What Gives a Badge Value? 7 Answers

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.

5 thoughts on “What Gives a Badge Value? 7 Answers

  1. Robert Columbia

    Your ideas closely match my own conclusions.

    The idea that the value of a badge is primarily limited to its underlying learning makes a lot of theoretical sense but doesn’t seem to work very well in the real world. For example, how easy is it in today’s economy to get a job on the basis of raw (not formally documented) skills?

    Consider this: If I “hit the books” and become an expert in restaurant management but lack external verification of those skills (e.g. no actual work experience, no degree, no professional references, etc.), can I walk into a restaurant, take some sort of (direct skill assessment) exam, and get a job offer if I score high enough? You are probably thinking either “of course not” or “In theory yes, in practice no”. That’s the problem – raw learning isn’t enough anymore. In a world in which people could have their skills assessed at any time and immediately receive appropriate recognition of those skills, the learning “route” (e.g. traditional degree, badges, private tutoring, grandma’s lap, etc.) becomes irrelevant and a matter of personal choice and preference.

    I am inspired somewhat by the English system of high school credentials. High school diplomas do not exist as such at most English schools – a student obtains validation of their high school education by taking GCSE and A-Level exams that, in theory, anyone (even a dropout, or an 80-year old) can take. Could something like that be done in the US?

    On the badge recognition note – are there any organizations (e.g. schools, employers, etc.) that officially recognize, or at least are known to have unofficially recognized, a badge issued by or through another organization? E.g. someone earns a Star Bus Driver badge at Penn State, moves to Texas, and is hired by the Austin School District to drive a school bus on the basis of that badge, edging out other candidates who only have the required driver’s license endorsement but no badges.

    • Robert Columbia

      To partially answer my own question, portfolios could fill some of the void, but may only work for some fields. Obviously, an informally-taught robotics engineer could create a portfolio of robots that they have built, and an informally-taught journalist could build a portfolio of articles that they have written. Now, how would an informally or self-taught Warehouse Shift Supervisor build a portfolio of their skills? Could they set up a home warehouse, establish some shifts, supervise them, and call that a portfolio? What about a wannabe police officer who has the necessary skills, but learned them through some “unauthorized” route such as an unaccredited school or grandma’s lap? If they went out and tried to score some drug busts on their own in order to build a portfolio, I have a feeling that it would not end well for our learner.

      Perhaps some sort of Gamification activity could help these people build portfolios. For example, our hypothetical “I learned it all on my own!” Warehouse Shift Supervisor with no actual work experience could download Warehouse Shift Blaster 2016, rack up in-game accomplishments, call that a portfolio, and present it to employers. Wait a minute, maybe some of these accomplishments could be issued as Badges? Where are we now? Have we come full circle?

      • Bernard Bull Post author

        Robert – As with all forms of displaying competence or qualifications, there are affordances and limitations to portfolios. With that said, the scope of what you can put into a portfolio is quite broad. There is no universal rule against including some indirect evidence as well (test score, certificate from a training program with a letter of reference from someone in that training, etc.).

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