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n.b. Another long overdue blog post but better late than never!

Following up on a DML webinar session from a few months ago led by guest speaker, Judd Antin, UEX research at Facebook, formerly with Yahoo Research, on the topic of motivation in online environments, we thought we’d distill his key points into how they inform designing a badge system. 

Judd Antin picture

*** Webinar recording of guest speaker Judd’s talk can be found here
We wanted to summarize some of his ideas and findings and give you some practical suggestions to consider as you continue to build out your badge system.
Key takeaways he outlined for creating effective badging systems were as follows: 
  • Understand where the motivation comes from
  • The Badge should not be the core focus. Take the Long view.
  • Keep a healthy dose of skepticism

Judd’s core point was that motivation is complicated and we should not assume that it is inherent. There are several, if not many, axes in play and each should be taken into consideration. He specifically suggested:

Think about how one perceives their identity and how badges are connected to it: Judd cited a simplified example in which someone decides to learn knitting and earns a badge for it. This person may not want to display the knitting badge readily if it is attached to their real life identity for one reason or another
What this means for you:
  • Good news is that you don’t have to do all the heavy lifting and thinking here. You are already planning to plug into the Open Badge Infrastructure which gives the earner control over their badges. The earner has complete control over badges in their backpack; they decide which badges to push into a collection and which ones to share with which groups. The person from the example above may care about their achievement and yet still not want to share it with anyone else, or only share it with specific people or groups. The key point is that sharing and display is the earner’s decision.
  • In general, it’s good practice to think about the roles and identities represented by badges so you can build in flexibility for the different interests a badge earner may have. We try to accommodate for this in the evidence url. The evidence URL is the personalized evidence of each badge earner, providing an opportunity for the individual earner to differentiate their earned badge from someone else's.
The incentive that a badge provides does not happen all at once at the moment it is earned: Judd mentioned one of the big incentives for a badge is that it affirms an experienced activity, and he cited boy scout badges as an example. Judd wondered if boy scout badges would be as motivational as they are if scouts didn’t have a sash to publicly display them. He encouraged us to consider the sash (or display) as well as the activity the badge represents

What this means for you:
  • The Backpack and various OBI-integrated displayers provide the equivalent of the boy scout badge sash. The Backpack allows badge earners to manage their badges and provides publish capability as well. Earners can create groupings of badges, annotate them and publish them out to their social network through a variety of ways. As the number of OBI-integrated displayers increases, the display of badges on various display sites will provide a more integrated experience. The ability for an earner to manage, curate, and showcase their badges is a defining aspect of the open badge ecosystem enabled by the OBI
It is not true that everyone is motivated by competition: Judd cited a study in which people were asked to take an IQ test. The study noted that when people took the IQ test in a competitive format, they scored, on average, 18 points lower. Additionally, some people, largely women, were particularly sensitive to the negative effects of competitive contexts. He reminded us that there is no evidence that competition is motivational across people and contexts. 
What this means for you:
  • Aspects of competition may work for some members of your community but not all. When creating your badge system, ensure that you can accommodate those less inspired by competition, as well as those motivated by it. Make sure that badges are awarded in a variety of ways, e.g., stealth badges (earned unbeknownst to an earner), badges earned through peer assessment, badges earned through system triggers, etc. 

Goal setting and goal achievement is motivational for a subset of the population: This can frequently be found in video game levels but this won’t be motivational for everyone. Judd states, that this is a drug that you have to keep taking in order for it to be effective as a motivator. Whereas if motivation comes from status, reputation, group identification, connection with community, pride, these are longer lasting drugs and will appeal to a different set of people. This points to the fact that making badging about the experience and memorializing the experience is what is crucial. 

What this means for you:
  • Remember you are building a community in addition to a badge system. Think about how you can foster kinship with peers, foster mentorship, respect and reputation within your badge community. 

People are motivated differently by status: Some people don’t prefer status signaling. Instead it’s important to think about the affirmation aspect which can bind people together through shared experiences and shared goals.

What this means for you:

  • This is related to the above. Some people might not be motivated by the display aspect of badges but by the community that forms around a collective activity of learning and growing together. Think about how peer assessment  can come into play in your badge system. Think about the feedback loop you build into your badge system to build the sense of community and support

Research shows that “crowding out” does not occur all the time: “Crowding out” is the idea that if you love to do something and if you’re paid to do it (i.e. the extrinsic reward), it can be about the money (extrinsic motivator) and not the love and ultimately, the motivation to do it is reduced. It has been found that crowding out occurs when rewards are expected and contingent. When rewards are less expected and there is a focus on feedback, and praise and reward are supportive, intrinsic motivation can be increased. Critical to this is a sense of agency. Reports that are perceived to come from an authority tends to be corrupted. 

What this means for you:

  • Think about the balance between the criteria required for earning a badge and the associated reward the eaner receives or feels she receives as a result of earning the badge. As mentioned, try to make the reward focused more on feedback in which the badge is utilized as a medium for communication within a support community. 


Badging is not just about the moment of  earning. Instead of focusing on short term goals, think about how to promote learning over a longer period of time and how it can lead to continued enrichment. Think about the badge system you are building within the framework of the larger badges ecosystem and how it will be utilized beyond your environment all the way to employers and hiring managers. Think about how your badge system can add value to promote learning, enhance opportunities among badge earners and lead to new opportunities. 

The badging movement for learning is a collective experiment and maintaining a level of healthy skepticism as a gut check is a necessary and good thing. There is still a lot to be uncovered in the area of badges and motivation and keeping an openmind throughout this process is critical. 
  1. bananigans posted this