challenges.

Starbucks imageLoyalty programs in the retail industry, designed to keep us faithful to a brand, have been around for some time. With digital badges, these loyalty programs are finding new ways to increase engagement, traffic, and sales. Starbucks has integrated digital badges into their current MyRewards program to incite customers to earn recognition with ‘stars,’ status levels, and rewards by making more purchases. Starbucks is focused on improving the customer experience and creating a fun and mutually-beneficial environment for consumers who shop at Starbucks.

Another instance of digital badges in retail is at the e-commerce website, HSN. HSN generates web traffic with games such as Sodoku and crosswords, with rewards for completion. Visitors compete for digital badges by completing the games.   HSN logo

Dell logo imageDigital badging for professional development is one of the fastest growing uses of the concept. Dell and HP are examples of companies integrating digital badge recognition into their internal training programs. Dell created a digital badge program to encourage employees to build their social media presense on behalf of the company. Their Social Media and Community team launched Social Media and Community University (SMaC U) as a training and certification program to teach employees more about the company’s social media strategy and practices. Employees who complete the program are given digital badge recognition, which in turn allows them to connect with customers as Dell representatives. An additional benefit for completing SMaC U courses is that badge-holders may attend worldwide events where social media trends and Dell’s role in social media are discussed. The program has been an overwhelming success with employees. As a result, Dell has increased the course offering and watched their social media presense grow. Hewlett Packard, and Unysis have also implemented badge-based internal social media training as part of their professional development programs to increase employee engagement in social media.

About The Contributor:
SarahJane WalsheVertical Solutions Marketing Intern

SarahJane Walshe is the Vertical Solutions Marketing intern at Extreme Networks. In this role, SarahJane works under the K-12 Education, Higher Education, and Healthcare verticals. Currently, SarahJane is working towards achieving her Masters in Business Administration Degree at the University of New Hampshire with a focus in digital marketing.

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  • David W

    Interesting stuff – seems like a little bit of competitiveness (and even the vanity in being able to display badges publically) drives good behaviors. Where did the concept of digital badges originate? The first place I noticed them was when video game companies creates online gaming networks, such as Playstation Network, where you would receive badges for in-game accomplishments.

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  • Dale

    I had never heard of digital badges before this, but the concept is intriguing. I think a boost to their use would be a recognized certification program such as mentioned in this post.

    • Bob Nilsson

      Dale- thanks for the comment! We’d also love your inputs for our survey on the topic: https://t.co/RDGHcWqBvX.