Design Principles for Motivating Learning with Digital Badge

The Design Principles Documentation (DPD) Project followed 30 projects as they implemented the badging systems that the had outline in their proposals to the MacArthur Foundation’s Badges for Lifelong Learning initiative. The DPD team has identified more general practices for using badges to recognize, assess, motivate, and study learning. This WEx presents the principles for motivating learning, along with relevant research and other resources, and the big ideas that emerged about using badges to motivate learning.

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    The Digital Media and Learning 2012 Badges for Lifelong Learning Initiative funded 30 projects to develop digital badge systems.  We were asked to capture the emerging knowledge as these projects designed, implemented and maintained their badge programs. First, we identified the specific practices that the 30 projects intended for recognizing, assessing, motivating, and studying learning with digital badges. We then organized those practices into general design principles in each of these four categories. This example highlights the motivation category.

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    The problem we are trying to solve is that the knowledge gained when designing complex system “evaporates” and projects evolve and teams dissolve. This means that that many of the insights that the 30 projects would generate for motivating learning with digital badges would likely disappear. 

    If you are reading this then you are probably interested in using digital badges to motivate learning.  By capturing what worked (and what did not) across projects, you can learn from these efforts.  In particular we hope to help you see how other features of projects impacted how those projects were able to use badges to motivate learning.

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    Many researchers and developers are divided on the role of digital badges in motivating learners. Skeptics of badges point out that they “worry that students will focus on accumulating badges rather than making connections with the ideas and material associated with the badges – the same way that students too often focus on grades in a class rather than the material in the class, or the points in an educational game rather than the ideas in the game” (Resnick, 2012). Badge enthusiasts find promise in having a new way to assess learners apart from the “current multiple-choice form of testing doesn’t measure all that is being learned and de-motivates true curiosity” (Davidson, 2012). And some proponents of more behavioral mastery-learning approaches have never even questioned the role of incentives like badges, but rather have focused on the optimal way of using them (e.g., Chance, 1992).

    Some motivation researchers argue that one way to reconcile this tension is using sociocultural perspective that treat motivation more as a cultural phenomenon than a property of individuals (Goodenow, 1992; Hickey, 1997, 2003). This goal was well suited for the approach to theorizing associated with design-based research. While the DPD team was not advising projects, the projects were iteratively refining their practices. By documenting this process more systematically across projects, we captured emergent local theories about motivating learning with digital badges in particular contexts.

    In coding and categorizing the practices around motivating learning with badges, it is important for our audience to know that whereas many badge systems aim to enhance learner motivation, research evidence is quite clear that deep and continuous learning does not depend only on level of motivation (i.e., amount of engagement) but also on its type (i.e., reason for engagement). For example, badges aiming to enhance motivation can be awarded for content mastery, for personal progress, and for outperforming others. Motivation research indicates that emphases on effort and improvement and on outperforming others lead to different types of motivation and learning outcomes: motivations for mastery of knowledge and development of skills are related to increased interest in the content and continued engagement, while motivation for outperforming others is related to status-seeking, attempting to outsmart the system, and avoiding challenging tasks (Anderman & Wolters, 2006). In keeping this in mind, the design practices that we outline below consider the quality of hypothesized motivation and not just its quantity.

    From the badge practices of the DML projects, we derived a set of design principles for motivating learning:

    Recognizing identities. Badges can recognize a learner’s role within the badging system such as recognizing their specialization in journalism, engineering, or peer mentoring. Badges can also recognize learner’s identities by being incorporated into badge projects that themselves target specific groups.

    Engaging with communities. Some learners are able to earn badges for their involvement in their communities both at the physical and digital level.

    Display badges to the public. Some projects give earners the option of displaying badges themselves, while other projects automatically display badges for learners.

    Recognizing identities. Badges can recognize a learner’s role within the badging system such as recognizing their specialization in journalism, engineering, or peer mentoring. Badges can also recognize learner’s identities by being incorporated into badge projects that themselves target specific groups.

    Engaging with communities. Some learners are able to earn badges for their involvement in their communities both at the physical and digital level.

    Display badges to the public. Some projects give earners the option of displaying badges themselves, while other projects automatically display badges for learners.

    Outside value of badges. Some projects integrate practices to give badges value outside of the badge system. These include having badges count as academic or course credit, showing badges to outside agencies, and/or documenting the link between the badges and real life applications of knowledge.

    Setting goals. Badges allow for learners to set goals and visualize the previous goals that they’ve accomplished. Badge systems can use goal setting in many different ways.

    Collaboration. Though several projects allow for collaborative efforts, some make a concerted effort to encourage this through awarding group badges for group accomplishments as well as personal badges for having a role in a group collaboration.

    Competition. Scarcity of badges and use of a point system are two ways that we have seen projects contribute to competition among badge earners.

    Recognizing different outcomes. The type of learning that a badge recognizes and the way that recognition is managed has profound implications for motivation.

    Utilizing different types of assessments. Projects utilize different types of assessments for learning such as computer, peer, expert, or self assessment.

    Providing privileges. Learners are awarded a variety of privileges in response to earning a badge such as prizes, the opportunity to take part in new activities, and access to internships.

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    Our immediate audience includes researchers and anyone designing a digital badging system for supporting learning. New projects can learn a great deal from the shifts projects made from their initial proposals to their actual designs. In other words, the issues that these projects made are similar to the issues that our audience will face.  Implementing digital badges to support learning is not merely a technical challenge, and important design decisions made up front can have long-lasting effects. We aim to help future badge projects make well-informed decisions in their design process.

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    For badges to have the motivational influences for which they are designed, there first must be value for the badge in the context of the community. Motivation affordances of badges come from the fact of the evidence that is displayed, discussed in social networks, and recognized by others. Understanding motivation involves understanding the social context within which motivation occurs. For example, the value of the badge in the community comes from multiple sources--a larger network than just the individual. A badge can be valuable because of the recognition practices around the badge, for example, In Supporter to Reporter (S2R), badges are valued by the BBC who have recognized learners’ online S2R portfolios as part of successful applications to join BBC Apprenticeship schemes. As such, a larger network has influence over whether or not an individual finds the badge motivating.

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    We welcome any feedback and ideas on the design principles AND the Working Example.  For example, if you realize we are using different words for something familiar to you, let us know.  And if there is anything we can do to make it easier to find the information you need, please let us know.  In particular we would like feedback from people with perspectives that are different from ours. You can put comments at the bottom of each entry.

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    The badge Design Principles Documentation Project team is led by Daniel Hickey, an Associate Professor in the Learning Sciences program at Indiana University. Kat Schenke, and Cathy Tran are leading the motivation strand of this project, while Hickey, Rebecca Itow, Andi Rehak, and Christine Chow lead the other strands. Nate Otto is working on the DML project Working Examples and other aspects of the project. Tara Kelly, Garrett Poortinga, and Thomas Smith are helping out with various things.

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