Book Review: Designing Effective Digital Badges


Designing Effective Digital Badges: Applications for Learning, written by Joey R. Fanfarelli and Rudy McDaniel, is a book that was published in 2019 by Taylor & Francis Group. This is a hands-on guide that uses real-world examples to present the advantages and challenges of digital badges. This post includes a brief overview of the main parts of the book. The book is divided into three sections, discussed below.

What are digital badges?

The book begins with an introduction on what digital badges are, and the importance of learning and studying digital badges now. A digital badge is imagery that provides evidence of activity. You could earn one from a website, a formal course, or an online certification program. Digital badges can be useful for a multitude of purposes. Commonly used functions and purposes of digital badges include: to provide authority, expertise, experience, and identity. Another commonly used term to describe a specific type of digital badges is open badges. Open badges are digital badges built using open-source technologies, allowing them to be used interchangeably between different systems. To learn more about open badges, see Stefanie Panke’s post: Alternative Credentials: How can higher education organizations leverage open badges?” in AACE Review.

Fanfarelli & McDaniel believe that the best badging systems use badges to motivate users, encourage exploration, and credential expertise. Fanfarelli & McDaniel argue that the best badging systems are often found in videogames.

Part I: What is a Badge, and How Should I use it? (Chapters 2-4)

Part I of the book includes the fundamentals and basics of badging: how badges are built, what they can do, and how they are useful for shaping behavior. Chapter 2 (How are Badging Systems Constructed?) is focused on the composition, qualities, and types of badges, as well as the difference between badges, badging systems, and badging backpacks. This chapter also includes information on the common badging language that can be used to better understand and describe badges. Chapter 3 (What Can Badges Do?) includes information on the variety of the functions of badges, which includes credentialing, providing feedback, etc. This chapter also includes information on three psychological dimensions of badging, specifically focusing on the cognitive, affective, and social considerations for badging design. Chapter 4 (How Do Badges Shape Behavior?) discusses behavior in the context of effective badge design. This chapter reviews both early and contemporary research on behaviorism and its connection to behavior and badge design.

Part II: Contexts and Practice (Chapters 5-8)

Part II of the book includes the specific details of digital badging, and the specific implementation of digital badges in videogames, online learning systems, mobile applications, and military training simulations. Chapter 5 (Using Badges in Videogames) discusses the effective strategies that videogames have developed to use digital badges to motivate players. This chapter also reviews published research on effective strategies for videogame-based badging and reviews how these strategies can be carried over into other application areas. Chapter 6 (Using Badges in Online Learning Systems) discusses the role of badges in the education realm, specifically online learning. This chapter includes specific design recommendations and example badges. Chapter 7 (Using Badges in Mobile Applications) looks at the use of digital badges in mobile technology. This chapter examines the challenges of using badges in mobile applications, specifically limited screen real estate, unique power requirements to prolong battery life, and security and privacy implications. Chapter 8 (Using Badges in Military Applications) examines the history of the use of physical badging in military organizations, and moves to identify how digital badges might fill different roles from the physical badges.

Part III: Evaluation and Evolution (Chapters 9, 10, and Conclusion)

Part III of the book discusses measuring how digital badges work, as well as predicting how they will evolve. Chapter 9 (Badging System Testing and Evaluation) describes specific badging subsystems that should be tested, and discuss specific steps that are important in the testing process. Different metrics and methodologies are discussed. Chapter 10 (Novelty and Badging) discusses the future types of badging systems that might help to solve challenges with digital interactions. The Conclusion (The Future of Badging) includes thought exercises that consider how badges might evolve in coming years. This chapter includes speculation from the authors about new designs, genres, contexts, and functions for the future digital badges.

Focus: Chapter 6 (Using Badges in Online Learning Systems)

Potentially of particular interest to readers, a bit more detail is provided here on the specifics of this chapter, and the use of digital badges in online learning. Badges have already begun to be incorporated in some online learning environments. Sites such as Codecademy and Khan Academy use badges as credentials to signify course completion and as rewards for consistent practice. Badges are also beginning to emerge in online university courses. Research has examined the effect of badges on invest within a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), and found that while student investment decreased over time, students who aimed to obtain a badge experienced a smaller decrease in investment compared to those who did not aim to obtain a badge. There are several factors that play a role in the badging system in educational settings. Research found a link between the success of introducing digital badging systems into educational settings and the extent to which members of the learning community value them. This chapter goes on to focus on the special characteristics of online learning, specifically the challenges of fitting badging systems into pre-existing learning structures. The chapter also includes a section focused on providing recommendations for how to design effective badges for online learning.

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