Why use digital badges? Scour the blogosphere, watch webinars, review some of the current badge systems, follow the conversation on the social web and you will find countless answers to this question. However, I find that most of them fit in one of the following fifteen categories. These are not equally compelling reasons, but they do represent many of the current uses of badges. Or, if you think of another, please consider sharing it in a comment.
1. Motivate – There are plenty of badge designs built with the goal of increasing motivation. I have concerns about some of these for educational purposes, but I’m starting to see the benefit in certain contexts. I am far more comfortable with playful badge designs that do so to motivate, things like conferences giving away badges for scavenger hunts during the event. Nonetheless, some put badges in the broad category of gamification, noting that you can build a badge system where participants/learners/players earn badges that lead to increasingly complex challenges/tasks/quests. By scaffolding the challenges and goals, there can be an increase in motivation. Of course, as I’ve said elsewhere, a bad game with badges is still a bad game.
2. Substantiate – To substantiate is to provide evidence in support of something. Many badge systems are focused upon this, using badges as evidence of some accomplishment or achievement.
3. Communicate – The visual design of some badges communicate a message to viewers and badge holders. It might be a message that the badge-holder has certain skills, is a member of an organization, is a participant of an event, completed a series tasks, etc.
4. Translate – The Badges for Vets project is a prime example of this purpose. It takes knowledge and skill gathered during military service and translates these into skills connected with the needs of employers.
5. Differentiate – Some use badges to differentiate participants in a group or at an event. You might get the “newbie” badge. As such, badges are used to distinguish between people who have different lengths of membership, levels of contribution or some other valued distinction.
6. Differentiate – Yes, this is the same as the last one, but I’m using the word differently this time (I’m differentiating the meanings of differentiate.). Not everyone needs the same things. When it comes to learning experiences, it is common for a teacher to teach an entire class as if they all had the same motivation, background knowledge, and readiness. We all know that is not true. Now imagine a situation where we design learning experiences around digital badges, allowing different learning pathways for each student. I see great possibility in this emerging use of badges.
7. Appreciate – These are badges that simply communicate an appreciation for the work or accomplishments of another. They might even be bestowed on people without their knowing such badges existed.
8. Evaluate – Still others use badge designs as part of an evaluative process. Did the person meet a certain set of standards or criteria? Then an appropriate badge is granted. Sometimes these are leveled. You might get a bronze, silver and gold badge depending upon the quality of the work.
9. Remediate – In some educational contexts, people are using badges as prerequisites for other activities. One needs to demonstrate this knowledge or skill before gaining access to another learning experience or to demonstrate readiness for a certain learning activity. It sometimes serves as a way to help people get ready for the next level without having to repeat an entire course or list of lessons.
10. Validate – A badge can serve as a sort of academic currency that seeks to validate knowledge or skill of a learner. Like a diploma or certificate, it serves as evidence of one’s accomplishment.
11. Authenticate – Closely connected to #9, the Open Badge Infrastructure also includes meta-data that authenticates who issued the badge. This is often an important factor as people determine what value they want to assign to a given badge (although I contend that the criteria for earning the badge is even more important).
12 Curate – Imagine gaining new knowledge and skill from multiple organizations, events, and contexts but then pulling them all together as a curated collection of what you have learned. This is possible with some of the exciting cities of learning badge systems. It is also at the heart of something like the Mozilla Backpack.
13. Celebrate – Maybe this is similar to appreciate in some ways, but celebration is about publicly acknowledging something enjoyable or memorable. We can celebrate a person’s accomplishments, participation, contribution, or any number of things that we consider worthy of celebration.
14. Collaborate – There are many ways that people are using badges to promote collaboration but the cities of learning mentioned under curate is a prime example. Where curate relates to the badge recipient, collaboration was at the heart of the cities of learning movement, where different organizations collaborated to provide a city-wide collection of learning experiences.
15. Educate – This is a broad one and it is already addressed in many of the others, but it is important enough that it deserves its own “ate.” It also represents the aspect of digital badges that occupies much of my own thinking. Badge systems are being designed to help people learn and achieve their goals. We see this on small school-level efforts as well as nation-wide efforts like the Digital Promise project around teacher training.