Tuesday, February 20, 2018

We don’t need no stinkin’ badges? Why the badges movement has literally run its course

I’d have loved the idea of learning badges to have worked – motivational dynamo, more fine-grained rewards and accreditation. The inconvenient truth is that the idea has failed. This is not for want of trying but a classic case of supply not matched by demand. To put it another way, we built it and they didn’t come to the party. Sure you’ll find some localised examples of success but overall, as a significant movement, it has literally run its course - few are now interested.

1. Lack credibility
The main problem has been credibility. When explicit accreditation is not anchored in a major accreditation body with quality and standards, there is no real anchor in the real world. You are up against recognised accreditation with branding, marketing, frameworks, objective assessment and longevity. Overbadging and weak badging have added to the problem of credibility. Badge projects are here today gone tomorrow, mosquitos not turtles.

2. Lack objectivity
A lack of objectivity, in terms of recognition in the real word has plagued their progress. What happens when you take your badges outside of your institution or course, and no one has ever heard of them and don’t care? Simply badging content is a mistake. This is about real people feeling that they are useful, not lapel badges. If your currency is not recognised in the currency exchange, then you’re left with useless paper.

3. Motivationally suspect
They were always motivationally suspect. Extrinsic rewards should always be treated with suspicion. And there is something suspect about badges for online, but not offline, stuff. You can’t slice and dice learning by mode of delivery. The ‘Overjustification effect’ shows that Intrinsic motivation will decrease when external rewards are only given for completing a particular task or only doing minimal work. This is not to say that all extrinsic motivation is useless, only that superfluous extrinsic motivation is damaging to learning. The failure to escape this trap is a major problem for most badge schemes.

4. Not really gamification

The idea that they are a great gamification feature is misleading. Zsolt Olah, of Amazon says "It was an easy target for shallow gamification (look, here’s a lot or points to take useless courses to see yourself on the leaderboard and show off your badge) on the lms. Folks, people don’t give blood because they get a sticker. It’s the other way. Pavlovian rewards have a limited effective learning, which is why so much Pavlovian gamification runs out of steam. Leaderboards, collecting badges and so on. Real gamers are intrinsically motivated by the game, its reputation, their experiences of games, their peers views of games and so on. They do not buy and play games because of the scoring system or badges. Bad learning games or gamification techniques are often just a pale imitation of massively popular gaming.

5. Badges don't travel
When your badges get stuck in a proprietary system, repository or e-portfolio, with little in the way of interoperability, they’re effectively imprisoned. Badges are often rendered useless by their failure to escape the bounds of their small ecosystems, technical and cultural. Mozilla have, since 2011, tried to provide a framework and structure. I applaud their efforts but the early paper “Open Badges for Lifelong Learning” was hopelessly utopian. A more achievable vision was needed. The most successful badge system I’ve seen is in IBM – but it is in IBM – that’s it. They tend to remain stuck and siloed inside the organisation that promotes them. Badges don’t travel well.

6. Awful branding
Another problem was branding. Making your badges look like silly, clip-art stickers, makes the whole thing look amateurish. For badges to work they needed some serious marketing and design – Mozilla tried but what we got was almost no marketing and sometimes comically bad design. In addition, it always had that boy scout, girl guide feel – something suitable for earnest young people but not adults. Perhaps it was the word ‘badge’ that was a mistake – something with almost trivial connotations.

7. Mis-measurement
When people started to get badges for simply attending conferences, I got worried. The motivation for conference attendance is not always learning. It is often the extrinsic reward of travel and time off. How do you measure the usefulness of that attendance? We could say, did you tweet out session, blog and distribute your findings to your fellow employees, write a paper suggesting new implementations based on what you learnt? Badges for just turning up don’t wash it for me. A real problem here is that badges often don’t match real learning and are rarely measured in terms of impact.

We need less, not more, credentialism. Badges were always a bit childish and tacky. Employers don't ask for them, people don't care about them and they've become meaningless artefacts in systems that put the artefacts of learning above actual learning. Whether you see badges as motivational devices, credentials, actual assessments, even evaluative, if they don’t catch on, they’re dead in the water. In short, they’re dead in the water.

1 comment:

Joe Wilson said...

Hmmm but lets not separate out - digital badges from digital badges authenticated along with evidence through something like Blockchain - I think the arguments here still hold http://www.joewilsons.net/2014/08/openbadges-simplest-possible-message.html

And in a way your blog - like my blog is my badge - along with all the other parts of my visible digital profile .

I don't think it has run its course I think it is going to get more interesting.