What gives a badge value? As ideas about badges continue to turn into the implementation of badges in various organizations, there continues to be an important conversation about what gives a badge value. There are many ways to approach this conversation, but in most of the conversations, people gravitate toward one of seven answers to this question. Of course, these are not independent of one another. It is certainly possible (in most cases probable) that the answer is a mix of each of these, not to mention perspectives that I did not represent here. Nonetheless, I continue to find it valuable to look at these seven as starting points.
What Gives a Badge Value? The Credential
Some people look at badges as “micro” credentials. As such, they think of them as credentials in the same way that people think of diplomas as credentials. People focus on earning the diploma, displaying the diploma, telling others about the fact that you have the diploma, and using the fact that you have the diploma as evidence that you should be given some sort of favor or special consideration in society, a community, or for a job.
As such, badges don’t often fare well from this perspective because badges don’t have comparable value to degrees in most communities. Perhaps this will change in some contexts in the future, but that is far from certain.
What Gives a Badge Value? The Criteria
I spent quite a bit of time in this camp. The value of a badge is found in the criteria for earning the badge. If these criteria are rigorous or align well one an organization’s needs or values, there is a chance that the badge will have at least some interest, if not value, to that organization.
What Gives a Badge Value? The Artifact
I am a strong defender of this perspective. It works from the idea that badges are potentially just a temporary innovation. When you earn a badge for learning, that is often done as a result of providing some evidence of learning. That evidence is often an artifact, not unlike what we see in portfolios. In this case, the badge is not valuable in itself. It is the artifact attached to (even if not literally or technologically) the badge. This moves from symbols of learning or achievement to more direct evidence.
The challenge is that many people and organizations are not going to take the time to review the raw artifacts, especially if there are many artifacts or if they are reviewing a large pool of candidates. More often, they trust credentials or symbols rather than going to the source.
This will eventually chance. The world of big data and analytics will make it possible to represent direct artifacts, organization them, and communicate their value to people in incredible ways in the future. Most of us have not thought about this or imagined how it will work, but I am quite confident that this marriage of micro-credentials, artifacts, and big data will result in new ways to communicate qualifications, and this will change the value proposition of many current learning pathways as well as credentials.
Even now, artifacts have tremendous power in communicating the value that you have to offer to a person, organization or community. It is just that many are not skilled at learning how to represent those artifacts, and attaching them to badges is one short-term to mid-term way to address this problem.
What Gives a Badge Value? The Testimonial
This takes us far into the history of academic credentials. There was a time when Harvard didn’t automatically distribute diplomas to every graduate. You had to go to the President’s office if you wanted one, and he would personally sign it. It was more like a letter of reference, a testimonial to the fact that you are a graduate. Check out platforms like Credly and you will see testimonials as a feature in their badges. When you issue a badge, you can give a mini letter of reference, a personalized note of affirmation or recommendation. This adds a personalized value to the credential that we don’t see attached to many other credentials today.
What Gives a Badge Value? The Learning
The purist might point out that none of these give value to a badge. It is the learning that leads up to issuing the badge that gives it value. Independent of the badge, it is up to the learner to show what he or she has learned. The badge is just a milestone along a larger learning journey and that is where we find the true value. Yet, that has little to do with the badge itself.
What Gives a Badge Value? The Community
This is where we get to the good writing about ideas like trust networks. If a community values a badge, then it has value. This is true whether it is a community of 5 or 5 million. The badge need not transfer value from one community to another, but that is certainly an important consideration as we explore the affordances and limitations of a given badge or badge community.
What gives a badge value?
Ask this question and you are likely to get answers that emphasize one or more of these categories, realizing that there is much crossover and more complexity than represented here. If you are designing a badge system, consider which of these you might build into your design. If you are a learner considering the role of badges for yourself, this is a way to weigh your options. Or, if you are just interested in where badges will take us, this is also a helpful way to think about the potential future of credentials and displaying one’s work and evidence of one’s learning.